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Photo by Phillip Molnar/New Jersey Herald
Charles and Paul Checkur discuss where, according to legend, "Bigfoot" appeared in Wantage in 1977.

Keeping an eye out for county's 'Bigfoot'

By PHILLIP MOLNAR
pmolnar@njherald.com

Posted by permission of the author

NEWTON — Hidden deep in the cold, dark basement of a Newton building is a shocking and scary discovery.

In an unassuming steel file cabinet titled "B" is a manila folder with information pointing to what locals in Sussex County call "Big Red Eye."

The folder, named "Bigfoot," kept in the New Jersey Herald's basement files, tells the story of a long-held legend.

The New Jersey Herald wrote 16 articles about the mythological Bigfoot creature from 1975 to 1978.

Six of the articles were written in the summer of 1977, when reports of "an unidentified woods animal" in Wantage first hit the presses. Barbara Sites, of Wantage, told a reporter on May 16, 1977, that she heard a sound like "a woman screaming while she was being killed" on her farm.

Sites walked around her barn to find six of the family's pet rabbits dead or dying from fierce wounds.

Three nights later, Sites family members positioned themselves on their farmyard, armed with shotguns and rifles. Eventually, "the monster" arrived.

"At first all I saw were these two red eyes staring at me from over there," said Sites' husband, Richard, pointing at their chicken coop. The Sites family said they shot more than 30 rounds at "it" before the creature escaped through an apple orchard.

A few years later, the Sites home burnt down and the family moved away. No one in the area is sure where they went, but the Checkur family around the corner from the property still talks about the 1977 "sighting."

Paul and Charles Checkur, now in their 40s, grew up hearing legends about the creature.

"He's never far from your mind," Charles Checkur said of "it."

Last year he was going for a run at night and spotted a dark creature on the road.

"I thought, 'That's Big Red Eye,'" he said. As Charles Checkur prepared to strike the beast, he stopped just in time to realize it was a horse.

The Checkur brothers decided to move back to their family farm on Lott Road 15 years ago after spending years moving around the country. They are descendants of Peter Lott, a 19th-century poet of reknown, often referred to as "The Unionville Farmer Poet."

Neither of the brothers have seen Big Red Eye, but that hasn't stopped the rest of the family from getting in on the search. Their mother, Margaret, said she saw a bear that looked like it had a tail in December, and Paul Checkur's 12-year-old son, Eric, became fascinated with the creature after hearing the story of the Sites farm.

"Sometimes he sits out at on the porch at night, hoping to hear (Big Red Eye)," Paul Checkur said of his son.

Standing outside where the Sites family once shot at what they believed was a mythic beast, the Checkur brothers looked like they could be in the running for the role of Bigfoot in a Hollywood movie. They tower over most people at 6 feet 8 inches and 6 feet 7 inches, respectively.

The place where the Sites fired their guns is now owned by former CNN commentator Lou Dobbs. "Oh great," Dobbs said upon learning the interesting history of his farm at the Lafayette House before a speech on a recent Friday night.

Staring at a small pond on the old Sites property, Paul Checkur seemed to concede there is a chance the story might be missing some facts.

"Bears like the swampy areas," he said.

Any Sussex County residents who believe they have encountered the legendary Bigfoot are encouraged to call this reporter at 973-383-1500, ext. 255.

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