Over the past eight years, Stephen Barcelo has slowly assembled enough blurry photographs and plaster footprints to open his own Bigfoot museum, a collection of supernatural artifacts he displays in his living room decorated with Ouija boards and a jackalope.
His reputation in Littleton has grown large enough that tourists wander 16 miles off Interstate 95 in search of his 19th-century house – which is haunted, by the way – and townsfolk consider him the go-to guy on all cryptid-related issues.
Three months ago, a frantic neighbor called Barcelo to report a shaggy 7-foot creature shambling past her kitchen window, only a block away. So the former newspaperman rushed over and discovered a snowshoe-sized print in her yard, which he carefully shoveled into a wooden frame.
When he got home, he added a push-pin to his map on the museum wall, bringing total Bigfoot sightings in this town of 674 people to a staggering three.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
“I’ve never seen Bigfoot,” said Barcelo, a husband and father of two. “I’ve found prints. I definitely believe there’s something out there. Some kind of hybrid ape, maybe.”
Billed as “The Gateway to Lake Gaston,” this town near the Virginia border consists of a square mile of land surrounding a single traffic light, and it hasn’t seen much action since the days of tricorner hats. Without the proximity of I-95, Barcelo might never have discovered the three-story clapboard house that dated to 1850, its windows covered in shrubbery.
When his family moved south to Littleton, looking for an old house to restore, green lights started appearing in the darkness, pictures started sliding off walls, and muffled conversations rose from empty rooms. Barcelo mentioned this nuisance to neighbors, who responded, “Oh, you’ve got a ghost, too?”
Rumors of skunk ape activity followed. Barcelo went scouting in Medoc Mountain State Park, where he captured a footprint that puzzled the rangers, being claw-toed and too big for a bear. Back home in Littleton, Barcelo heard stories of garbage disappearing off people’s porches – plastic bags and all.
Barcelo had already developed into something of a Bigfoot buff while working as a photographer and videographer in New York, having been occasionally dispatched to interview the saucer-eyed witnesses of shadowy phenomena.
His experiences in Littleton, along a former Colonial carriage road, struck him as fertile ground for a shrine to the mysterious. Lake Gaston, after all, is home to Gassy, the sea-monster-sized catfish with an unfortunate name.
So about three years ago, he opened the Cryptozoology & Paranormal Museum. Since then, his living room has transformed into a distribution center for strange beast encounters – a safe, judgment-free zone for those who have locked eyes with a living Chewbacca. He gets roughly 15 visitors a week, and Bigfoot artifacts continue to arrive.
“A lot of people won’t talk to us,” Barcelo said. “Some say it was the worst thing that ever happened to them. They were ridiculed. They were laughingstocks.”
I drove to Littleton last week along N.C. 561, past Jim’s Cricket Ranch and a community called Wood, to reach this strange outpost on the Halifax-Warren county line. Driving back, it occurred to me that cryptid tourism might well be the answer for a town that industry has long since abandoned.
Barcelo leads ghost tours on any night he can muster a crowd, showing visitors the blood-stained floorboards inside Person’s Ordinary historic inn and tavern – remnants of an 18th-century swordfight.
He tells them about the local handyman who helped jack up his ground floor, turning up a single black marble hidden behind a doorway. Then another. Then a third. Barcelo adds, chillingly, that this handyman died a week later, and that his family continues to find marbles around the house to this day – none of them black.
Maybe a 7-foot man-beast really is stalking the forest at the edge of town. Maybe it does feast on coffee grounds and banana peels left out for the garbageman. Maybe the footprints in Barcelo’s museum really did come from oversized ape hybrids hiding in our midst. There’s one certainty here: The vague possibility makes for a happy excursion.
Want to go?
The Cryptozoology & Paranormal Museum is open daily in Littleton between 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Curator Stephen Barcelo invites all stories of Bigfoot encounters via the museum’s website at crypto-para.org.