Exploring the Wild Side of History and Science
Whitman alum Laura Krantz’s career has taken a few turns, but the wildest of them all is the one that got her researching Bigfoot and aliens. In the fall of 2020, she released the second season of her hit podcast “Wild Thing.”
How exactly does a history major and daily news journalist become involved in producing a podcast that tells the stories of questionable beings such as sasquatch and aliens? Krantz, who graduated from Whitman in 2000, says it all started with a shared last name.
In 2006, Krantz was reading the Washington Post and found a peculiarly interesting article about a Washington State University professor of anthropology named Grover Krantz. The professor had donated his bones (as well as his dog’s bones) to be part of a forensic anthropology display at The Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History. The article mentioned that the late Professor Krantz, considered the country’s preeminent academic expert on Bigfoot, spent much of his free time driving around the Pacific Northwest with a spotlight and a rifle, searching for sasquatch.
“So, here is this guy that is related to me, who is clearly a scientist but also thinks that Bigfoot is out there,” Krantz says.
Krantz was intrigued and often told people about Grover at parties. But it was about a decade before she started her own pursuit of the story. She began to piece together interviews, news clips, events and places. Before she knew it, she was traipsing through the Mt. Hood National Forest with experts, attending research conferences, analyzing Bigfoot DNA with molecular primatologists and interviewing people who have made sasquatch into their own brand or “cashsquatch,” as Krantz calls it.
It dawned on her that a podcast would be the perfect way to tell the story of not only Professor Grover Krantz, who turned out to be a distant cousin, but the world of Bigfoot—and what better name to give it than “Wild Thing”?
“The first season was really about a personal connection and sort of a general inquiry into this topic, which was something that I hadn’t spent a lot of time thinking about—but was clearly something that a lot of other people were fascinated by even if they didn’t necessarily believe.”
What To Explore Next?
Krantz’s Bigfoot podcast was extremely successful and garnered attention from The Atlantic, which named it one of the best podcasts of 2018. The first season had over 2.5 million downloads. After the momentum and popularity of the first season, Krantz decided to “look skyward” and explore another one of America’s obsessions: aliens. She recalled how, in 2017, an interstellar object passed through our solar system and gave rise to a debate about whether it was an extraterrestrial spacecraft. With that as her starting point, Krantz traveled to Roswell, New Mexico, for the annual UFO Festival. In addition to interviewing scientists, researchers, politicians and other sources, she visited movie special effects labs and Area 51, the classified U.S. Air Force facility in Nevada believed by many to house proof of unidentified flying objects and extraterrestrial life.
When asked if there were any unexpected turns during the research process for season two, she laughs and recalls her 2019 visit to Area 51. Prior to her trip, a Facebook event called “Storm Area 51” called for a raid on the facility. More than two million Facebook users responded that they would attend, and the event garnered worldwide media coverage.
By the time Krantz arrived—two weeks before the event—residents of the area were so weary of the media attention that she couldn’t find anyone willing to be interviewed for the podcast. Still, the trip wasn’t without its stranger moments.
“I drove up to the back gate of Area 51 and was immediately freaked out because I was there by myself. As I was driving in, there was a white government-issued pickup truck coming from the other direction. There is only one road to the back gate and one place it could have been coming from. It came toward me in a cloud of dust, saw me, stopped and then turned around, right back on up to the gate at top speed. I was just sitting there clenching the steering wheel and thinking to myself, ‘Am I really doing this?’”
Krantz has had her fair share of quirky adventures during her podcast reporting trips. But “Wild Thing” is more than a podcast about kitschy obsessions and weird fascinations. “The second season pulls on similar threads to the first: this desire to believe, this insatiable curiosity, searching for something that we may not ever get answers to,” Krantz explains.
Leaning On Her Liberal Arts Education
What do a liberal arts education and a podcast about Bigfoot and aliens have in common? More than you would think, Krantz says. The way a podcast can combine philosophy, economics, culture, art and religion is similar to the interdisciplinary approach of a liberal arts education.
“Whitman gave me the ability to think about a topic from a lot of different angles and to see how all of those things pull together. The podcast pulls all these threads from different fields and if that’s not a liberal arts education, I don’t know what is.”