Disciples and doubters celebrate legend of Bigfoot at North Carolina festival

Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT) September 9, 2018

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Marion, North Carolina (CNN)A huge crowd of people had gathered on the lawn of the McDowell County Courthouse Saturday when an ape-like creature in a T-shirt bounded through the cheering onlookers and joined Marion Mayor Steve Little on stage.

"This morning I have this special proclamation," Little said, holding up a document with his signature and a gold seal at the bottom. He read aloud.
"I do hereby proclaim today, Saturday, September 8, 2018, that Bigfoot is the official animal of the city of Marion, North Carolina," Little said, as the costumed Bigfoot clapped enthusiastically.
Thus began the inaugural Western North Carolina Bigfoot Festival in this town near the Blue Ridge Mountains about 40 miles east of Asheville.
Mayor Steve Little presented Bigfoot with a declaration naming him Marion's official animal for the day.
Converging on Marion were thousands of believers and skeptics alike, united in their celebration of a cryptozoological mystery that has fascinated people for decades.
"Bigfoot is real," said festival organizer John Bruner, "and we want to bring awareness to that and bring more people to the table to get this mystery solved."
    Bruner is part of something called the Bigfoot 911 research team, which investigates purported Bigfoot sightings and evidence. He has lived in Marion all his life and said he decided to stage the festival after the town's business association approached him with the idea.
    "And, at the same time," he added, "we want to have fun and fellowship with our fellow citizens and our visitors."
    If you ignored the Bigfoot T-shirts, the Bigfoot artwork and the occasional costumed Bigfoot, the festival seemed like any a small Southern city might hold at the tail end of summer.