Some folks may say New Paltz, in all its wacky glory, has gone to the birds. A few weeks ago, they would have been right.
About a week before Halloween, rumors began circulating on the popular real-time social media app, YikYak, that a person in a Big Bird costume – the character of “Sesame Street” fame – had been seen prowling the New Paltz campus at night. However, evidence of the anomaly did not surface until a few days later when a Facebook profile for “Bigg Burd” was created and discovered.
A single picture of the creature standing semi-concealed by the night with the description “I am here” was the among the first posts on the page. Soon after, videos began to arrive. Wearing the identifiably-Big-Bird-but-intentionally-deformed costume, the videos show “Bigg Burd” stalking campus locals such as Esopus Lake and the Gulliver statue in front of the Sojourner Truth Library set to haunting ambient sound and including audio and visual distortion similar in style to those associated with the “Slenderman” mythos. Through the page and YikYak, the community at large quickly became aware of the phenomenon, with some finding it hilarious and others finding it unnerving.
“We started getting complaints that said allegedly, the individual in the costume was peering into the windows of residence halls. We also got calls saying that the individual was following [students] around campus at early hours of the morning,” University Police Investigator, Bruce Chambers said. “That’s a little disconcerting for an 18 to 22-year-old walking back to campus and an unknown creature following them and not talking to them. So with that, we decided that we’d have to look into it to make sure everybody was safe.”
According to Chambers, the investigation took two days, with police conducting interviews and going to residence halls before the individual was found.
“[The individual] said that there was no malicious intent behind his actions. He thought that him and his friends were going to go out dressed up in the costume as a joke and he thought it was well received – he wasn’t hearing any of the complaints that [the University Police] were,” Chambers said.
UPD Chief of Police David Dugatkin said they could not substantiate the allegation that the individual was looking into residence hall windows, as the eye-holes on the costume were located in the neck of the avian, with the costume’s head and eyes located above that – creating the possible perception that Bigg Burd was staring into a room.
“The simple fact that ‘Bigg Burd’ has a neck that is five feet tall could easily put the individual, as they were walking by a ground floor window, in a position where the person inside believed someone was looking in when in fact [Bigg Burd] has a really tall neck,” Dugatkin said. “Unlike Big Foot, we can confirm that ‘Bigg Burd’ does exist and was roaming the New Paltz campus.”
Because there was no criminal complaint, Chambers said UPD did not have the grounds to confiscate the costume. However the individual voluntarily handed over the costume to avoid any future problems. The individual will be able to have the costume returned at the end of the semester, he said.
Dugatkin said that he could not think of another occasion similar to Bigg Burd’s but said that everything has to be taken at face-value and within reason.
“This started as just a humorous thing to do and I’m sure that was what the intent was,” Dugatkin said. “The end outcome was that it had some people concerned in today’s world and that’s always the concerns we have. Could someone else potentially decide to out as Bert & Ernie next week? Sure. But if they were to cause complaints, we’d have to send our investigator out to locate Bert & Ernie and interview them.”