‘Otis,’ the Orange County Sasquatch Sensation - Limestone Post Magazine (2024)

ca*wker City, Kansas, has its gigantic ball of sisal twine, Casey, Illinois, has the world’s largest rocking chair, and Alexandria, Indiana, boasts that it has the world’s largest ball of paint.

Southern Indiana has joined the list of freakishly large attractions with Otis, a towering 25-foot-tall sasquatch at French Lick Cabins at Patoka Lake.

‘Otis,’ the Orange County Sasquatch Sensation - Limestone Post Magazine (1)

Cindy and Jason Emmons | Photo provided

Completed last spring by the Bear Hollow carving team, Otis was an instant sensation, attracting visitors to see the shaggy sasquatch at the lodging locale just minutes from Patoka Lake.

Bear Hollow owners Jason and Cindy Emmons said the response to Otis was immediate. Visitors flocked to see the wooden giant, pulling up in school buses and caravans of motorcycles and Jeeps. Soon after, Otis was showing up in selfies all over social media.

“We really didn’t know what this thing would do. We thought it was a big deal, but we didn’t know how people would react,” said Jason Emmons, carver and co-owner of Bear Hollow. “Once it hit Facebook, it was overwhelming.”

Otis gets his closeup

All the attention grabbed the attention of the state’s tourism office, Visit Indiana. This spring, Otis landed on the cover of the official 2024 Indiana Travel Guide.

The magazine cover shows Otis sitting on a fishing dock with a picture-perfect sunset behind him. In his hand is a fishing pole, and his “fur” appears in shades of blue and purple in the late summer sun.

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Cover of the 2024 Indiana Travel Guide. Click image to see the guide.

“We pored through a ton of photos,” said Amy Howell, vice president of tourism, marketing, and communications for the Indiana Destination Development Corporation, which publishes the magazine. “Otis was unique and it showed off one of our areas that does a ton of promotion with us. We also thought it’s eye-catching and would make people want to pick up the magazine. It’s the whole surprise element of what is in Indiana.”

Seeing Otis on the magazine’s cover has been a pleasant surprise for the Emmonses.

“We’re very happy about it,” said Cindy.

“Discover Southern Indiana is thrilled to see Otis on the cover of the Visit Indiana’s official 2024 travel guide!” said Kristal Painter, chief operating officer of Discover Southern Indiana, a regional tourism organization. “Patoka Lake is a major tourism attraction, and Otis has created quite a buzz since he made his grand appearance at the French Lick Cabins at Patoka Lake. We’ve been amazed at the number of people visiting the region just to see him in person!”

Otis was constructed over about four days with nine members of the Bear Hollow carving team — including Jason Emmons and son Ethan — working on site. Construction began with a frame made of treated lumber from the Paoli Bender Lumber. Twelve bundles of sawmill slabs of poplar became the “fur,” and large, solid white-pine logs were used to create his face and feet.

Emmons said construction was fast compared to the six months of planning to incorporate the elements of construction and art to create a larger-than-life chainsaw carving.

Emmons imagined a carving that told a story. With the cabins’ proximity to Patoka Lake, Emmons pictured a relaxed and smiling sasquatch dipping a fishing pole in the lake.

As the old Otis Redding song goes, “Sittin’ on the dock of a bay.” The dock is bowing under his weight and a red-and-white bobber dangles from his fishing pole.

Otis a boost to tourism in Orange County

Tourism is a major driver of the Orange County economy. In 2022, visitor spending in Orange County totaled $125 million. Nearly 1,300 jobs were supported by tourism in 2022. Tourism’s total economic impact was $36.1 million.

‘Otis,’ the Orange County Sasquatch Sensation - Limestone Post Magazine (4)

The Bear Hollow carvers constructed Otis’s fur from sawmill slabs of poplar and his face and feet from white-pine logs. | Photo provided

The French Lick Resort with its two historic hotels, golf courses, and casino are one of several attractions.Visitors also come to ride the train at the French Lick Scenic Railway and visit Big Splash Adventure water park and Wilstem Wildlife Park for their drive-thru safari and animal encounters.

With the summer season about to start, Otis is one more reason for visitors to come to Orange County, whether as a day trip or extended stay.

“It’s done a lot for the area in general,” Cindy Emmons said. “We have people who drive from Cincinnati and those folks, if they’re not staying overnight, they are going to stop and get gas or grab a bite to eat.”

“We’re not very far from Patoka Lake Winery, and they are constantly sending people over to us,” added Jason.

Keeping the big guy a secret

With such a large build, the Emmonses wanted to keep Otis a secret until he was finished.

“We didn’t post pictures and kept it quiet, but word got out that we were building something,” said Cindy.

Just as the final piece of wood was being added, a car drove up.

“The windows were down and there were kids in the backseat. They looked out and one of the kids said, ‘Whoa!’” Cindy recalled with a laugh.

With that, the couple knew they had something special in Otis.

In 2022, visitor spending in Orange County totaled $125 million. Nearly 1,300 jobs were supported by tourism in 2022.

In addition to the French Lick Cabins at Patoka Lake, the Emmonses own Bear Hollow, a retail store in downtown French Lick, and French Licks, a coffee and ice cream shop. The Bear Hollow carving team travels to about 300 show dates across the United States each year. One of their recent bookings took them to a NASCAR race at Dover Speedway in Delaware where they showed off their skills in the Fan Zone.

In April, the build team constructed its second sasquatch at the Mercer County Fairgrounds in Ohio.

The journey the couple has been on since founding Bear Hollow began with Jason wanting to make art.

“Together, we make a pretty good team,” Cindy said. “ You just work hard, put it out there, be smart, and be good to people.”

“We rarely say no to anything,” added Jason. “We couldn’t be happier with our journey.”

‘Otis,’ the Orange County Sasquatch Sensation - Limestone Post Magazine (2024)
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