“Children will always be afraid of the dark, and men with minds sensitive to hereditary impulses will always tremble at the thought of the hidden and fathomless worlds of strange life which may pulsate in the gulfs beyond the stars or press hideously upon our own globe in unholy dimensions which only the dead and the moonstruck may glimpse…”
– H.P. Lovecraft
Supernatural Horror in Literature (1927)
One of the most interesting, and often frightening aspects to paranormal research, or otherwise fringe-science is that of cryptozoology — the search and investigation of strange, extinct or otherwise non-recorded animal life forms. Though the term “crypto” may also include mammalian, reptilian and plant life, the word cryptozoology almost always represents the truly bizarre population of creatures better known to us as monsters. Undeniably, such unknown creatures have been observed, or captured since the begging of recorded history, having been artistically represented on banners and flags of many great nations, which live on even today for those of us with adventurous fortitudes for discovering the truth. This is the philosophy for the cryptozoologist and paranormal researcher.
Strange creatures and other monsters seem to come in all forms. From gruesome, never before seen sea life being discovered in our great oceans, or huge abominable snowman stalking the mountains of Tibet, to fantastic flying creatures known as Thunderbirds being observed over America’s southwest, the world appears to be a host to an entire bestiary of sometimes amusing, and sometimes alarming life forms ever to grace the human imagination. As if from a B-grade monster movie of the 1950s, these otherwise unbelievable and fantastic things appear to be real, outside the darkened theatre. Either slinking out of the water or crawling out of a swamp, these weird and truly astonishing monsters continue to be reported across the land on an almost daily basis. And indeed, Florida is no exception.
From the frightening alien-like Chupacabras of Hispanic folklore being reported in south Florida’s Miami district, to lake and ocean monsters having been sighted on each shore of the Sunshine State, and of bizarre tales of never before seen beasts being reported to the authorities are realities for many Floridians. Accounts like weird, moss-covered creatures being seen hobbling in the thickets and sea grapes of southeast Florida’s beaches, and of cloaked men with top hats jumping over tall fences to elude security officers and guard dogs are but a few oddities to inhabit the paranormal aspects of the Sunshine State. Other curiosities like the pig-faced man of Deerfield Beach or the phantom clown sightings in Ft. Lauderdale during the 1980s exemplify the truly unique aspects of such phenomena. Still other monster reports like the so-called giant, misshapen penguin of Clearwater Beach or even stories of spectral black dogs and vampires lurking in old cemeteries and woodlands have been registered across the state as well. Yet, if there is one creature out of the entire lexicon of cryptozoological lore that remains distinctly that of Florida legend, it must be the ever-popular Skunk Ape, the Sunshine State’s own version of the Sasquatch creature of the Native American folkloric saga.
I can recall the first time I heard of the legendary Skunk Ape. It was in 1970 while living in Hollywood Beach, Florida that a childhood friend and I were camping in his parent’s backyard. In those days, much of Florida was still quite barren in some parts, so the backyard was a lot like the dark swamplands common to the everglades. As we talked about school and read comic books, and trying to scare each other while holding flashlights under our faces, we told ghost stories and reminisced about the monster movies of the day. As it got darker however, the peaceful Florida night turned into a very scary place, which only fueled our active imaginations. When my friend’s father came out to make sure we were safe, he contributed to our story telling. He told us about a big, hairy monster that lived in the woods, and that this monster was called a Skunk Ape, which smelled really bad, like old garbage and rotten eggs. He told us that it had glowing red eyes, and long, sharp fangs that were 5 inches long! And though we acted brave and said we weren’t afraid of any Skunk Ape, deep down we were terrified. My friend’s father was of course having fun with us, but all through that night our imaginations were on high alert, as every twig snapping must have been coming from the monster, and every breeze we felt blow past us was the dreaded Skunk Ape approaching our tent — The entire night was one spent in fear and excitement.
Though by today’s standards I no longer consider this creature as a monster, nor bad in any way, I instead believe that there are many yet undiscovered life forms all around the world that will remain in the realm of monsters and boogiemen until they are identified and cataloged by reputable scientists. Even so, I can understand the almost childish fear many of us have regarding the unknown. Indeed, I can still remember racing home on my bicycle as fast as I could after visiting my neighborhood friends late at night just to escape the Skunk Ape who might be lurking in the bushes or within the darkened thickets around the homes and scantly-lit streets. Though these were fun and innocent times, as I explored this and other topics within the paranormal arena, and learned that the Skunk Ape and all the other fanciful creatures in Florida’s folklore had a long and illustrious history, it continued to interest and fascinate me throughout my adult life — as it does to this very day.
Within Florida’s everglades and marshlands come many legends of these strange creatures, where hunters and explorers have had many encounters with what can only be described as huge, shaggy, ape-like beings simply called the Skunk Ape. This creature, which is reported as having a distinct scent of rotted eggs or boiled cabbage mixed with raw garbage, and who walks upright like a man, have inhabited Native American legends for centuries, and are likely to be as old as the swamplands themselves. Though there have been many hoaxes over the years by people who want attention, or have dreams of selling books or movie rights, we must remember that many indigenous peoples have been witnessing these creatures for centuries, long before the Europeans landed on our shores. And, though many Native Americans across the United States have their own version of Sasquatch-like creatures in their oral traditions, the Florida Skunk Ape is unique above them all. With that said, lets explore this distinctive being within Florida’s own unique folklore, and learn of the many reports that to this day continue to come in from all across the state of Florida.
“Given the scientific evidence that I have examined, I’m convinced there’s a creature out there that is yet to be indentified.”
Jeff Meldrum — Professor of Anatomy and Anthropology
This bold statement uttered by professor Meldrum of Idaho State University for the National Geographic Foundation in 2003, speaks volumes for the many hominid investigators that search for this elusive creature known as Sasquatch. Though no cadaver has ever been discovered or empirical evidence found to sustain the existence of such a creature, the belief in this being has progressed beyond mere folklore to become a household name throughout the world. Undeniably, this Bigfoot creature, whatever it truly is, has stabilized itself in Florida folklore that shall likely live for all time — But just what is this large, shaggy monster of the woods?
Though there are many names for the Skunk Ape, such as the Skunk Man, Skunk Monkey, Yeti, Bardin Booger, Booger of the Woods, Ol’ Orange Eyes of the Apalachicola Forest, Stink Ape, Swamp Man, The Swamp Monster and Bad-Breath Todd, there are yet many more designations for this interesting creature. Native Americans also have an almost countless list of names within their lexicon for what we call the Skunk Ape that dates back centuries. Of the many references, such as the Esti Capcaki or ‘Mangrove People’ from the Florida Seminole tribe, the Kecleh-Kudleh from the Cherokee, or the Chiye Tanka from the Lakota-Sioux tribe, these are just a few of hundreds of such names to represent this strange creature. Though these names and their specific translations may very from tribe to tribe, this creature has been reported since practically the dawn of humankind. One of Florida’s now extinct tribes; the Timucua, had spoken of a huge hairy man who stalked the woodlands in peace, but was feared by king and warrior alike. Without a doubt, though this peaceful giant may have been elusive in its natural habitat, its presence was known nonetheless.
As early settlers crossed Florida’s great swamps and estuaries, and set up farms and communities, legends about bizarre creatures coexisting with them began to form around the campfires and within the humble log and tabby-rock cabins after the sun had set. Legends of strange, hairy monsters lurking in the woods began to circulate from community to community, bringing rise to the legends told by the nearby Indian communities. Many settlers had also reported being watched from the dark woodlands, or being followed while hunting game in the marshlands. Other reports of being attacked by what can only be described as huge hairy beasts were also documented, giving this mystical creature a more dangerous reputation. And as these creatures have been described as being 7 to 8 feet tall, and estimated to weigh from 300 to 600 pounds, it’s simple to see why such a thing would frighten even the most ardent hunter or skilled soldier.
From those early sightings, right up to the present day, people continue to experience these strange creatures, even in their own backyards. From the massive Florida everglades to the Ocala National Park, and even near small, back wood roads, the Skunk Ape has been observed and photographed by the most unassuming people. Indeed, though everyone from housewives to hikers have spotted this elusive creature, as well as police officers, firemen and park rangers, its amazing that at least one Skunk Ape hasn’t been captured yet or a body brought in for examination. Moreover, with so many cryptozoological research organizations in existence that collect reports from the experiencer, this question is multiplied.
Famous cryptozoologists like the late Ivan T. Sanderson, a self-taught zoologist, author and WNBC radio commentator wholeheartedly believed that such creatures like the Skunk Ape existed, being more than simply a primate, and intelligent enough to elude human activity, bury their dead and hide from captors without ever being dominated by the more technically advanced human being. Other modern researchers like Loren Coleman, Craig Woolheater, John Kirk and Rick Noll continue the search for the Skunk Ape, and other similar creatures that stay hidden in the shadows of our world by continuously adding to the body of cryptozoology. These organizations and websites offer the interested researcher excellent resources to better understand the nature of such strange creatures, both from a scientific and folkloric point of view. And like the many UFO research groups noted in the aforementioned chapter, these private associations give historical and recent accounts of cryptozoological sightings on a state-to-state basis.
The following listing represents some of the most prominent Skunk Ape reports in Florida. Though there were many reports of such creatures living in Florida’s early landscape, from early pioneers and native Indian tribes, it would go beyond the scope of this research project to exemplify each and every report. Also, because there can be as many as 2 to 3 reports coming in each week around Florida, these case files represent some of the most interesting to date.
Myakka River State Park Skunk Ape Sightings
December 22, 2000
It what is considered to be one of the most controversial Skunk Ape events in recent history is that of now famous Myakka Photos. It all started when a set of photographs arrived at the Sarasota Sheriff’s Department by an anonymous woman. Evidently, the woman snapped the photos first from a hedge line on her property, then from her back porch, in the small community near the Myakka River State Park. After a careful investigation, the woman claimed that she witnessed someone or something stealing apples from a bushel on her porch while she stood in her kitchen, so she decided to catch the elusive thief in the act. She would get the surprise of her life, however, as what she discovered would change her personal philosophies forever.
Once the ‘thief’ struck again the following night, she was ready, and ran out from her house to the bushes where she saw someone hobble in a slouching manner, behind some bushes. She sneaked up on the apple burglar, and snapped a few shots. Once she got a good look at the thing, she quickly noticed that it wasn’t a person at all, but something out of this world. She ran to safety, and the rest is history. When interviewed by deputies, who had by then made several visits to the woman’s house, they examined the photos thoroughly, to find that there was indeed something very strange caught on film. Though the woman was convinced it must have been an escaped orangutan or other huge primate, many Florida cryptozoologists feel the photos are excellent proof that the Skunk Ape is quite real. To date, these photos can still be seen on many cryptozoological websites, which still generates much debate.
Close up and Enlarged
Everglades National Park, October, 22, 2003
As the popularity of the now famous Myakka photos continued to grow throughout the cryptozoological community, many professional researchers and lay investigators alike began their own campaigns to search for the elusive creature. The main question was how could such an animal, which was believed to be as large as a full-grown man, escape detection from the populace for so many years. They wanted to know how, with all the campers, sightseers and visitors, not to mention residents in the nearby communities that such a creature had stayed hidden for so long without being caught. The only evidence, of course, was the mysterious photographs of the creature sent to the Sarasota Sheriff’s Department a few years earlier — evidence that would lure in literally hundreds of Skunk Ape hunters to the Myakka swamps.
In October, 2003, Channel 6 reporter Vince Lennon interviewed Chris Dotson, a self-styled cryptozoologist from south Florida. Dotson, who has been studying the Skunk Ape phenomena for years, noted that the creature reported in the Myakka region had been consistent for at least the last 35 years, and that only recently its legend has resurfaced in full force. Moreover, this creature was now being accused of killing several pets of local residents. Since the 2000 Sarasota case, 6 cats and 1 dog had been killed in Campbell County and throughout the Lafollette community, and people were beginning to worry. Even a local monkey owner was summoned by the Campbell County Sheriff’s Department with his pet Macaque-monkey “Mugway” just to rule out its involvement. The animal owner was happy for the summons because many of his neighbors suspected Mugway was responsible, and wanted to prove once and for all that his pet was not the culprit, nor has ever been allowed to run loose. The owner and his pet monkey were released, and the mystery killings were never solved.
According to expert reports, the cats and dog were killed by strangulation, as done my large hands, the flesh twisted and mangled almost beyond recognition. Though such killings could have been done by a man, the fact that the bodies were found in almost open places, such as in front and backyards, near sidewalks and by the wooded areas, made death of this kind very strange, even for animals. In addition, the bodies were not eaten; they were simply killed, as if the killer was just curious about the small animals, and didn’t know its own strength. In the end, Dotson made it clear to the Channel 6 reporter that zoologists need to capture this creature, and that if encountered, non-professionals should stay away from it, allowing the experts who have some knowledge of large primates like this, to trap it if possible. Dotson was also adamant, as are many cryptozoologists that there could literally be hundreds of Skunk Apes across the Southeast. As for the animal killings, no definitive answer has ever been found, but pet owners continue to make such reports to authorities even to this day.
After these events, and after much scrutiny, the main census appears to have culminated to a simple misidentification of a known animal, likely that of an escaped orangutan. Yet, without the proper proof of this to positively identify the strange creature, the final verdict is still out. Just what was lurking in the thickets of this gulf coast community? In the weeks to come, we’ll continue to discuss this, and other hominid reports to come out of Florida, as well as recap downright antique reports gleaned from state archives.
Florida monsters — My favorite Skunk Ape tales
In this addition, I’m adding a few tidbits of hominid research, that fascinating study of the Bigfoot creature that has more names and identifiers than spots and blotches of paint in a Jackson Pollock painting. Indeed, the subject of such creatures is quite extensive, and has been reported all over the world since mankind practically began. Of the more interesting reports, the Florida ‘Skunk Ape’ proves as unique as the state itself, with overtones of pure back-woods folklore spicing up the more serious echoes of hominid research. Nonetheless, this example of the Bigfoot creature prevails in the legends of the Sunshine State.
The following examples are of my favorites: The Bardin Booger, the Skunk Ape creature of Florida’s woodlands known as Tate’s Hell, and the extremely rare example known as Bad-Breath Todd, an almost demonic version of the Skink Ape that appears to have copious amounts of ‘caution’ within the legends, most likely put there to preserves the innocents of naive girls from fast-talking men. All in all, these legends prove socially intriguing and thought provoking. Are they real or heated imagination will always be pitted as the primary question, though to the countless eyewitnesses, they are without a doubt true.
During the writing of my fourth book with Pineapple Press: Chronicles of the Strange and Uncanny in Florida, I had the opportunity to conduct actual research with one of my colleagues, Dr. Gary Gordon, PhD. Dr. Gordon is a knowledgeable historian and collector of rare artifacts and oddities, and as luck would have it, an equally knowledgeable cryptozoologist. When he learned of my research, he jumped at the opportunity to set up a series of investigations, both from the within library and in the field. We set off to the wilds of Florida, to the formidable woods and swamps of Tate’s Hell State Forest, in the Panhandle, the Bardin Woods near Palatka, northeast, Florida and finally to the southeast near Palm Beach, Florida. We searched high and low, and found little direct evidence, save that of witness stories and experiences, which is after all, the spice of folkloric research. So, with that said, enjoy, and let us know what do you think?
The Great Bardin Booger Flap
Bardin and Palatka Florida, 1975 – 1985
The Bardin Booger; a creature as unique to the Sunshine State as a snow storm taking place in Key West, remains one of Florida’s best-loved Skunk Ape legends. Though the original tale of a hairy biped, with a large head and nose, and who has sometimes been seen wearing tattered overalls and even carrying a kerosene lantern, has many variations to its name and appearance since at least the 1920s. With names like the Wooly Booger, the Billy Holler Bugger, Bardin Goomer, Bug-Eye Boogie, and even The Boogie Man, the Bardin Booger legend has become an institution with many locals in this northern, pine woods locality.
Bardin, Florida continues to be rural logging town surrounded by an immense pine forest, located just northwest of Palatka on Highway 17 and Route 20. Here, among the great pines, oaks and cypress trees, a land where the Etonin and Simms Creeks run into the mighty St. Johns River, you’ll find a hunter’s and ecologist’s paradise. But, beyond these enchanting woods lives this strange creature of legend that every Bardin citizen knows of — the Bardin Booger. Though some think of this Skunk Ape-like creature as nothing more than the active imaginations of simple folk, most likely from living alone in the woods for too long, others however, know different, as they have actually seen this creepy creature of legend.
As I researched this local yarn at firsthand, having teamed up with one of my colleagues and good friends, Dr. Gary Gordon, a Florida historian, experienced hunter, collector of strange artifacts, and a self-styled cryptozoologist, I knew we were in for a ride. From an early age, when Dr. Gordon witnessed a young Skunk Ape crossing a dark road in South Florida back in 1960, he knew there were more things under heaven and earth that met the common man’s philosophies, and made it his mission to explore these avenues of the strange. Happily, when I expressed my intent to research the creature this last year, he agreed to accompany me to the north woods in search of information, and to allow me to view and photograph some of the Skunk Ape footprint casts he had collected from that region and around the country years before. The mission was both educational and quite enjoyable.
Our first stop was to visit Bud’s Grocery Store, located at 341 Bardin Road, in Palatka. The store itself is large enough to have every kind of supply for the modern hunter, logger or vacationer. From shirts and socks, to automobile and tractor parts and equipment and food, the visitor will find what they need to survive in the wilderness. They will also find many souvenirs and assorted trinkets bearing the believed image of the Bardin Booger, as well as newspaper clippings and grainy photos of the alleged creature. Heck, you can even find a song written about the creature titled: The Bardin Boogie there. Though this caricature is meant to be more funny than anthropologically correct, as the beast has a big nose, pointed ears and exaggerated tongue that flop’s out of its grinning mouth, and who carries a lit lantern, the image inspires something more from Scandinavian folklore than from Bigfoot legend. Yet, the image seems to draw in customers nonetheless.
As Dr. Gordon and I made out way though the town, we questioned many of the locals for any stories they might have. From tiny diners and supermarkets, to the town’s library and the local police station, we inquired about the strange creature known as the Bardin Booger. Though most expressed a sense of humor to the idea, some exclaimed that they believed in its existence without a doubt. Some said that they had actually seen the thing. As we continued to ingest the descriptions from the eye-witnesses, we found that the creature was quite large, at least 6 and a half to 8 feet tall, with the majority of its body covered in a reddish-brown hair, which hung low from its arms and back, and had a human-like face. Its face, according to one witness was long, and had a large, bulbous nose and sad, drooping eyes that were almost completely covered by its hair. Its gait was exaggerated, as if in a galloping manner, and when it meant to disappear into the woods, it did every time.
When we interviewed the forest and park rangers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, we got a few laughs, saying that the legend is mostly a tall-tale told mostly in levity, and that no one had ever taken a good photo of it. They related that the legend went back to at least the 1920s, but might be older. And, though the men we spoke with did not admit that they themselves believed in such a creature, they did say that they kept a ‘special’ file open for all Booger-related reports nonetheless. What we learned form these reports of eye-witness accounts was quite invigorating, especially that there were so many. The early 1970s to around 1985 proved to be the most active times for sightings and Booger-related incidents.
According to the majority of eyewitness accounts, the Bardin Booger does not attack people. However, the creature has been blamed for many animal disappearances and mutilations, mostly dogs and cats. Though there are few, if any reports of the creature howling or growling, or otherwise speaking, it does have the reputation to making loud footsteps while walking through the woods, accompanied with the sounds of grunts or stressed breathing, as if it had bronchitis or other upper repertory problems. One of the creature’s most notorious habits is that it likes to steal cloths from clotheslines, or food that might be lying around, such as a baked goods cooling on a windowsill, or even bags of groceries from open car trunks when the occupant isn’t looking. And, though such an act might actually be perpetrated by a human being instead of a Skunk Ape, it’s easy to see how such incidents can fuel already active legends.
Our investigations found many documented Booger sightings and associated reports by local hunters, farmers, and various motorists passing through this wooded area over the years. Many of these stories were written up by local journalists like Rick Cheshire, the former editor of the Palatka Daily News, and John Carter of the Daytona Beach News-Journal. These tenacious journalists met the legends at face-value, elevating such unique, local yarns into time-honored traditions. One such story, titled: The Legends of Bardin’s Booger, published in February of 1981, describes the many different versions of this creature’s historic narrative. One of the most famous Booger sightings involved two of the town’s locals named Doodle Feagin and Doug Crews. Both claimed to have encountered the strange creature while they were was sitting on the tailgate of Feagin’s pickup truck. Crews was the first to spot the Booger walking at a fast pace towards both of them. He said it was about 30-feet away from the truck, noticing that it was about 7 and a-half feet tall, with pointed ears and a round, pug-like nose. The men yelled out to the creature, which provoked it to stare at the men with a grimacing look, thus forcing both of the startled men to jump off the truck to flee, or fight. Thankfully, however, the creature turned and sprinted off into the nearby woods to vanish from sight.
Another popular story is when the Booger allegedly attacked a young couple while parked on a lover’s lane off the outskirts of the town. Though many Bardin Booger researchers do not necessarily believe the incident signifies an act of violence on the part of the creature, they do feel the following report represents strong evidence of territoriality, where the victims were treading on the creature’s territory. Evidently, as the 2 lovers were smooching in their small truck, the Booger jumped from out of the wooded thickets and unto the truck’s hood, making a loud crying sound as it grabbed the sides of the truck and shook it from left to right. The creature is said to have shaken the vehicle so much that it lifted the truck right of its wheels. As the frightened young lovers gained their wits about them, they quickly fled the area and reported the incident to local law enforcement. From thereon in, the Bardin Booger legend elevated to a new level — it was apparent that it had a temper!
Dr. Gordon and I went on to listen to many stories and personal accounts associated to the Booger legend, and by the end of our journey, we found that the Palatka and Bardin townsfolk seemed to be slit down the middle. One half considered the whole story to be nothing more than small town hoodoo, being the product of a bedtime story gone wrong. The other half however, wholeheartedly believe in the legend as truth, that there is indeed a creature living in the dark woodlands of this small lumber town. Though the verdict will likely never be concluded, one thing is for sure — the witnesses believe.
My colleague later showed me several casts of alleged Skunk Ape foot impressions. Some of these were taken from original impressions taken by other researchers across Florida, and some were re-cast from originals that are now held in museums and universities. The one cast believed to have come from the Bardin Booger, measured close to 17 inches long, and close to 9 inches wide. The impression was enough to convince me that if it was made by a hoaxer, than he, or she was brilliant. Because the weight of these impressions were approximated to have come from a man weighing no less than 300 pounds suggest that such a hoaxer went to a lot of trouble to dupe people who might have never found the footprints to begin with. And, if this so-called hoaxer was truly able to fool so many eyewitnesses over at least the past 80 or so years, than this person should be nominated for an award in special effects form Hollywood, as without a doubt, he must be the greatest actor since Lon Chaney. As for Dr. Gordon and I, we both believe in the Skunk Ape and the Bardin Booger too, continuing with our research in order to one day find the truth.
Sources: On sight investigations/interviews in 2006-07, and http://www.i75online.com/bigfoot.html.
Monstrous legends — The mystery in Tate’s Hell
Apalachicola National Forest
Tate’s Hell State Forest is located in Franklin County, between the Apalachicola and Ochlockonee Rivers. This beautiful, but potentially deadly forest runs into the southeast corner of Liberty County, just south of the Apalachicola National Forest and Florida’s Panhandle. The very name of this adventurous place is derived from a local legend that dates back to 1875, when a man named ‘Cebe Tate’ went into these dangerous swampy-woodlands to hunt for a large panther that was suspected of killing his livestock. When Mr. Tate finally escaped the forest; his hunting dogs now dead, and he starving after being lost for days, died in the arms of a pioneer search party, muttering the words “My name is Cebe Tate, and I just came from Hell!” The name of this hapless pioneer stuck, and the legend of one of Florida’s rugged heroes was born. After such a story, it shouldn’t be a surprise that this famous forest-sanctuary would take on many legends over the years. From roaming spirits and ghost lights, to strange monsters in the waters and creatures lurking in the dark swamps, this section of the wild has them all — including the now famous Skunk Ape.
Although there are many modern hiking trails and recreational programs, like the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail, the Great Florida Birding Trail, the High Bluff Coastal Trail and the Trail-Walker Hiking Program, educational programs set-up by the Florida Division of Forestry, there’s more than meets the eye here. And though the visitor will have all of nature’s amenities to have a fun time, as well as the assistance and protection of the forest rangers, they should keep an eye out for these fascinating creatures known as Skunk Apes, because just such creatures have been witnessed here for at least 50 years.
During the summer months of 1969, and again during the ’71 and ’72 summer seasons, a rash of Skunk Ape reports were coming in to ranger stations all over the forest. Reports of huge, man-like creatures covered in fur, or shaggy hair were almost a daily event. Search parties and Bigfoot researchers from across America were tramping through the forest in search of the elusive beast with no success. Though no such creature was captured, several of the researchers claimed to have seen the thing running through the woods on various occasions. During the 1980s the Skunk Ape craze came on the scene again, only this time leaving many footprints in its wake. Some of these footprints were saved by the use of plaster casting, proving that the creature that made the prints must have weighed close to 500 pounds, with strides close to 5-feet from step to step, and whose feet measured from 16 to 18 inches long. Needless to say, as retired park ranger Rick Davies had told me — “If those tracks were made by a hoaxer, this person would have to have had elaborate tools and manpower to have pulled it off.”
Dr. Gary Gordon, PhD in Tate’s Hell (2007)
The Tate’s Hell Skunk Ape would be mentioned again by Kathleen Laufenberg, of the Tallahassee Democrat in August, 2005. As the headline read: “It’s big, it’s hairy, it stinks, it lurks in the woods — and it’s been spotted near Tate’s Hell…It’s Florida’s own monster, the Skunk Ape!” Though a bit cliché, her report was essentially correct, especially with so many reports of such a creature being seen in this national forest for so many years. The reporter went on to say that the files at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission seem to confirm that many people are seeing something big out there — But what is it?
Ms. Laufenberg went on to describe the mission of a Skunk Ape hunter named Scott Marlowe, who has hiked into the swamps of Tate’s Hell during the wee hours of the morning, leading various expeditions in search of the elusive Skunk Ape. Marlowe claims he has had several, up-close and personal encounters with such creatures, which were 7 to 8 feet tall and who had a very pungent odor. He even claims to have been attacked by one while he and several Discovery Channel filmmakers were tracking a family of Skunk Apes for an upcoming show. The film later aired on Animal X, and featured the event prominently. According to Marlowe, one of the creatures threw a heavy stick at him, which hit him right on the head, which even drew blood. Naturally, the event sent waves of excitement through cryptozoological societies world-wide, further adding to the legend of Tate’s Hell.
Today, researchers continue to investigate this national forest and its crypto-oddities that are said to reside here. Though there are many skeptics, mostly park ranger staff and those accustom to the hard science methodology, who simply deny the existence of such creatures, or anything of a paranormal nature, the hunt continues nonetheless. If you’re so inclined to search out this huge, enigmatic creature, this ape-like humanoid, try to remember the ancient warnings poised by native peoples to all explorers of Tate’s Hell — be sure not to interfere with this gentle, but mighty race of creature that lives in peace with the Indians…For if attacked, it will be a most deadly adversary.
Dr. Greg Jenkins, PhD in Tate’s Hell (2007)
The cautionary tale of Bad-Breath Todd
The singular strangest aspect to the Skunk Ape legend is that of Bad-Breath Todd, one of the zaniest stories reported in Florida’s crypto history. This odd creature; which was related to me from a city luminary named Rosemary, a lady who has lived in Palm Beach County for half a century, had first told me about its legend back in the early 1990s. This legend appears to be a legend that takes on a cautionary-like tale for unsuspecting girls, and designed to divert such unwise ladies from getting evolved with amorously fast-talking men. In this description of the famed Skunk Ape, we are told that this creature stands about 6 and a half feet tall, has dark eyes, and sports a coat of dark, curly fur, which plumed at the top of its head. Its one main difference is in its scent, as it does not have the usual Skunk Ape scent of cabbage and rotten eggs. No, this particular type of Skunk Ape-like creature does not emit a scent to its skin or fur, but from its breath. As legend has it, when a girl who is getting a bit too close for comfort from an overly-amorous, sweet-talking man, Bad-Breath Todd is said to jump out from behind the girl in question; usually while smooching behind a tree, or while sitting in a parked car on a lover’s lane, and then howls and hisses, followed by exhales of rancid breath that smalls like decaying fish and dead animals.
Although most cryptozoological researchers who even know of this particular folk legend will likely chalk it up to the overheated cautionary tale inspired by nervous parents, this legend has its basis from a time when the Palm Beaches were practically undiscovered territory. With documented reports of such a creature, which is said to stand about 6-feet tale, with eyes so dark the witness could not see pupils or even the whites of its eyes, nor could be found a discerning facial expression outside of a long slit for a mouth. It was said to stand so still it would often blend into tree-lines or swamps, and when spotted, it would make a startling hissing sound like a snake, and then peel off into the woods. Though is origins are sketchy at best, Rosemary told me that Bad-Breath Todd was once a young, hansom man who made his living romancing, and then robbing young, unwise girls out of their money and respectability. This young man, whose first or last name is believed to have been ‘Todd,’ made a pact with the devil to be taken care of by beautiful women for the rest of his life. The deal apparently worked, but his soul was damned to walk the earth as a hideous thing that no woman could ever love. In effect, this tale is similar to the French love story Beauty and the Beast, but with no happy ending. Whether or not this tale was simply spun for entertainment so many years ago, or if there is truth to it is indeed the question. Either way, the legend grew, even if silently over the past 60 years.
As for reports of modern-day frights from Bad-Breath Todd, I was able to dig up few as recent as the late 1980s and early 1990s, which had been seen as far south as Delray Beach, and even on the luxury resort-town of Palm Beach Island. One story involved such a creature lurking behind the nightclubs that lined the busy Clematis Street in downtown West Pam Beach, and from the thickets of sea grapes on the beach from South Jupiter to Delray Beach. Though this oddity tends to incite more joviality than fear today, unwise women might do well to remember its legend, for some still believe it skulks in search for unsuspecting girls who do not listen to sound advice.
Sources: Interview — Mrs. Rosemary K., Palm Beach County, and Meet-Up “Parapsychology Groups” -- http://www.meetup.com/
Jenkins, Greg (2010). Chronicles of the Strange and Uncanny in Florida, Sarasota, Pineapple Press.
The Cryptozoologist -- http://www.lorencoleman.com/ and Channel 6 News, Campbell County, Florida, 2003.
The Skunk Ape Files http://www.skunkapefiles.com/names1.html
The Sarasota Herald Tribune, February 12, 2001.
Tallahassee Democrat, August, 2005 and Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization -- www.bfro.net/