You can tell it’s fall in Florida when the license plates change color. The other sign of the change in seasons is that all the stores start putting up Christmas decorations. That’s our cue that Halloween is coming and it’s time for spooky, scary skeletons and other frightful apparitions.
Although Florida is generally regarded as a bright and sunny state, we have our share of dark and haunted places, including the Don CeSar in St. Pete Beach, the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine and Launch Complex-34 at Cape Canaveral. Even Interstate 4 is supposedly cursed, although I think it’s haunted more by tow trucks than ghosts.
We also have plenty of monsters to make your liver quiver and your spine tingle. For instance, in the early 1900s people in Polk County claimed they saw “an immense serpent” in Lake Clinch, and this was well before those 17-foot pythons began showing up in the Everglades. Some people say the St. Johns River contains a dinosaur-like monster they call “Pinky,” which probably remains hidden because of its shame at such a non-frightening nickname. Meanwhile the Lake Worth Lagoon in Palm Beach County is supposedly home to a creature called the Muck Monster, which you can tell is totally real because you can buy a T-shirt with “Muck Monster” on it.
Florida is also the only state to have not one but two Bigfoot relatives sneaking through our remaining wild places.
One is the Bardin Booger, which supposedly skulks around the pine flatwoods and swamps of Putnam County in North Florida. The first reported sighting was in the 1940s in the unincorporated area known as Bardin (hence the name). There have been plenty more reported since then.
That area is in the heart of Florida black bear country, making it likely that whatever creature people saw, it was either a bear or a humbug. The one sighting that everyone agrees was legit happened in 2006, when the St. Augustine Record reported that the Bardin Booger appeared at Palatka’s Azalea Festival carrying an American Flag and a bouquet of azaleas.
The Sunshine State’s better-known hairy hominid is the South Florida version known as the Skunk Ape. As far as I can tell, the Skunk Ape is the only legendary creature that has a stench that’s as famous as the creature itself. The Skunk Ape allegedly lurks in the Everglades and the Big Cypress National Preserve. Like all Bigfoot relatives, it exists primarily in a series of blurry and inconclusive photos and video clips.
Yet somehow, the Skunk Ape has gained a level of kitschy, tongue-in-cheek acceptance among longtime Floridians that has eluded the Bardin Booger. I suspect his cachet is due to the thing that gives the creature its name — namely its odor, which has been described as resembling rotten eggs and methane gas, or wet dogs mixed with skunk. It stinks like crazy is what I am saying.
The Skunk Ape is so Florida-famous that in 1977, a state representative from Fort Myers sponsored a bill that would make it a misdemeanor to possess, harm or molest one. Sadly, the bill did not pass. The legislator blamed the ape’s own political apathy, telling reporters, “They’re very important, but I can’t get them to the polls.”
These days, we don’t see a lot of these kinds of monsters skulking about any more. Instead we’ve got far larger monsters to keep us awake at night — monster hurricanes fueled by the rising warmth of climate change and monster algae blooms that slaughter marine life by the thousands and threaten to wipe out our tourist economy.
If we don’t figure out how to fight back against those monsters, we are likely to find fewer and fewer of those colorful license plates rolling down our highways. And then how will we tell it’s fall?
Contact Craig Pittman at [email protected] Follow @craigtimes.