Mythical animals are found throughout the world. Oregon has its sasquatch, Scotland the Loch Ness Monster, Vermont’s Lake Champlain its Champ, Nepal the yeti, Wyoming its jackalope and Chubut, Argentiina, its “Nahuelito,” found in the murky depths of Nahuel Haupi Lake.
Thus, it is only natural that Florida should have an animal whose existence is questioned; the Bardin Booger.
The purported existence of the animals is generally proven by blurry, apparently faked photographs. Occasionally, scientific expeditions are dispatched to distant places in a vain attempt to demonstrate the existence of the creatures.
In 1922, when reports of a possible living plesiosaur in Nahuel Haupi Lake were received, President Harding and King George V argued over whether the expedition to Patagonia should be conducted by the Smithsonian or the British Museum. The investigation was finally conducted by Argentines by lobbing sticks of dynamite into the depths to force the creature to the surface. It did not appear. Nevertheless regularly to this day about the time of Chubut tourist season, further sightings are reported.
From 1950 through the 1970’s, there was a spate of sightings of Skunk Apes and other monsters in the swamps and woods of Florida. St. Johns and Putnam Counties were certainly not immune from such reports. In 1984 or 1985, a skunk ape was reportedly spotted near Kings Estate Road and the Florida East Coast tracks. But like many similar reports, it could not be verified. The story was third hand.
Another skunk ape was spotted in the marsh near Vilano Beach in May 2000 by three fishermen. The ape was described as “a real hairy ape man about 5 ft tall” who smelled like skunk. In most instances, however, the reports described a stinky hairy, green-eyed, eight-foot tall man-like creature.
A typical report was a 1975 report of a skunk ape seen in an Orlando area apartment parking lot.
Another 1975 sighting was included within a police report from Dade County:
Dade County Public Safety Dept. Miscellaneous Report #72168-7 Reported by Ronald Bennett,46 w/m 2820 SW 106 Avenue
SUSPICIOUS INCIDENT AT BLACK POINT-GOULDS CANAL,12AM. March 24, 1975
Police were dispatched 2:26 Am. arrived: 2:31 Am. In Service:4:22 Am.
REMARKS: The report stated that at the above time, date and location of his son Michael Bennet and a friend Lawrence Groom w/m 54 years old.(223-0108) ,while driving down a dirt road towards Black Point near the water dike they observed what appeared to be an upright standing giant ape-like man, approximately eight(8) to nine (9) feet and very heavy set, black in color with no clothes, standing next to a blue Chevy and rocking the car back and forth with great force. The witness further stated they observed a man getting out of the vehicle in a hysterical manner and yelling for help. When the lights of the vehicle that the witnesses were in lit up, the ape like man turned and went into mangroves. The witnesses stated they could hear the thing running through the mangroves. At this time the witness, vehicle was turned around and leaving the area. Upon department they did not see where the man in the blue Chevy went.
South District Station #4 was notified and responded to the area. A search of the area for the blue Chevy and the ape like man produced negative results.
NOTE: The location of the incident can be variously described as the eastern end of 248TH Street SW 87TH Avenue SW. and Biscayne Bay and Snapper Point.
COMMENT: To get from location of the sighting to the Bennett home would take no more than an hour and probably thirty minutes. So it is clear that the incident was discussed at least an hour and a half before the elder Bennett decided to call the Police. Mrs. Bennett said that her son began his story with the predictable, “Mom, you’re not going to believe this, but….”
Indeed, there were so many reports that, according to the St. Petersburg Independent, February 27, 1978, p. 15-A, “The Skunk Ape, Florida’s Monkey Catcher Says It’s Really ‘Big Foot,’” a Florida Legislator introduced a bill giving it a protected species status.
The largest numbers of reports have come from David Shealy who ran the Florida Panther Gift Shop, a campground, and the “Skunk Ape Research Centre” on U.S. 41 in Ochopee. Before the gift shop closed in 1998, it had on display purported plaster casts of the ape’s footprints and, at one time, tufts of hair. The hair unfortunately was allegedly seized by two men, driving a dark sedan, wearing dark suits, white shirts, black ties and sunglasses.
Most of the reports in Northeast Florida came from an area of Putnam County known as Bardin, about seven miles northwest of Palatka. The first reported sighting near Bardin was in the 1940’s near the Etoniah Baptist Church. The area around Etoniah is now part of a state forest but had been settled by the time of the Civil War. Confederate troops scouting Federal movements along the St. Johns River were stationed near there. The area is now a known migration path for the Florida black bear. Thus, it may be speculated that some of the sighting may have been of bear.
Others sightings may have been of Lena Crain who since the 1970’s has dressed up in a booger suit, primarily for festivities at the Palatka Moose Lodge. However, since she is only slightly over five feet tall, there are some difficulties in making a believable booger.
According to David Grimes, “Florida Curiosities: Quirky Characters, Roadside Oddities & Other Offbeat Stuff,” old-timers at Bud’s grocery in Bardin claimed to have seen the booger. One old timer claimed to have spotted the booger running through the woods carrying a lantern. Another caught the booger stealing clothes off a clothesline. A third claimed that he had surprised the booger while the booger was raiding a refrigerator.
The St. Augustine Record, March 6, 2006, reported that the booger appeared at Palatka’s Azalea Festival in Ravine Gardens, carrying an American Flag and a bouquet of azaleas.
Sighting of strange animals in Florida are not limited to skunk apes and Bardin boogers. Around 1939, Mrs. Jess L. Gerardi and her family saw a pink dinosaur-like creature in the St. Johns River. The animal was again spotted in 1960 by a biology student and two friends who were bow hunting along the St. Johns. Again on May 10, 1975, a fishing party of five spotted the animal. It was described as looking like “a dinosaur with its skin pulled back, so all the bones were showing . . . sort of the color of boiled shrimp. One of the fishermen stated that “it looked to her like a dragon.” The animal has since borne the nickname “Pinky.”
The claims of booger and dinosaur sightings may be like sightings of jackalopes in Wyoming. An explanation given for the paucity of jackalope sightings is that the animal is nocturnal. Jackalopes are, therefore, most frequently observed by cowboys emerging from saloons in the early morning hours.