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La Floridiana by Will Moriaty
   Now in our eighth calendar year
    PCR #360  (Vol. 8, No. 7)  This edition is for the week of February 12--18, 2007.

The Tampa Film Review for February  by Nolan B. Canova
Loren Cass: A Florida Indie Film Review  by Nolan B. Canova
Weird Magic in Sanford, FL!  by ED Tucker
Ginnie Springs - - Skunk Ape Central?...Just What Happened on the Wacaser Farm in 1956?  by William Moriaty
"Breach"  by Mike Smith
Concerts....The British Oscars....Passing On....Movie Notes....Whatever Happened To...? Chapter 7: Josh Mostel  by Mike Smith
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Ginnie Springs - - Skunk Ape Central?

This past week I was privileged to receive a complimentary signed copy of Charlie Carlson’s latest book, “STRANGE FLORIDA II - - More Weird and Unusual Stuff”.

The first chapter of his newest foray into the unexplained of the Sunshine State was dedicated to one of Charlie‘s most revered of Florida strangeness, the “Florida’s Swamp Ape”, better known as the Florida Skunk Ape.

Devoted readers of this column may recall that I shared with them something concerning a mysterious light at the Ginnie Springs Resort that I experienced while camping there in March 1981. This story can be found in PCR #184 as well as in my book "William Moriaty’s FLORIDA”.

Strangely enough, what prompted me to visit Ginnie Springs was not anticipation of a weird light illuminating my tent to daylight brightness, but the possibility of encountering a Florida Skunk Ape!

Another Long Night at the Montgomery Ward Garden Shop
On one of my 10 A.M. to 9 P.M. shifts at the Clearwater Mall Montgomery Ward outdoor shop that I managed, I was with one of my employees, John Blechschmidt. As the hours wore on, John and I oozed perspiration as we were relocating stacks of bags of fertilizer on a hot and humid summer night in 1980.

I was voicing to John that I would like to take a camping trip in North Carolina or north Florida as I had recently bought a 9’ x 12’ tent. I even pitched the tent in the public space of the apartment complex I lived at called “The Oaks” in Clearwater in order to weatherproof it and give it a test run. I would end up using it in the mountains of North Carolina while visiting my sister and brother in law in Greensboro a week or two after my conversation with John.

Ennywho, back to the hot, humid and sweaty garden shop…

John recommended that if I went to north Florida that I check out a private camping resort outside of High Springs called the Ginnie Springs Resort that he frequented in the late 1970’s. He spoke of its towering trees and crystal clear boil springs - - I was already sold!

But then he added a little more color to the landscape of this cave divers paradise. The majority of what you are about to read concerning John’s encounter was written by him in the third person. I want to personally thank John for having the courage to step forward with his story, as well as taking the time to assemble this incredible story for our audience…

“I Encountered a Skunk Ape, Will!”


John went on to tell me that a very strange and somewhat terrifying incident occurred to him and his two friends while visiting there in late August of 1979.

It was getting on toward late evening when John, joined by his two friends Ron and Tom, began setting up their campsite on the small spit of land located between the massive Santa Fe River and the small outflow stream of Dogwood Springs.

This was a very remote part of the resort only accessible on land by means of two trails. One was the "swamp trail" and the other the "river trail". Both trails had some things in common - - mainly that they were more mud than trail - - unmarked (meaning it was easy to get off the trail and get lost), almost impossible to see at night, and covered with numerous fallen trees. John explained that their vehicles were parked some half a mile away down the "swamp trail" and getting all the gear to the campsite was an adventure all in its own.

As the final rays of that late summer evening fell upon the camping group, an unexpected and somewhat violent Florida thunderstorm let a monsoon loose that left the camping site drenched. Making matters worse, all of the provisions to make fire (kindling and matches) were soaked, all the clean dry clothes and sleeping bags were still in the vehicles, and of all things, there was only one working flashlight that had rapidly failing batteries!

After some discussion it was agreed that John's two friends Ron and Tom would attempt to hike the mile or so long now pitch black "river trail" up to the resort's general store to purchase a gas lantern. The plan was then to hike back down from the general store along the wooded resort road to the vehicles (utilizing the new light source) and bring back the dry clothes, sleeping bag, and a bottle of 151 Old Grand-Dad Whiskey to warm everyone up. John was to remain alone at the campsite guarding the coolers against critters. John said laughing after his experience, "If I had known what kind of critters were in those woods – - I would not have volunteered to stay behind!"

A number of hours passed since Ron and Tom set out, and there was no sign of John’s two friends. John began to worry "what if the flash light failed they lost their way on the dark "river trail" and were now lost in the unfamiliar woods?" ,

About the same time as John was considering his options regarding his friends and whether he should attempt to make his way to the vehicles via the “swamp trail" he noticed a strange very sudden change to the night forest.

That often deafening nocturnal chorus of the frogs, crickets and other residents of the springs, wetlands and swamps adjoining the Santa Fe River went eerily silent and almost all at once. The only sound that could be heard was the drops of water falling from the trees falling onto the hard sand and root packed ground, popcorn-like sounds from these rain drops striking the coolers and an almost relaxing sound of pit pat on the tent roof.

John then heard the crackling of branches off in the distance teamed with the sound of what could only be described as a sloshing sucking splashing sound from the shallow water filled swamp.

As time passed these sounds from the woods grew louder and John now begin to notice a smell now filled the air with an overpowering almost nauseating stench something akin to “rotting garbage on a hot summer day”.

John's first thoughts were that the noises were coming from his friends probably up to no good and trying to play a prank on him – scare him! He thought the smell might be from the swamp itself and a wind change? John decided to retreat to the inside of the tent, remain very quiet and at the appropriate time – leap out and scare his good buddies! John said he was chuckling to himself – "We shall see who scares who!"

Whatever was making the noise was now very close to the campsite just on the opposite bank of the small spring fed stream. Suddenly there was the sound of a huge splash! John thought – "good! the assholes were fooling around and one of them actually fell into the cold spring water!" He listened and could hear what he thought was someone now making their way across the small shallow stream and then stepping up onto the hard root packed bank behind the tent.

John remained just inside the entrance of the tent – ready to leap out and scare one of his friends but good! Minutes passed - - something large - - something very heavy (the root hardened ground actually reverberated as if horse's hoofs were walking on it) stepped behind the tent. John said he waited and waited poised to leap but they would not move to the front of the tent door so that he could implement his "scare" plans.

John finally grew tired of this game and called out to his friends – "Alright Ron, Tom the game is up! You guys are busted and I am glad one of you got soaked falling into the stream trying to scare me!" "Now where are my dry clothes, sleeping bag, liquor and the damned flashlight!

There was no response so John said he called out one more time from the inside of the tent into the now deathly silent woods. Nothing – no response! He said he could only hear the sounds of rain drops dripping off the trees onto the roof of the tent.

This situation was now making John very uncomfortable and he begin to think – what the hell is this terrible smell, why was there no yelling when his buddy (he suspected Ron) fell into the ice cold spring water?

John said he began to think that maybe this was an animal – a bear - but if so – why does this thing not get into our coolers sitting on the ground in front of the tent – eat and leave?

Things just were not adding up!

It was during this thought process that John suddenly heard a terrifying and unearthly scream, the likes of which he had never heard before and hopes to never again. "It was like nothing I had ever heard – not animal – not human – I just do not know!"

This scream was followed immediately by what could only be described as a violent strike upon one of the sapling trees that the rear of the tent was secured to. The strike was high up on the tree and so powerful that it actually caused a deep thud and vibration into the surrounding ground. Rain drops hailed down in a burst from the sapling onto the tent roof! John said it sent a shiver up his spine!

John said he remained frozen and silent in absolute fright. He kept thinking – "damned this HAS to be Ron and he wins this round of being a jokester! This is a very good prank – too good!" Then John said he had thoughts of what if – what if this is really a bear – I want out of this tent!

Thoughts raced through John's head. He considered leaping out of the tent and diving from the high bank into the murky Santa Fe River and then swimming downstream to the boat ramp. Problem with that was – what if running to the bank provokes an attack if this is a bear?

Then in a flash he again thought this has to be Ron – has to be and if I run and dive into the river while Ron and Tom are standing there - it will make me the biggest horse's ass for falling for this prank!" John said he opted to just stay put, listen just about scared stiff.

Minutes passed and John heard something further away from the campsite down toward the river trail. He remained quite and frozen and noticed the sounds were getting further from the campsite and now the terrible smell was fading. The crickets, frogs and other insects again begin to sing out again in the damp night air.

John remained frozen inside the tent for what seemed like an eternity. Around 11:30 PM Ron and Tom were heard coming up the "river trail" from the vehicles. They had been successful - not buying a gas lantern but borrowing one. They had our plastic garbage bags full of our dry clothing and sleeping bags in hand.

John said he approached his two friends and starting congratulating them on pulling off such a great prank and they both looked at him like he was nuts!. Ron explained they made there way to the general store along the river trail after being lost for a while but by the time they reached the general campground store it had closed.

Fate did smile on them because on their return trip via the resort road they stopped and asked for some help from some non primitive campers (i.e. motor home folks). Ron and Tom were loaned a lantern and even were given a hot meal – beans and franks!

John said he looked at Ron and expected him to be completely soaked (from his fall into the stream) or at least that he would be in different clothing than before he left. He was neither. John began to tell Ron and Tom little pieces of his story as they unpacked the rest of the gear about what had happened.

John said he showed Ron the sapling tree that was struck and Ron began looking very nervous. John said "we all went over and tried to shake and hit the sapling to mimic what I had experienced. None of us could begin to move the tree and we all began to realize that no human could have been the cause."

Ron almost demanded that John recount his experience in great detail so he did. John described the crackling of branches, then the woods falling silent of frogs and crickets calls – the huge splash, terrible smell – that inhuman scream - and then the small tree being struck like a bull dozer hit it – actually sending vibrations into the ground.

Ron became visibly scared and replied – you were visited by a Yeti! Do you know what that is? John told Ron he had never heard of such a thing and further that it was folklore. Ron said it is real and in the morning we will find proof. You were visited by a cousin of the Yeti – the SKUNK APE!

John said the group retired to the tent about the time another gully washer of a rain storm hit that lasted through the night and into the next day. To say the least – no one in the group slept a wink that night. John said they all lay awake trying to hear anything over the pouring rain and loud thunder.

John said in the morning and still in the pouring rain the three of them tried to find any tracks around the campsite that might have been left by the Skunk Ape beast. It had been raining so hard that it flooded away any evidence of tracks – even most of the "river trail" was gone from site – under water.

John said to this day of that entire camping adventure and his encounter with the Skunk Ape still sends chills down his spine when he thinks about it!

Well, that story certainly made an otherwise hot and dull evening with the stinky bags of Weed N Feed a lot more interesting!

Weekend Getaway Trip Turns to Terror!
Six years after John’s harrowing experience, another employee of mine from the garden shop went on a camping trip to the Ginnie Springs Resort on his way back from the Knoxville World's Fair (all weirdness aside, the Resort is an absolutely gorgeous place to visit that I would highly recommend for anyone intent on seeing natural Florida at its very finest! The springs alone are worth the trip!).

The employee had camped at a more remote part of the Resort that was in a swale. In the middle of the night he and his girlfriend were awaken by a series of bloodcurdling screams occurring in the nearby swamp. The screams sounded like something or someone in absolute agony. It sounded both human and non-human at the same time.

“All that I know is that it terrorized us! We were beginning to wonder if we were going to live to see the dawn!” he exclaimed when recounting this incident.

When dawn finally broke, my employee and his girlfriend were quite alive and there were no signs of disturbance around the campsite or nearby woods.

To add more terror to the tale perhaps was this curious aftermath…

People began to trickle down from the less remote camp sites toward their tent. With apprehensive looks on their faces, they said “We’re glad you’re alive! We thought we heard someone get killed or something down here last night!”

May 1985, the Final Skunk Ape Fling

I was absolutely convinced that some weird bi-pedal hominid was roaming the Ginnie Springs Resort and nearby lands. I knew that there was a cattle farm just east of the resort, but these sounds and events were not consistent with the sounds and movements of cattle.

I decided to spend a portion of my 1985 vacation at Ginnie Springs Resort determined to catch one of these noise makers on cassette tape. In May of that year I went with yet another fellow Ward’s employee to the Resort pitching my tent in the dark at Dogwood Springs again.

It was still drizzling from one of the first summer rains of that otherwise drought stricken year. Once inside the dry security of our tent, we got out our sleeping bags to get some shut eye. Before we could even unfold our bags we heard the most unearthly scream piercing through the otherwise still night air. It sounded to me like a cross between the sound of a human screaming and a the sound that metal, such as a guardrail, makes when being bent from great pressure.

“Get out the tape recorder! Get out the tape recorder!”

I began yelling at my friend to get out the tape recorder and start taping these incredible and terrifying sounds. He searched in vain due to the darkness inside the tent. I then yelled, “well where’s the flashlight?”

“Uh, I can’t find that either!”

Finally he found both the tape recorder and the flashlight, but by then it was too late.

The screaming had stopped.

For that matter the camping had stopped.

It would the last time that I would pitch up the beautiful 9’ x 12’ tent that I bought at the Montgomery Ward sporting goods department at the Clearwater Mall in July 1980.

But all these years later my mind is still vexed with the following question which will probably never have be answered…

Just what was it that terrified us out at Ginnie Springs all those years ago and does it still roam there?

Just What Happened on the Wacaser Farm in 1956?

While we're discussing the paranormal in Florida, let's go further back into time to the year 1956.

In the Little Alafia River section of Hillsborough County, a farm owned by W.R. Wacaser experienced something exceptionally strange in the month of December. One day the farm house shook with fury as either an object from the sky impacted the farm's pasture or something within the ground created an explosion. Close inspection by Mr. Wacaser found out that whatever the cause, something tore out a hole the size of a rail road box car from his pasture!

Mr. Wacaser contacted the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office who in turn contacted nearby Mac Dill Air Force Base. The Air Force sent experts to the Wacaser farm as soon as possible. When they arrived, grass around the hole was still burning. Several trees were knocked over by the blast while others were scorched on the side nearest the crater. Other trees yet fell directly into the crater and along with pasture's sod, smoldered for 40 days!

Bombs, stray rockets from Cape Canaveral, trapped underground gas, sinkholes and even meteorites were all ruled out.

So, just what happened on the Wacaser farm in 1956?

"La Floridiana" is ©2007 by William Moriaty.  Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2007 by Nolan B. Canova.