My Hunt For The Florida Skunk Ape Bill Knell

Florida is a place full of legends. Many of these involve paranormal events. The Devilís Triangle, The Satan Tree, The Fountain of Youth and so on. When my family moved to the St Petersburg area I had no idea I was resettling in weirdness central. I found out while attending Boca Ciega High School in Gulfport.

In 1973 my Mass Media teacher, Mrs Wieseman, wanted me to come up with an interesting project for my grade because I decided not to take part in the class showcase. Since I had limited musical ability and my singing voice scared animals and small children, I think it was a good decision.

I started a UFO Club that met after school in the Mass Media classroom. Long story short, it became very popular. There were tons of stories which was great because I was interested in UFOs. Not everyone that attended had a UFO story to share. Some spoke about ghost sightings and two told a story about their dadís encounter with something called the Skunk Ape.

The Skunk Ape is the Southís Bigfoot. It gave off an odor like rotten cabbage. Some Florida Natives called it something like ďthe rotten food manĒ in their language. That later morphed into The Cabbage Man. I assume they gave it that name because centuries ago they probably would not have known that Apes existed.

The Skunk Ape appears throughout Florida, Louisiana, Georgia and elsewhere in the South. Modern sightings in Florida began in 1909. The creature is tall, furry and walks on two feet. And yes, it smells really bad. Part of the reason for that may be that it spends time in swamp water, ponds and lakes. Unlike its Northern counterpart Bigfoot, the Skunk Ape is said to be a good swimmer.

Apes cannot swim, though orangutans will wade through swallow water if they think it is safe. That makes me think that calling it an Ape is good for descriptive purposes, but not really accurate. That's the problem. No one seems to know what Bigfoot, the Skunk Ape or Sasquatch really is. They are all often seen in conjunction with increased UFO sightings.

That makes me wonder if Aliens bring creatures from other worlds to Earth to see how they react to our environment, people and creatures. That might explain how they appear and vanish so quickly. The same is true of other Cryptids (from the Greek κρύπτω, krypto, meaning "hide" or "hidden"). Creatures like Mothman (WV), Lizard Man (SC), Jersey Devil (NJ) and the Van Meter Visitor (IA) also fall into that category.

I didn't know it at the time, but as luck would have it, our part of Florida (and others) were experiencing a rash of UFO and Skunk Ape sightings and encounters. The UFO Club quickly brought that to my attention. Most of the Skunk Ape reports came from an area that was overgrown and situated along the Intracoastal Waterway in St Pete off Park Street North.

One day in early October my friend Bruce and I were driving home from school when the DJ on a local radio station we were listening to announced that he had just received an unusual call. The caller lived on the Intracoastal Waterway across from the Jungle Prada area. He claimed he watched a large, hairy creature swim across the Waterway to an overgrown area near the Jungle Prada Pier.

The DJ said it was too early for Halloween pranks and made it clear that he believed the caller. Others reported the same type of creature in that area earlier that week, so it seemed plausible. I know there was at least one article on these reports in the St Pete Times, but I have never been able to track it down.

Jungle Prada is an amazing place. Today it is Jungle Prada Park and home to the Anderson-NarvŠez Burial Mound and the suspected location of the 1528 landing of Spanish Explorer PŠnfilo de NarvŠez and his expedition. The Tocobaga Indians called this area home and a number of other burial mounds are located there. The area was first developed as a small shopping center for a nearby luxury hotel in 1924.

Al Capone owned property which extended from the shopping center to the water and had a small house nearby. He also had a larger one in what later became Shore Acres. Rumor has it he invested in a nightclub called The Gangplank (which later became a restaurant) to bring bootleg booze in from the water through secret tunnels. It was also part of a plan to make the area popular with the rich and famous. Duke Ellington and Count Basie performed at The Gangplank, and Babe Ruth held one of his weddings there.

Capone and his men flew into an airport he owned that once existed where Tyrone Square Mall was later built. He hoped to convince wealthy people to do the same. They would stay nearby at the opulent Jungle Country Club Hotel. Today the Admiral Farragut Academy occupies that building. His plan ultimately fell short of expectations, but Capone, his friends and his men still made good use of the club.

I first visited the restaurant in 1971 with my parents. I was very impressed. It still had the original Terrazzo Floor that was installed for the Gangplank Club. In 1970 the owner of the restaurant went to a sale at Warner Brothers Studios in Hollywood. He purchased the original bar, chairs, tables and set dressings from the 1942 film Casablanca and used them in the restaurant. On top of all that, Jack Kerouac, the author of On The Road once lived nearby.

I guess you could say Jungle Prada was the home of the good, the bad and the ugly. You can decide which title fits all the previous inhabitants and visitors best. Perhaps that's why many paranormal researchers call it Floridaís most haunted place. I never got any bad vibes when I went there. However, the place does have an odd reputation and jaded history.

The Tocobaga Tribe carried out dark rituals which included sexual perversion and possible cannibalism. The Spanish pillaged, raped, spread syphilis, murdered and enslaved natives. Capone served up drugs and prostitution along with drinks at the club. Who knows what other nefarious acts were committed there or in his house. Stories circulated about dark rituals and devil worship in the empty mansions scattered along Park Street North in the early 1970s.

By 1973 the club was a restaurant, the area nearby was mostly overgrown and there wasn't much else there except for the pier and a boat ramp. Several of my other friends heard the same radio broadcast and showed up at Jungle Prada. They joined our Skunk Ape hunt. Students from Dixie and other schools including the Junior College came out as well. While most everyone shuffled around the areas in the woods and near the water I needed a break.

I went into the restaurant to get a coke and a burger platter. It wasn't very crowded and looked like it just opened. It must have been around five by then. I asked my server if she knew about any strange events that happened around there? Brenda told me that the restaurant was haunted. Lights went on and off by themselves and small items like keys, cooking utensils and silverware moved around, then returned to their original location.

Brenda heard about the Skunk Ape stories. Her explanation was that people misidentified large dogs that often went into the water to cool off while their owners used the boat ramp. Who knows? She had a whole different view about UFOs. Brenda was in her early twenties. Unlike most people, she was born in Florida. Brenda said that people often reported odd lights in the sky near Jungle Prada. Apparently, ghosts and UFOs were regular topics of conversation in the restaurant.

There is a lot more, but I have gone off topic enough for this article. The rest is in my UFO GUY book. Despite our best efforts the Skunk Ape eluded us. However, when we got back in the car to leave, the same radio station began to put people live on the air because so many called in saying they saw the Skunk Ape swimming in the Waterway, near Treasure Island and close to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge over the summer.

***Bruce Weber posted this on FB as a comment to my post about the Florida Skunk Ape in BOCA CIEGA ALUMNI KREWE...
"One evening during the summer of '73, I was out in the John boat checking a few traps west of Bay Pines in that natural marina area south of the causeway. By the time the sun started to set, a couple of guys in the insane asylum on the top floor of the western most ward started howling and screaming like bloody murder. I had heard of this but never experienced it. So we cruised out the opening and headed east to Long Bayou. By the time we entered Long Bayou with a little light left we encountered a large hulking figure emptying a trap (not one of mine). We just passed on the idea of heading up Long Bayou and veered south back to the Prada. I kinda always figured it was either a big smelly crab thief, of a skunk ape."

*** Want more CREATURE WEIRDNESS??? Read about Mothman, Lizard Man and Skinwakers.

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