(Have a happy Christmas and prosperous New Year. This column will return Friday, January 5.)
For many decades Florida residents and tourists claim to have spotted a fur covered ape-like creature that has been tagged with names ranging from Swamp Ape and Skunk Ape to Florida Yeti and Big Foot, among others.
Most sightings have been reported in or near the Everglades and some in the Tampa Bay area.
The most recent sighting I’ve heard about came from a boat captain hereabouts, and his pal who gave me the photo shown here of a creature they say was seen prowling Cumberland Island recently. Like most photos I’ve seen of the creature, this one is blurry and somewhat out of focus.
Is this Sasquatch-like creature a figment of their imaginations, a result of a happy hour gone off the rails, a drunken Palace Saloon patron hopelessly lost, or just one of the local tree-hugging anti-development environmentalists spotted howling at the moon?
Ever since I can remember Florida’s version of Bigfoot has always been described as being able to walk erect like a man but covered completely in hair like a gorilla or a member of the local tree conservatory organization.
Serious researchers, journalists, scientists, and amateur sleuths have issued reports, but nothing has ever been proven. Numerous national TV networks, some serious scientists and even the prestigious Smithsonian Magazine have studied it and written about it but have never produced conclusive evidence that’s it exists or is just phony baloney. Many folks think it’s a bear, an escaped zoo orangutang, or that the whole thing is a hoax with some guys running around in an ape costumes.
When I first heard these Swamp Ape stories I was a Tampa Plant High School student in the early 1960s. A gaggle of my pals and I piled into my 1940 DeSoto and headed East down State Highway 60 toward Brandon where local newspaper reports said it had been spotted more than once. As I recall we had no definitive plan as to what we would do if we encountered this thing except snap photos of it with a Kodak Instamatic camera we brought along.
The only thing we discovered during that trip was that Brandon stinks – literally. The rotten egg stench of the phosphate mine sludge ponds was so strong we cut our trip short and scratched any plans for future expeditions.
Reports of this bizarre creature are at times associated with descriptions claiming that it reeks of an odor of rotten eggs. Maybe there was something to the fact that it was spotted in Brandon, where it would have blended in perfectly.
My Cumberland correspondents didn’t mention a peculiar odor or if they have seen this local Big Foot more than once. They just provided the above photo saying: “Here’s something that might interest you,” while adding that this is just one of many Cumberland Island sightings of the creature.
Dave Shealy, who lives in a dot on the map called Ochopee, runs what he calls Skunk-Ape Research Headquarters in the Everglades and knows more than most about the comings and goings of this elusive hirsute legend. He also grew up in the Everglades, made moonshine and hunted and fished there his entire life.
Imagine the Fernandina Fletcher Avenue Hammerhead Bar with a souvenir booth selling Skunk Ape koozies, T-shirts, hoodies, skunk-ape repellent, skunk-ape hunting permits, etc. and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what Skunk-Ape Research Headquarters looks like. Or go to https://www.facebook.com/SkunkApeHeadquarters/
Based on what I’ve read about him there are two things that Shealy hates: 1— the federal government and 2— environmentalists. He says the feds forced him and his family off their property in the Everglades because the environmentalists didn’t want anyone living there except critters and vegetation. It’s sort of like the relationship between Nassau County’s conservatory crowd of grey haired granny harpies and local builders.
But back to the Swamp Ape. Shealy says he first spotted the creature when he was 10 years old. He’s made plaster casts of its footprints and talked to tourists and locals who have also seen it. He dismisses skeptics who say it doesn’t exist.
Maybe my Cumberland Island correspondents are onto something. Perhaps the Skunk Ape, like Shealy, is fed up with the environmentalists and the feds too and moved north to Cumberland Island. Maybe some local entrepreneur will set up a Skunk Ape tour of Cumberland and buy a Skunk Ape franchise from Shealy and arrange a merger with the Hammerhead. If so count me in as a regular.
Local Makes National News: A number of news outlets this week reported that “Fernandina Beach resident Neal Brij Sidhwaney pleaded guilty on Monday, December 18 after threatening to kill a U.S. Supreme Court justice in July.”
U.S. Attorney Roger B. Handberg announced that 43-year-old Neal Brij Sidhwaney pleaded guilty to transmitting an interstate death threat.
The Department of Justice said on July 31, 2023, Sidhwaney called the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. from Florida and left a threatening voicemail that was reportedly filled with expletives.
According to court records, the suspect identified himself by name on the voicemail and repeatedly threatened to kill a specific Supreme Court justice who was unnamed by the DOJ and only identified as Victim 1 in the grand jury indictment.
Sidhwaney’s Facebook page says he is from Washington State and worked as a software developer for a number of companies including Google and Microsoft, among others in Washington, Alaska, New York, and California. It also said he lived in Jacksonville, not Fernandina. A cartoon on his Facebook shows what appears to be the Supreme Court.
So far I haven’t found anyone hereabouts who says they knew or even met the guy.
Bicycle Recycle: I never met Fernandina Beach’s short-term City Manager Ty Ross but based on reports I’ve heard from people who did, he was one heck of a nice guy with an engaging and warm personality, exactly the kind of person needed to manage city hall’s cast of eccentric characters.
Over a couple of beers at our favorite watering hole the other evening a few of us were discussing the brief tenure of former city manager Ross and how difficult it must have been for him to explain his resignation as City Manager of Fernandina Beach to his wife after less than two weeks, not to mention the loss of a job that paid a quarter of a million bucks a year to live in a beautiful Florida coastal resort town.
In case you have been in a coma recently Ross resigned after a day of a “drinking-to-win-friends-and-influence-people” episode in downtown Fernandina and then falling off his bike. He and his bike were given a courtesy ride home by a local cop and police body camera photos of Ross sitting on the ground were plastered all over the local media.
People I know who met Ross really liked the guy, saying he was congenial, smart, funny, and interesting, all traits lacking by a cranky City Commissioner also named Ross, who can be spotted occasionally cycling hereabouts on a bike telling onlookers he “runs this town.”
My opinion and that of many I talked with that met the short-term City Manager is that he should have stayed on the job while others said the incident would have been impossible for him to live down.
My local chum and hail-fellow-well-met, Pajamadave Voorhees, owner-host of the popular PJD’s Beer & Wine Garden, at 12 South 2tnd Street downtown, was benevolently gifted the notorious bicycle by the departing Ross in a gesture of good will. It’s not a cheap ride.
PJD told me Ross was very gracious and told him he should put the bike to good use. Maybe Dave could rent it, set it up as a photo op platform, auction it off, or convert it into a breathalyzer station. Other ideas were using it during a testing of the new City Manager by making that candidate drink a half dozen beers then ride the bike around the block.
Anyway I’m disappointed I never met Ty Ross. I think I would have liked him.
City Manager Refund? This past Tuesday it was revealed that the city of Fernandina agreed to pay the departing City Manager Ross almost $51,000 in severance. The Commission also discussed once again using consultant Colin Baenziger, the guy it paid $60,000 to find Ross, in a new search for a replacement.
So will tax payers get a refund on the fee paid for Ross? Will it have to pay another $60,000 for a new search? Unless this guy has a “no return after 30 days” or “purchase as is” policy something doesn’t seem quite right here. Tax payers are out more than $110,000 and have nothing to show for it.
All The News That Fits Our Narrative We’ll Print: A number of News Guild Staffers in The New York Times newsroom want their news writing colleagues to issue a statement calling for a cease-fire in Gaza and an end to U.S. aid to Israel.
WOW! Most folks know the Times is staffed with biased lefty reporters. Now they’re publicly admitting that their reporting is one-sided says a Wall Street Journal article Monday, December 18.
Unions, which are predominantly leftist and contribute mostly to Democrat Party candidates, are now outwardly attempting to dictate what can and cannot be printed. This takes place despite a New York Times policy that states: “Staff members may not march or rally in support of public causes or movements.” Maybe the paper should insert the word “write” in that policy.
I recall being bluntly told many years ago by the managing editor of a daily paper I once reported for: “Scott, If I see one more of your opinions in a news story it will be the last news story you ever write for this newspaper.” Those days of balanced news reporting are long gone.
Even former Times editorial page editor James Bennett writing in the Economist, December 14, wrote: “Now journalism is becoming another job for joiners, or, to borrow Twitter’s own parlance, “followers,” a term that mocks the essence of a journalist’s role.”
Wait! What? Whatever happened to all those college campus “safe spaces” and professors and administrators condemning “hate speech” and “defamatory language” aimed at minority students, such as LGBTQ , blacks, Hispanics, indigenous people, and others? Where are those voices now in support of Jewish students?
Where is the Harvard “task force” that was created to to support students experiencing doxing, harassment, and online security issues.?” Apparently it doesn’t apply to Harvard’s Jewish community as acts of intimidation against Jewish students continues with no interference, protection or condemnation from school leaders.
In addition to ignoring blatant attacks on Harvard’s Jewish students Harvard’s President Claudine Gay is also being accused by several prominent academics of plagiarism in her academic writings and her doctoral thesis. Apparently this woman has never had an original thought.
“Why do safe spaces, microaggressions, and hate speech not apply to Jews”, asked Fareed Zakaria on his CNN show, of all the unlikely places. “If universities can take positions against free speech to make some groups feel safe, why not Jews?” asks Zakaria.
If the KKK or a white supremist student group demanded on their campuses the genocide of blacks, would they hesitate to stop them? Or would they look for context? These same university presidents that issue “trigger warnings” for classic novels like “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” allow groups to scream for intifada.
These three “It depends on the context” presidents of Harvard, Penn and MIT displayed their hypocrisy and total lack of moral clarity to the American public with their pathetic Congressional testimony. The two remaining twits at MIT and Harvard need their schools’ trustees to kick them in their woke DEIs out the door.
At the rate its going the once prestigious university could easily become a Harvard Business Review case study itself titled: “How iconic brands like Bud Light, Target, Disney and Harvard decimated themselves.”
Harvard and other hypocritical schools’ failures were made obvious in front of Congress. But how did this vile ant-Semitism seep in and transform these elite education institutions into racist institutional centers comparable to those of 1930s Nazi German society, that was one of the most cultured and educated in Europe at the time? And where is the national outcry?