Tantalizing Tales from the Sunny South

Fall 2004 CSANews Issue 52  |  Posted date : May 15, 2007.Back to list

KATHY AND I LOVE CHASING UNUSUAL stories when in the South and, over the last 10 years, we've had some intriguing successes.

Several years ago, we traced the path of the only foreign army to ever "invade" North America...and ironically, it was Cuban! The 1539 expedition of Cuba's Governor Hernando de Soto landed in Florida near Tampa and, with 600 armed men, marched as far north as modern Chicago and then back down to Arkansas. He and his men were welcomed as guests of the indigenous natives along the way. Sadly though, he unwittingly left a wake of death due to the spreading of "European" diseases against which the aboriginal population had no natural immunity.

Bless Hernando though...we found that he had actually crossed the path of the modern Interstate-75 countryside not once, but twice! Through his highly detailed journals, we were able to locate these "crossings" quite accurately – the first just south of Macon, Georgia and the other at milepost 42 in Tennessee.

ANOTHER "DISCOVERY" WAS that I-75 ran right across the Civil War battlefield at Resaca, Georgia. With the help of local residents, we were able to superimpose the battle plan onto a modern highway map and found that the interstate not only crossed through General Sherman's Union lines, where much of the vicious fighting took place, but across no man's land and the Confederate encampment. You can view a copy of the map we published on my website at www.i75online.com/resaca.html.

SO A FEW YEARS AGO, when I came across a reference in an old newspaper about the multiple sightings of a Floridian Big Foot Monster (Florida's Abominable Snowman?) that had attracted the attention of major TV networks, you can bet that we jumped in my car and headed south to the "monster-infested" woods as quickly as possible!

The tiny logging village of Bardin is too small to be marked on most Florida maps. It lies back in the pinewood scrubs a mile or so north of Route 20 and a few miles west of Palatka. It was here among the pines, oaks and cypresses, where the Etonin and Simms creeks merge to start their run to the St. Johns River, that logger Elmo Boone found a small island with signs of animal habitation. But what Elmo found really strange was that the animal's manure was neatly piled...away from the sleeping area.

And then he saw the footprints. Elmo wore a 9-1/2 double E boot but said that these footprints were twice as wide and about four inches longer. Locally, the unseen animal (for more recent eyewitness accounts, visit my website at www.i75online.com/bigfoot.html) was given the name, "Bardin Booger."

Today, the centre of Bardin is the grocery store, and it is here that you will find all sorts of press clippings and photos pinned to the wall. The owner told us that there had been many sightings over the years. Generally, they describe a hairy animal about seven feet tall, with long legs walking like a human. Footprints measure 17 inches long and seven inches wide. And, as one local added, "he stinks real bad!"

Does the Bardin Booger really exist? I don't know, but according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, they keep a crypto-zoological file open...just in case.

ANOTHER UNUSUAL "DISOVERY" involved an old Spanish fort, a secret prisoner, a treasure and a forgotten tomb in an old brick wall.

If you visit the city of Pensacola, Florida, you might get one of the local "old-timers" to tell you about a missing treasure buried in the well of an old Spanish fort. If you listen closely, you might also hear about a Spanish prisoner who was led into a chamber built in one of the fort's thick walls...and bricked up alive!

I heard this legend in early visits to Florida, but it was largely discounted since no evidence existed of this horrible affair...that is, until I was researching some historical documents at the state archives in Tallahassee.

That's when I discovered a 1926 letter written by Colonel Langdon, who served as the fort's commander in 1892. Here's what I learned:

In 1781, Florida's Spanish government decided to build a brick fortification known as the Water Battery and link it via an underground tunnel to the formidable fort San Carlos de Barrancas guarding the entrance to Pensacola Harbour. In the early 19th century, Spain ceded Florida to the States and the U.S. 3rd Artillery moved in to the fort's austere quarters.

And then 54 years later, a dying Spanish priest in Mobile divulged a gruesome secret.

Just before turning the fort over to the Americans, the Spanish commandant had a four-by-six-foot chamber hollowed out of the Water Battery's thick wall. A mysterious prisoner was placed in this cell, which was then bricked up. The tomb's outer wall was glazed over so effectively that its presence was not suspected until mentioned by the dying priest.

On hearing this, the artillery officers "sounded" the fort's thick walls, locating a hollow sounding area where they broke into the chamber and discovered the skeleton. To this day, nobody knows who he was or why he was left to die in such a horrible manner. To add to the mystery, a nearby well was excavated by the same officers who, rumour states, located the treasure.

For those who enjoy such mysteries, I've posted a plan of the Water Battery and a copy of Colonel Langdon's letter on my website at http://www.i75online.com/fort.html.

AND NOW LET'S MOVE OVER to Florida's east coast and visit the ancient city of St. Augustine. It was here in 1565 that a small Spanish fleet led by Pedro Menendez claimed the land for his king.

Although raided by Sir Francis Drake in 1586, today's St. Augustine still bears all the characteristics of an early Spanish colonial town. From its ancient lanes, which are slightly curved so that attacking pirates could not fire their cannon directly into the town, to the plaza where young unmarried Spanish ladies used to parade in the evenings with their Dueña, a visit to St. Augustine is still very much like a visit to an ancient European town.

HOWEVER, WE ARE NOT HERE FOR THE SIGHTS, but to visit ghosts. We've been told that a psychic researcher, Emilio San Martin, has set up shop and is giving "working" experiences to a limited number of visitors. Now this is not your typical walkaround-the-streets and hear-stories-from-the-past type of ghost tour, but one in which you visit the most haunted spots (and believe me, St. Augustine has its fair share!) and get to use the same types of instruments used by the American Institute of Parapsychology to measure paranormal activity.

Our first stop is the rear of the old Colonial Bakery. As he sets up his equipment, Emilio tells us that a number of apparitions have been sighted here over the past 250 years, many seen by unsuspecting guests who were completely unaware of the courtyard's reputation. Sure enough, as we settle down, the dial on one of the sensitive magnometers begins to register...and then fluctuates wildly.

Emilio suggests that one of our group point her camcorder into the darkened corner of the compound. A few minutes after, we get a creepy feeling as we review the filming and see balls of orange light on the view screen. Emilio explains that these are energy balls often seen near areas of psychic activity. He then shows us photos of a human form in old-fashioned clothing...photos which were taken in the same area a few nights earlier.

Next, we walk down the darkened streets of the ancient town and across to the floodlit walls of Castillo de San Marcos – the old Spanish fort guarding the mouth of Matanzas, or Slaughter Bay. Emilio hands each of us a portable magnometer and suggests that we wander along the foot of the walls and report anything unusual. Off we go in the dark. My unit remains dormant, but Kathy's immediately starts to react. We switch. Mine – which is now hers – is reacting wildly and hers – which is in my hands – is now inactive. Kathy walks along the wall footing and finds a spot of heightened activity; she also reports a slight but pleasant perfume smell. I'm out of there as quickly as my legs can carry me!

Once reunited with Emilio, he tells us the story of two lovers, a young couple kept in chains in a dungeon located near the place where Kathy had been standing. Apparently, the two died and their spirits are supposed to haunt the location. He mentions that some people have actually reported smelling a fragrance in the area, which nobody can explain. You can see photos of our ghost hunt at http://www.i75online.com/ghost.html.

THESE ARE JUST A FEW of the unusual adventures we've had during our many visits to the mysterious South, and Kathy and I invite you to visit our Web site at www.i75online.com for more information on these and other tantalizing tales from the sunny South. I could tell you about the night we spent in a haunted inn...so badly manifested that the room in which we stayed is now sealed off from the rest of the building. The experience was so disconcerting that we left at 2 o'clock in the morning...but that's another story.