'Johnnie' and other Monsters of Florida's St. Johns River Oct 23, 2018 18:49:40 GMT -5
Post by Graveyardbride on Oct 23, 2018 18:49:40 GMT -5
‘Johnnie’ and other Monsters of Florida’s St. Johns River
Pamela Hicks lives in a high-rise apartment building overlooking Florida’s St. Johns River and every morning, weather permitting, she has coffee on her balcony while enjoying the spectacular view. Some days, the river is dark and choppy under gathering storm clouds. At other times, a mist rises from the deceptively placid surface, obscuring the Jacksonville skyline on the other side. But it was neither dark nor foggy one pleasant morning in the fall of 1993 when a 15-foot serpent-like creature suddenly broke the glassy sapphire smoothness of the seemingly tranquil waters. “It was dark grey with a long, skinny neck and the first thing I thought of was the Loch Ness Monster,” she recalled. “You know, it was years ago that I saw it. Still, every time I look out across the river, I can’t help looking for whatever it was. But,” she shook her head sadly, “I know I’ll never be lucky enough to see it again.”
Over the years, there have been many sightings of the fabled monsters of the St. Johns River. Yes, unlike Scotland’s Loch Ness, British Columbia’s Oganagan Lake, and Vermont and New York’s Lake Champlain, each of which have only one monster or, at best, several of a single species, the St. Johns boasts at least three distinct unidentified marine animals. In addition to the long-necked beast described by Ms. Hicks, there is a dark green creature with a whitish head and ridges down its back, and a terrifying pink dragon-type monstrosity.
The 310-mile St. Johns River, which is best known for the fact it flows backward, i.e., from south to north, has long been a haven for mysterious water fauna. In the late 1800s, men on a fishing trawler reported seeing a long, fin-backed serpent and there have been similar sightings through the years. But it was during the 1970s that the usually elusive creatures were most active.
Around 11 o’clock on the morning of December 15, 1975, Bobby Holt and Larry Atkinson were fishing from the Fuller Warren Bridge when they espied a 20-foot snake-like animal, 14 to 16 inches in diameter. “I’ve been fishing out there a lot of years and I’ve never seen anything like it,” Holt declared. “It was black and shiny and slippery-looking.” Although a marine patrol officer suggested what the men saw was “probably a sea cow [manatee],” Holt knew better. “This was one particular object and it wasn’t a sea cow because they’re bulky and usually stay closer to shore. The thing I saw was out in the middle of the channel under the bridge and as it swam, its humps came completely out of the water. It looked like a sea serpent. We were both baffled.”
“I have no earthly idea what it was,” Atkinson added. “It was round like a big snake, but it wasn’t a snake. I saw a head, a round head like you see in pictures of those prehistoric dinosaurs or like a giant eel of some kind. It wasn’t an otter, wasn’t sea cows and it wasn’t a snake. Snakes swim sideways and this thing, whatever it was, had humps and it was moving in an up-and-down motion. Snakes don’t do that.”
That same day, Jacksonville Public Works foreman John Baumgartner and his crew, working in the San Marco area, caught sight of the aquatic anomaly around 12:30 p.m. as they were eating lunch near the bulkhead at the cessation of LaSalle Street. As he looked out across the river, Baumgartner saw something “black or dark grey” with what he described as “a watermelon-sized head sticking up about a foot above the water.” The thing was approximately 50 feet or so out in the river and it sprayed water from the front of its head. “What drew our attention was the snort,” Baumgartner recollected. “It came up and snorted and I could see the spray come off its nose. It hung there for a second and down it went again. It stayed up just long enough to where you could see it good. It was like a snake, a big, thick snake, a good foot in thickness, going up and down,” he continued. “When it came up and snorted, it was so close, I could see the spray. He [the creature] just looked around, took a breath and the rest of his body went down. Its head looked like a big football, real dark. He was humped up in the water and all I could see was the head and a little bit of the back as he went down. It looked sort of like a walrus or a sea lion like you see up in Canada, but it was real long, with a snout or something like that. It went down in sections, like a hump and then finally the tail came over. The tail was flat, like the rudder of a plane.” Baumgartner’s crewmen saw the nautical beast as well and continued to watch the river for about 25 minutes after it went under, but the anomaly never resurfaced.
“I’ve read a lot of nature books, but I’ve never seen anything like it,” Baumgartner added. “It was nothing like a sea cow and there’s no way it was otters. I’ve hunted otters before and I know one when I see one.”
After seeing the river serpent, when assigned to the San Marco area, Baumgartner and his men always chose the spot at the end of LaSalle Street to have lunch, hoping the strange animal would reappear. “I don’t know if it was dangerous,” the foreman said, “but I would have liked to get another look. It happened so darn quick. I never saw anything like it before and probably never will again.”
About an hour later, the river monster was sighted a third time. Dave Greene was crossing the Fuller Warren Bridge when he saw a long-necked animal break water about 25 yards from the eastern shore. “It looked to me like an eel with a rigged hump down the middle of it. I almost ran off the road when I saw it. Evidently, it’s something feeding in this area.”
In July 1976, approximately 25 people witnessed the same serpentine creature, or one very similar. Kathy Kirkland was fishing in the St. Johns near Stockton Park when she noticed “something with a head the size of a basketball” about 50 feet from shore. “I had a line in the water when it first came up and I thought it was headed toward my bait. At first I thought it was three sea cows,” she admitted, “but after watching it a while, I realized it was all connected together. Wherever the head would go, the tail would follow.” The river creature was observed for approximately 10 minutes on this occasion. Onlookers, one of whom was a Navy meteorologist, claimed the animal appeared to be “feeding,” oblivious to the excited shore-side crowd.
A creature of an entirely different type was sighted near the Clapboard Creek Fish Camp one stormy day in May 1975. Dorothy and Charles Abram, Brenda Langley, Ed St. John and Wallace McLean saw a huge “pink” water beast which Mrs. Abram described as “a dinosaur with its skin pulled back so all its bones were showing.”
“I saw this thing about 50 yards away.” Ms. Langley interjected. “I thought, ‘My God, what is that?!’ Then it came closer. It was checking us out. It was really curious what we were and it wasn’t scared of us!” She screamed for the others to look, but they were watching the approaching storm. “The horrible thing disappeared, then came back up about 20 feet away. It was so ugly-looking, like pictures you see of dragons. It had a large head with horns like a snail, fins along the back of its long neck and a mouth that turned down at the corners.”
“I just saw the neck,” Charles Abram added. “It was a long neck, I’ll tell you that much. The women were scared to death.” Pausing a moment, he declared, “We weren’t drunk!”
On November 21, 1976, an approximately eight-foot-long aquatic animal with a round whitish head and dark green body took the bait of a woman fishing near Chicopit Bay in the Fort Caroline area of Jacksonville. The lady felt a tug, realized she had snagged a big one and not wanting to break her line, began running along the shore. Three or four other fishermen followed, eager to see what she was bringing in. While attempting to reel in her catch, the line broke and those watching caught a glimpse of something the likes of which they had never seen before. One witness said it “looked like a prehistoric animal with high ridges on its back and an alligator tail with a round head like a basketball.”
Louis Boger, who was among the group of fishermen that day, claimed, “When we got a good look at the thing, one of the other men ran!”
A marine biologist at the Marine Science Center in nearby Mayport surmised the animal might have been a marine iguana of the type that inhabits the Galapagos Islands off the coast of South America. In an attempt to identify the creature, he showed Boger some slides of the iguana as well as sea and freshwater turtles. According to Boger, none looked anything like what had taken the woman’s bait that day. Boger, who fished at Chicopit Bay several times a month, said the marine biologist also asked if he [Boger] would be willing to wade out for a closer look should he see the mysterious animal again. “I looked at him and I said, ‘Man, there ain’t no way I’m wading out in that river with something like that out there!’”
Northeastern Florida is a maze of rivers, lakes, creeks and branches – all connected. The long-necked grey monster, affectionately called “Johnnie” – or one very much like it – was reported in the Intracoastal Waterway near Crescent Beach just south of St. Augustine in April 1978 by Kelly Parrish and a friend. The two men were fishing from their boat and Parrish was dozing off when he said they heard “something blow” and saw “this snakey looking thing surface about 75 yards away.” They believed the animal was feeding. “It would go down and come up with what looked like grass or kelp in its mouth,” he recalled. “It undulated like a snake, but up-and-down, not sideways, and he had little things on the top of his body that looked kind of like an alligator’s tail. It was definitely a sea serpent!” After the sighting, Parrish returned to the area hundreds of times with his camera, but the enigmatic beast never appeared again.
Of course, not everyone believed Parrish and some thought what he had seen was nothing more than manatees or porpoise. Concerning the nonbelievers, he declared: “I couldn't care less. I know what I saw and that’s all that’s important to me.”
Richard Coleman, wetlands preservationist and one of the founders of the Florida chapter of the Sierra Club, has never seen anything similar to the marine anomalies reported in the St. Johns. It is his contention that people are often mistaken about what they see in the water. However, in a discussion with investigator Maria Clark, Coleman acquiesced somewhat, “. . . if there are such things, the St. Johns is the kind of water body they might inhabit,” he admitted. “The river starts in the marshes, and streams, some fed by deep springs, flow into it all the way to the ocean. In some places, the St. Johns is two miles wide* and in other places, it’s 80-foot deep. The river flows slowly and it’s affected by the tides that cause a reverse flow and brackish [salty] water miles from the ocean. I suppose what I’m saying here is that if, and that’s a big ‘if,’ these things exist, they could be saltwater creatures entering the St. Johns from the ocean. Assuming this is the case, then they would probably enter the river only periodically which could account for why they aren’t seen very often.”
Johnnie and his fellow monsters have been witnessed by many people along the St. Johns River and its tributaries, with the last verified report in 1993. However, local news reporters have adopted a tongue-in-cheek approach to “sea serpent” sightings and many, fearing ridicule, keep such encounters to themselves. This is the reason two women, who saw the grey, long-necked creature near an island on the eastern side of the Mathews Bridge in the fall of 2007, refused to tell anyone other than family and friends.
Typical of those who decline to report river monster sightings is Tobe Johnson, an elderly man in faded overalls and an old straw hat who spends many mornings sitting on a rickety pier in the Arlington area of Jacksonville fishing with a cane pole. “Yeah, I’ve seen them things,” he admitted. “I’ve been seein’ ‘em since I was a boy. But I don’t say nothin’ about it. Used to, you could tell people things and they’d believe you. Now, they say you’re drunk or crazy. But that river’s long, that river’s deep and there’s things in there we don’t know about. There’s things in there we won’t ever know about.”
Sources: Bill Foley, "The Saga of the St. Johns River Monster Grows by the Decade," (October 16, 1993), "The River Monster of Arlington Remains a Mystery" (July 10, 1993) and "Sure, it's Four Shrimp-Pink Manatees with Horns" (June 5, 1993), The Florida Times Union; William E. Marden, “Do Monsters Frolic in the St. Johns?,” The Florida Times-Union, February 19, 1989; Mike Anderson, "Move Over, Nessie - Here's the St. Johns Monster" (December 19, 1975); "Fisherman: Whatever It Was, It Was 20 Ft. Long" (December 18, 1975), and “Monsters of the St. Johns an Elusive Bunch” (November 23, 1976), The Jacksonville Journal; Steve Reudiger, "Pink 'Sea Monster' Lurks in River, Rattles Fishermen," The Florida Times-Union, May 16, 1975. Interviews: Richard Coleman, Pamela Hicks, Tobe Johnson, Brenda Langley and Kelly Parrish.
*The St. Johns River is close to three miles wide in some locations.