Driving down Hecksher Drive, I noticed that the Jacksonville Zoo has a new addition on their sign. Glory be, that brings back memories. I’m trying to think….., just how many times I’ve wanted to tell this story. I just told it to my wife again. The first time was over 40 years ago. She didn’t believe me then either.
Well, I am at the age now where I don’t care if any one believes me or not. I’m here to tell it.
In the summer of ’67, all was not right with the world. We were at war with Viet Nam. Domestic protesters were plentiful. My Dad was in the Navy at the time and served a tour in Viet Nam. Leaving Mom, me and my two brothers to run the trailer park.
My Grandpa Sam, came to live with us and try to help us out with the chores. Mom had recently been in an automobile accident. She had one leg amputated. Her future seemed bleak. My Grandpa came down from Illinois to help us. Grandpa was always a never do well. He had his problems with alcohol most of his life. He tried to fit in, knowing that he was needed, he did his best.
One late summer night Grandpa Sam wanted to take my brother Gary and I fishing. I was 15 and Gary was two years younger. Sure we wanted to go fishing. We loaded up our gear and headed out to fish off one of the bridges on Hecksher Drive.
We tried Sister’s Creek and a couple more bridges but the tide was just beginning to turn and Grandpa wanted to get closer to the ocean. We ended up by Alamaconte and fished off the bridge for a couple hours. Grandpa caught a Croaker and he let the fish lie on the bridge next to us, flopping around. Every time the fish would let out a croak, Grandpa would laugh and reach for a swallow of his beer. He had brought a six pack with him and he nursed them throughout the night.
The fish didn’t seem to be biting though, it didn’t take long before we decided to move on, heading north to the Nassau Sound bridge.
Our luck seemed to change there. We caught several Ladyfish, a couple drum and another Croaker. Grandpa had never seen or heard Croaker’s before or maybe he just enjoyed their company. He said it sounded like one of his ex-wives.
Gary and I got bored after a while, we walked off, searching for something to get into. We were fishing at the crest of the bridge. It wasn’t very tall. We could see the toll booth in the distance, lighted up and deserted.
It was after midnight, so “Honest John” was working the toll booth. The lights from the bridge cast eerie shadows, everything was kinda spooky. We were walking towards the deserted toll booth, still a couple hundred feet away, when we noticed movement along the shore line.
We were amazed and kept silent, not wanting to announce our presence. The scene in front of us went against what we were taught in school. Near the beach, about a hundred yards away from us, by the shoreline, we saw a large neck sticking out above the surface. The small head, shaped like a football on the end of about a 9 foot neck, was making it’s way to the shoreline.
If you’ve ever noticed the motion a swan or a duck makes while in the water, bobbing it’s head back and forth as it waddles along, then you can imagine what we saw. When we first noticed this creature, it was just a few yards from the shoreline. It made it’s way towards the sandy beach.
That’s it, it was out of the water. Instead of legs and feet, it had flippers. Almost like a walrus or a seal. It was like watching a scene from a scary movie, the hair on the back on my neck was standing on end.
The both of us ran, as fast as we could, back to the top of the bridge to get Grandpa. He was just finishing off his last can of Miller High Life. We told him what we saw and he just chuckled. The same way he did after hearing the “croakers.” In disbelief, he walked with us to the base of the bridg
Mentally, I have replayed this scene many times since. This sea creature was making it’s way back to the water’s edge. Maybe she had just laid her eggs in the sand. Slowly plodding along. Grandpa saw what we saw. An enormous creature making it’s way back into the water. It was in no hurry. We got a good view. Once it reached deeper water, only the neck and head could be seen, it was slowly moving along with the tide, inland, away from the ocean.
My brother and I were excited, this thing had to be prehistoric. It just had to be. After we told everyone about it, we were gonna be famous. Just think, something that is supposed to be extinct for millions of years was now practically in our back yard.
Grandpa wasn’t so sure. In fact he was downright flabbergasted. He was at odds ends. He told us that we couldn’t tell a soul. No one. This has to be our secret. He explained to us the situation. He was an old man that had been fishing with his grandsons and drinking beer, late at night. No one would believe this preposterous tale. He was pretty sure that he would get in trouble.
Gary and I looked at each other with disbelief. What? Keep it a secret, no way, this has to be told. Grandpa kept on, telling us that he could get in trouble, he was driving and was in the company of underage minors after midnight. He said that his reputation wasn’t sterling and he didn’t think any one would believe us any way.
So that’s the way it went, for a while anyway. We kept our mouths shut. I justified his decision as I got older. Many years afterward, around 1975 I think it was, I was a father and had a family of my own. I read in the Jacksonville Journal a story about a family that had been out in a boat fishing near the North Jetties.
The father and mother of the family reported seeing a creature that after they described it, sounded like the same thing my brother and I witnessed. Can there be more than one, or is it the same creature that we saw 7 or 8 years before. I read the remarks of the article, that people were laughing and pointing fingers at the folks that made the report.
The very next week, another group of fishermen said that they had seen the same thing. This time the story was accompanied by a drawing of what looked to be the Loch Ness monster. That was it, they’ve seen the same thing we did.
My wife stopped me when I wanted to call the Jacksonville Journal and tell them that I’ve seen it too. She looked at me through the tops of her eyes and said, “Think about it. The paper and the readers are making fun of these people.” Come to find out, they had been drinking too and that was the highlight of the story. Just a good natured ribbing. The laugh of the whole city.
Bonnie didn’t want to see me put our family through the same thing. I kept my story to myself. Somehow though, I didn’t think this was the end of it. I adopted a “wait and see attitude.” Surely some one will see it again, maybe they will have a camera or more witnesses.
Almost 50 years later, I’m still waiting. No one yet has come forward with a new story. That I am aware of. I keep wondering though it may be because they are like me and are waiting for collaboration.
Seeing the new sign at the zoo spurred me into action. I am tired of waiting. I am past the point of caring if any believes me or not. It’s a story that needs to be told and it’s high time I get it done.
Maybe my Grandpa Sam knew what he was talking about. Thinking back, I can still hear that Croaker while he was flopping around on the bridge. I think he was laughing at us.