Florida's Giant Penguin

Orgon Research
Orgon Research / Orgon Research

There’s just too much weird stuff in Florida to quit after three days.  Maybe a fourth Strange States entry will let us get it all out of our system...

The Giant Penguin of Clearwater, Florida

In February 1948, the residents of Clearwater, Florida—then a small town of only about 15,000 people—were drawn to the Gulf beaches not for swimming or sunbathing, but for the mysterious three-toed footprints in the sand. Measuring about 14 inches long and 15 inches across, the prints came up out of the water, followed along the shore nearly two miles, and then disappeared back into the sea.  The footprints were photographed and plaster casts were made, and though experts said the creature must have weighed nearly 2000 pounds to make prints so deep, no one knew what left them behind.

The prints continued to appear up and down the coast, on a nearby island, and even several miles north along the Suwannee River. At one point the Clearwater Monster, also known as “Old Three-Toes,” knocked over a lifeguard stand, leaving strange hair or feathers in the debris.

In July 1948, students enrolled in the Dunedin Flying School said they saw what could only be the mysterious creature swimming near the Clearwater Bridge. They described it as a furry log with a head like a large boar. One couple said they saw a huge, furry beast waddling along the beach and then disappearing into the surf. But because no one had seen the creature up close, it was impossible to say precisely what it was.

Around this time, noted zoologist Ivan Sanderson took an interest in Old Three-Toes. He traveled from New York City, where he often appeared on television talk shows with furry friends in tow, and opened his own investigation. Sanderson had studied mysterious creatures before—in fact, he coined the term “cryptozoology”—and after examining the evidence, declared it was “definitely not a hoax.” In his expert opinion, the most logical explanation was a previously unknown species of giant penguin, possibly one up to 15 feet tall.

The prints continued to appear on occasion for the next 10 years, but no one ever spotted the Giant Penguin of Clearwater. If they had, they would have seen Tony Signorini stomping around in the sand wearing 30-pound, three-toed, lead shoes. Signorini and his boss at Auto Electric, well-known prankster Al Williams, created the hoax after Williams saw a photo of dinosaur footprints in a National Geographic story. Using the tools in the auto repair shop, the men fabricated metal feet and attached tennis shoes to them. Then they rowed just off shore in the middle of the night so Signorini could disembark, wander along the beach, and climb back into the boat, leaving behind mysterious footprints that would often be reported by one of their friends the next morning. 

After Williams died in 1969, and Sanderson in 1973, Signorini waited another 15 years before finally revealing the ruse in 1988.  Signorini still had the metal shoes and gladly wore them for photos to show he really was the one known as Old Three-Toes.

You’d think a fourth day of strange stuff in Florida would be enough, but you'd be wrong! We'll be back with another Strange States: Florida entry tomorrow. While you're waiting, read all of our Strange States entires here.

Primary photo courtesy of Orgone Research.