Half a century ago, Belgian Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans first codified cryptozoology in his book On the Track of Unknown Animals.

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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

DALE DRINNON: Old Three Toes, The Matter As It Stands After the Supposed 'Confession of The Hoaxer'

Ivan Sanderson introduces the subject of his Chapter 2 In More "Things" with the words 'This Thing is thus a true Monster. I have named it 'Three-Toes'"..' In the book he was reprinting a two-part article of his 'That Forgotten Monster, Old Three-Toes' as his chapters 2 and 3 when they had originally appeared in FATE magazine in Dec 1967 and Jan 1968. In this case the focus is on his part 2 and Chapter 3, 'Old 3-Toes, Model B', although the identity applies equally well to 'Model A.'

The gist of the story is that Ivan Sanderson oversaw an extensive investigation into reports of an enormous creature leaving three-toed tracks in Florida, Sanderson's investigations starting in November 1948 and his eventual report running to 53 pages of typescript. Eventually, a person claiming to have been the author of the hoax was identified, the hoax boots with artificial soles shown and an article about it reprinted in PURSUIT. It was said that this one person had made 'ALL' the tracks.

The trouble is, the fellow was lying. The tracks started before he said he had the boots made up and started making 'Dinosaur' tracks and they continued for longer than he claimed to have been making them. And they are in fact still being reported, after the fellow has died and his boots were taken into custody.

Sanderson says in More "Things", on page 27, 'Prior to 1937, Three-Toes left tracks on several widely-dispersed beaches throughout the world-Southern New Zealand, Tasmania, Queensland, Patagonia and, of all places, Nantucket Island. Then there was the extraordinary business of Kerguelen Island (but more of this anon).' The 1937 case he mentions was in South Africa; another case Sanderson undoubtedly knew about but did not mention was reported by Dr Thomas Gannin Belize in 1932 and mentioned in Secret Cities of Old South America by Wilkins. These tracks were said to be 'Iguanodon' tracks and Eberhart in Mysterious Creatures lists this case along with several other such cases all around the curve of Brazil, including Marajao Island at the mouth of the Amazon and the island of Trinidad, covering the period broadly from 1800 to the 1920s, at least. Some of the Trindad tracks are attributed to the 'Huilla.' At the time the Florida tracks hit the news in 1948, there were letters saying that similar tracks were known around Moro Castle in Cuba and had been showing up for a long time there (including a description of the supposed monster) and later news stories out of Florida said that the tracks returned every four years - suggesting that by the time they were recognised in Florida in 1948, they were already supposed to have been there in 1944.

In a later article in PURSUIT, Sanderson identified the White River monster tracks as being like the Florida 'Three-toes' tracks. Roy Mackal later identified the tracks as an elephant seal. I would have been satisfied to leave the matter alone at this point but in 1988 a new wrinkle appeared. An article was reprinted in PURSUIT saying the mystery was solved: a Florida man had confessed to making all the tracks 40 years before. This was stated in the feature 'Big Creature Hoaxes' in PURSUIT, vol 21 no. 2, whole no. 82, 2nd quarter 1988, pgs 72-73. The 'confession' had it that the tracks were started in late spring and early summer of 1948. Actually, we do not even need to trust Sanderson's account to see that this would not account for 'all' the tracks; Willy Ley's The Lungfish, The Dodo and the Unicorn has a footnote at the bottom of page 146 which states 'Evidence of a large and unknown animal, possibly a gigantic turtle, has turned up in Florida during the winter 1947-8. "something" had tried to climb the sea wall, without success. The tracks looked like turtle tracks but were much too large and too far apart for anything known'

Then again, there were several reports of the creature, which Sanderson mentions, consistently portraying a large furry creature with a body 5 feet wide and 15 feet long, with four flippers, the back ones larger, and a head once described as looking like that of a rhinoceros: the Cuban's report also specified that it had a big mouth full of sharp teeth. Sanderson called that a giant penguin, but a large penguin, a large turtle and a large seal all have about the same outline (through convergence, the shape makes swimming easier)

Thus it seems that the earliest tracks were 'Turtle' tracks with the occasional 'Three-toed' tracks as variants and the hoax tracks came some months later when it was warmer to go into and out of the water. Sanderson even specifies that he found evidences that there was a hoaxter at work.

One quite plain fact is that the hoax-foot-templates did not match the tracks. Sanderson specifies that the tracks were not symmetrical but were lopsided: the Arkansas tracks were even more so. The hoax-tracks by contrast WERE symmetrical. (The part about Sanderson noticing the hoax tracks was made in PURSUIT in the 'editor's note' on page 73, but the difference in the tracks got by the editor.) Some of the trackways made 'Tunnels' through the vegetation and Sanderson noted (probably correctly) that the tunnels thus made were too tight for the human hoaxter to navigate. The same tunnels are also noted in the Kerguelen Island case that Sanderson noted; only in this case the trackways and the tunnels were DEFINITELY made by elephant seals.

The idenitifaction of the tracks as elephant seal tracks was made by Mackal and I am willing to let him have the credit. The one really good sighting of a South American 'Dinosaur' (the Schmidt and Pfleng account up the Amazon) is clearly a somewhat exaggerated account of an elephant seal. I have been through Sanderson's files shortly after his death and I do know that the 3-toes case was never closed: another series of reports occurred in the fall of 1953 and involved the larger part of the Florida coastline. Tracks were reported from Clearwater, Tampa Bay, Sarasota, Charlotte Harbor and Naples in Collier County; sightings were made in the St. Johns River in the northeast of the state. This time the tracks were mostly the 'Giant turtle' or 'Snowplow' [sic] tracks: sightings described a thick-bodied creature 30-35 feet long, 6 feet high at the shoulder, with a head described as being like that of a cow or hippopotamus 5 feet long, 30' broad and 18' between the cow-like eyes, and with a 10" horn on a blunt-ended snout. This is also an elephant seal, probably with exaggerated dimensions but the proportions about right.

The current and continuing guise of 'Old Three Toes' is 'Tarpie', the Lake Tarpon Monster, allegedly a dinosaur that walks on two legs. Here is the info from the website:

Eyewitness accounts vary with respect to length (10-30 feet), skin texture (smooth or scaly) and shape of the head (described as resembling a dinosaur, an alligator, a dog, or pig - we think the last description may be more a case of alcohol than aquatic pigs). Most say it resembles some form of a large reptile, capable of walking on its two hind legs. However, one indisputable fact remains, that the mystery surrounding this Florida Lake defies description and identification! Also, some allege that Tarpie - as the Monster is now known - has taken his share of local wildlife and tourists! Which has the locals quite upset (about the wildlife!).

Some say the "monster" has been spoken of in the area for centuries - Indian legends may have it that anyone foolish enough to intrude on its territory would not return. Many have not! And not because of poor fishing either! http://www.laketarponmonster.com/

ElephantSeal+3-Toes tracks, Photo of Antarctic Ice Floe

Elephant seal tracks looking like the tracks of a biped (one side)

'3-toed' flipper imprint from elephant seal trackway &

Dessicated E.Seal Flipper looking like a 3-Toed foot

It is also my contention that 'Normandy Nessie' currently being reported in the same area is also an elephant seal.

My first inkling into this identification was the fact that Bernard Heuvelmans said that Thomas Helms's 1943 sea monster seen off of Florida did in fact have a head the size of an elephant seal's and the female does appear slimmer and flatter-faced than the male. It could well have been standing up in the water with the flippers pressed to the side as in one of Heuvelmans's plates showing a smaller seal in that position.

Mackal was much criticised for saying that the White River Monster could have been an elephant seal gone up the Mississippi river on the asumption there were not supposed to be any elephant seals there. As a matter of fact there is an unknown animal in the area listed by Eberhart and corresponding to the description of an elephant seal. The english translation of the name means 'Water Horse.' I have seen photographs and pre-Columbian artwork that I am satisfied depict exactly that animal as being like an elephant seal. And the Sea Elephant was originally a mythological animal of the NORTH Atlantic before reports came back of the seals being in other areas. Karl Shuker illustrates one old print of a Sea Elephant based on a French sighting of 1558 in From Flying Toads to Snakes With Wings, on page 197.

There is another issue attached to this: the story of the deathbed confession to a hoax is a popular legend (I refuse to use the meaningless distinction 'Urban legend') and follows a folkloric pattern. The same basic story is told in the case of the Minnesota Iceman, the Surgeon's Photo at Loch Ness, and in this particular instance. In all of these stories, the source is not the hoaxer himself but is a close relative who is reporting on the supposed confession made by somebody else who is no longer around to tell the story for himself. The confessor is dead so that all trace of the 'real guilt' died with him. The narrator is always an accomplice and never the originator of the scheme. There are often other accomplices named but always also either dead or unwilling to admit their guilt. Often there is an implied complicity by the reporter that broke the case or his sponsoring publication. Always the case is supposed to have been a joke that got out of hand when people actually started taking it seriously and so the confession is delayed for years until the narrator decides to 'come clean'

Often the downfall of the confession is that there are several competing versions, each one claiming to be the one and only true confession, such as in the cases of the Minnesota Iceman and the Surgeons' photo at Loch Ness.


Loren Coleman said...

Excellent job, Dale.

Is there a sentence missing right before this? "The english translation of the name means 'Water Horse.' I have seen photographs and pre-Columbian artwork that I am satisfied depict exactly that animal as being like an elephant seal."

It seems the name being translated is missing or has been transported to someplace else in the article.

Once again, thank you for this contribution to the literature and discussion on this important series of finds.

You are right on target with "twice-told confessions."

alcalde said...

I respectfully disagree. As is often the case, I see more skepticism being applied to the confession than there is to the actual evidence.

"The tracks started before he said he had the boots made up and started making 'Dinosaur' tracks and they continued for longer than he claimed to have been making them. And they are in fact still being reported, after the fellow has died and his boots were taken into custody."

You're not going to consider copycats, misidentifications,etc.?
Does the fact that anyone claims to see Bigfoot today prove that the P/G film isn't a hoax?

Let me ask you - what WOULD you consider proof of a hoax?

Anonymous said...

First off, in case anybody ever does get back here to see my comments, please let me apologise for not answering any sooner. The fact is that I did not see, was not aware, and was not informed of ANY comments upon this blog entry until fourteen months after it had been published. I didd not have control over my own blog postings nor yet the moderation of comments in those days.

Now there are a couple of specific points these gentlemen brought up which I would have been only too happy to comment on had I but known the questions were here. For the first part, Loren Coleman very graciously said I had done an exellent job and I wanted to say I thank him for that. I did not want any impression I did NOT want to answer his valid question next, ie, "is there a sentence missing right before this?" and the answer is-not the sentence, but the reference was to the map I had drawn indicating the Cryptid along the coast of Central America with the red range area marked along with the name "Wilwin". Eberhart indicates that creature is called (in English) "Water Horse" and its identity as an Elephant seal is a key point in establishing the chain of evidence.
I apologise that the map is not situated closer to the text in this case, the arrangement was not intentional on my part.

Now as to the other gentleman's comment, I would have to say that "jgm" has just given every indication that he has READ NONE OF THE ARTICLE HE IS COMMENTING ON.
The fact that such tracks were being made before the hoaxer started in Florida blows his story out of the water. The fact that such tracks were recorded DECADES earlier in Central America and eeven back into the middle 1800s around Northern South America makes it doubly so: and certainly "jgm" is not going to say the elephant seal tracks on the ice flow, the ones in the sane or the shape of the mummified flipper are all faked?? NO, the plain fact is that it is all too consistent and consistently reported world-wide over more than a century disproves the notion that it ia ALL "a hoax"

And next time I'd expect you to READ THE MATERIAL before submiting such a proposition.