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February 1, 2002
TENTH EDITION: CUT YOUR HAIR, BOY, YOU LOOK LIKE A SKUNK APE

Have you ever encountered the Skunk Ape? Your answer is likely to be NO, as was mine, when great friend Andrew Davis happened to be in Chicago a month or two ago. I laughed it off, shot him a couple of weird looks. I hadn't a clue what he was talking about. We went out, involved ourselves in any number (pick one) of weekend debacles, and fell asleep without a thought further from our minds.

Waking, though, in a midmorning mirth probably more suitable to folks both younger and less hungover than ourselves, the question yet again arose…have you ever encountered the Skunk Ape?

Amid great peels of the laugher (on my part and his), Andrew explained that he'd located the creature (or, rather, digitized information about the creature's existence) while searching for information on colleges in the Memphis, TN, area. I made coffee, lit a cigarette, and sat down at my computer for a short bit of research.

***

Prehistoric relic, evolutionary anomaly or outrageous lie, the Skunk Ape, according to various sources (many local Florida newspapers), has apparently been sighted hundreds of times within the past 50 or so years, first in Lakeland, FL, in 1947 by a party of gator poachers in the Florida Everglades. The Skunk Ape, "evolutionary cousin of Bigfoot," is purportedly tall and hairy, but of course, and stinks to high heaven, hence the 'Skunk' in its name. Since 1947 it has been spotted all over the American South, from the Everglades (its "natural habitat," claims Dave Shealy, proprietor of the only "Institute" for research on the Skunk Ape) to Kentucky's Appalachain ridges. Sound like a case of regional mania?

It certainly does, and yet one can't help but believe in Shealy, an overly-earnest Florida man who, like all true Southerners, hates a 'know-it-all.' The man sat in a tree like an ape himself, two-three hours of every day for eight months, for Christ's sake, piling up lima beans (the Skunk Ape's favorite food, Shealy claims) in the grass in front of him trying to lure the beast from its swampy lair. That kind of dedication, true or not, is quite persuasive. And of course Shealy succeeded, at those eight months' terminus, in snapping off a reported total of twenty-seven photos of the Skunk Ape, one of which is below.



A crude representation, surely, and no matter that the crouching figure looks rather like a man in a Gorilla suit, nor the fact that every time Shealy sights** the Skunk Ape his store (The Florida Panther Gift Shop, US 41, Ochopee, FL) happens to be undergoing a financial crisis. And forget about Shealy's claim that he was visited shortly after the release of certain of the photos, by a male and female agent, both in dark sunglasses and suits (I smell it, don't you?…an X-Files episode coming up over the horizon). In spite of it all, somehow I find myself really wanting to believe in this thing. Something about the words 'Skunk' and 'Ape' butted up next to each other is quite appealing. Like McDonald's hamburgers on a cold day.

Likewise the obscurity of the legend. On a recent trip home to my native South Carolina, during our Christmas dinner and festivities I happened to inquire with several of my older forebears into their own knowledge of the Skunk Ape. Most of them had never heard a thing about it. When clarified, however, by "It's a kind of Bigfoot mostly seen down in Florida," my Uncle Ken piped in with, "Oh yeh, we've been telling the Yankees that for years, to get 'em down here spending." Another Uncle said No, but he could tell me all about the time a couple of his coon dogs did happen to tree a skunk. And old Wally one time swore he had a chimpanzee in his sights out by the dam but his shotgun misfired. My second cousin Ronnie looked at me after I'd asked him and said, "Jeez, cut your hair, son, you look like a damned hippie."

Well well…so much for local color, for old family Skunk Ape lore. Hell, I'm thinking maybe the best-known Skunk Apes may be right here in Chicago. They smell up whole train compartments with their collective effluvium; I am of course right among them, and it's likely I forgot to bathe too. It's too damn cold lately to bother with it anyway, isn't it?

12312001

**Shealy even reportedly led producers of a Comedy Central show on an unsuccessful Skunk Ape hunt for a nationwide television audience.

--
Todd Dills
THE2NDHAND publishes short fiction and nonfiction. Todd Dills edits the broadsheet and recently relocated to Birmingham, Alabama, after eight years of publishing from Chicago.

See other articles by Todd Dills.

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