Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Swamp people

I've written here at Skeptophilia for twelve years, and I've been interested in weird claims since I was a teenager, so it's not often that I run into a cryptid I'd never heard of.

Much less one from my home state of Louisiana.

So I was pretty shocked when a loyal reader sent me an article on the "Honey Island Swamp Monster," a southern relative of Sasquatch (and thus a cousin of Arkansas's Fouke Monster and southern Florida's Skunk Ape), who allegedly haunts the swamps along the Pearl River in Saint Tammany Parish.

Unlike a lot of cryptids, though, the Honey Island Swamp Monster doesn't have a long history.  The first reported sighting was by a retired air traffic controller named Harlan Ford in 1963.  Since then, the crypto-crowd has seized upon the story as they always tend to do, and the Monster has made appearances on shows like Mysteries and Monsters in America wherein they search every week for some strange beast, and every week find exactly zero beasts, then high-five each other for being such amazing beast hunters and do the same thing next week.

Oh, and if you're ever in Saint Tammany Parish, apparently there are Honey Island Swamp Monster Tours wherein a guide will take you out into the swamp, and you'll come back having had the thrilling experience of seeing no monsters while getting approximately 8,382,017 mosquito bites.  (I will say, however, that the Louisiana swamps are beautiful even without monsters.  I have great memories of growing up fishing, boating, birdwatching, and swimming -- yes, with the alligators and cottonmouths and all -- in the Atchafalaya Basin Swamp of south central Louisiana.)

But as far as the Honey Island Swamp Monster goes, the sad truth is that when you start doing a little digging, the whole story starts to fall apart pretty quickly.  On cryptid sites there's a lot of buzz about some camera film found amongst Harlan Ford's belongings after his death in 1980, claiming that it had photographs of the Monster.  But I found actual images of the developed film, and... here they are:

To say this is underwhelming falls considerably short.  It further supports my contention that there's something about aiming a camera at a cryptid that causes the AutoBlur function to turn on.

More damning still, though, is something rationalist skeptic and paranormal investigator Joe Nickell uncovered back in 2011.  He was looking into the stories of the Honey Island Swamp Monster, and specifically Harlan Ford's role in perpetuating them, and he found, buried near Ford's former hunting camp on the Pearl River, one of a pair of shoes with an altered sole for making Swamp Monster tracks.


Nickell calls this "prima facie evidence of hoaxing."  And I have to admit that if he were alive, Ford would have a lot of 'splainin' to do.  As do his apologists, such as his granddaughter Dana Holyfield-Evans, who still support his claims, especially when it involves television appearances on shows like Not Finding Bigfoot on the Folks, This Seriously Isn't About History Anymore channel.

So sad to say -- because, as I've pointed out before, as a biologist, no one would be happier than me if it turned out there really was a Bigfoot lurching around in the wilderness somewhere -- this one is kind of a non-starter.  Anyhow, you cryptid hunters, do keep looking.  Just because one story turned out to be false, doesn't mean they're all false, right?  Even if the last 562 stories were false, same thing, right?

Of course, right.


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