Local Tales – What Lurks Within the Honey Island Swamp?
Travelling offers up the chance to hear about local myths and legends; stories that are utterly rooted in their place of origin and often are unheard of except by locals and the curious who pass through. In an area that boasts a huge population of alligator, wild hog and even a number of black bear and panther there are few reasons to create a fictional carnivorous beast to add to the list of very real and fearsome creatures already in residence; so could there be any truth behind the story of the Honey Island Swamp Monster?
The Honey Island Swamp in Louisiana sits just North of New Orleans and is 70,000 acres of dense emerald pine forest and the Pearl River’s lush flood plains. With terrain not easily accessible to humans and swamp water thick and murky it doesn’t feel entirely fair to declare the existence of this particular local to be completely impossible. But then again . . . described as a 7ft, 400lb, hairy, aqua-mammal with long claws and fierce yellow eyes it has been sighted both swimming the bayous and strolling through the forest on two legs leaving a horrifying odour in its wake.
I visited the Honey Island Swamp with no clue about the monstrous local tale and took a short tour of this beautiful, soupy, green wonder where alligators really are just an arm’s length away – not that you’d want to test that measurement – but there was no mention of the aqua-ape. I can think of only the following reasons for this silence
- THE FAKE – It’s not true and not worth talking about
- THE UNKNOWN – It’s inconclusive and not to be talked about until more evidence is available
- THE COVER-UP – It’s definitely true; Mulder & Scully are literally behind that tree
Even though we all know its option 2 erring on the side of option 1, let’s work with option 3 for a moment (because it’s more fun). The first documented sighting was in 1963 by Harland Ford who came across the beast hunched over a Wild Boar with its throat torn open. He caught the creature on super 8 film and the original footage can be seen below.
It’s erm . . . inconclusive at best. But he spent the next six years hunting for the creature and aside from a second sighting of those yellow eyes peering out from the dense forest he was only ever able to find the monster’s footprints of which he made plaster casts. That’s a lot of time and effort to dedicate to a lie so he either really did see something unsettling that day or he was excruciatingly bored for six years.
The best part is the origin story. While Native Americans tell legends of an orphaned child being raised by alligators in the area and others believe the creature is actually a descendant of Bigfoot there is a story that puts the creature arriving on the scene far more recently. In the local community the rumour goes that a travelling circus was involved in a train crash at the turn of the twentieth century and a group of chimpanzees escaped into the swamp-land where they interbred with the alligator population.
There are a handful of sightings each year but most people consider the likely explanation to be a case of mistaken identity because Harland Ford’s original footage has been easily recreated by a man in a Ghillie hunting suit.
I’m not sure what explanation can be offered for the yellow eyes – severe alcoholism? – but my experience of New Orleans includes large groups of people sat outdoors with a line of cold beers and quietly but persistently perspiring; anyone donning a Ghillie suit and trekking through a swamp in this humidity is going to smell particularly rancid. No matter, the tale in its many wonderful variations still perfectly captures both our imagination and the vibrant, buzzing, complex beauty of the Honey Island Swamp; if you’re ever in the area I highly recommend heading out to the swamp and enjoying all it has to offer, swamp monster or no swamp monster.