Early one morning in 1948, a phone call woke up the police chief in the small town of Clearwater, Florida. The caller said he’d seen something strange at the beach. Residents woke up that morning to find an odd set of footprints in the sand, and a rumor began circulating that Clearwater Beach had a sea monster. The rumor spread so wide, it caught the attention of a biologist in New York named Ivan Sanderson. Ivan Sanderson coined the term cryptozoology in the 1930s, meaning the search for creatures that haven’t been found and aren’t recognized by science—like the Loch Ness monster or Bigfoot. But even Ivan Sanderson couldn’t figure out where, or what, the footprints were coming from. We speak with Jeff Klinkenberg, Richard Grigonis, Jeff Signorini, and Alyssa Shimko about Tony Signorini, Al Williams, and the Clearwater monster.
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thanks very much for your support. Here's an episode of this is love. We thought criminal fans might enjoy one morning in nineteen. Forty, eight a phone call woke up the police chief in the small beach town of Clearwater Florida. It was three a m. The man on the phone said, he'd seen something
at it clear water beach. He told the police chief that he'd seen something in the water and that it was big. It was quote blowing and spouting about ten feet. High the collar asked bar a high powered rifle from the police to go shoot the thing the police chief said. No, the man wouldn't give his name because he had quote then parked at the beach with a girl. When the thing rose out of the water, the police chief told the man to go home and sleep it off, but that morning residents of clear water wheel
up to find that a strange set of footprints had appeared in the sand at Clearwater Beach overnight, and they were big. They were like fourteen inches long, eleven inches wide, narrow heel, big toes kind of like big bird in Sesame Street Jeff Klinenberg was a reporter in this part of
Florida for almost four decades rating, primarily for what was then known as a St Petersburg times. It was like something that didn't exist like some kind of dinosaur from the Jurassic age, and it was something that no one had
sing before the tracks at a stride of nearly four feet, sunk, an inch deep in the sand and had three toes there are dozens of them.
Coming out of the water and heading inland one man who had come up to
beach for, as usual morning, swim told you reporter. I saw those
max leading from the water, then returning to the water- and I thought that I was going crazy. I think that,
people should be told what it is that anything dangerous. Then we should be warned. I've never seen anything like it. A crowd started forming on the beach to look at the prince. Some people thought they might have been left by a bare one
and told a reporter that there were large crocodiles in the salt marsh to the south that they could have some.
I've got north to the beach. Some people said it was a huge sea turtle looking for a place to lay its eggs, but the police chief told her reporter I've never heard of a sea turtle with astride of that length if it was a
you can take my word for it. It was the grandaddy of them all. Plans were made to send photographs of the tracks to the Smithsonian. To be studied.
But the rumor was already circulating. The Clearwater Beach had a sea monster, it ends up in the newspapers. It ends up on the radio there's no television but everybody's talking about it in this sleepy little town
and you know it's after rivers after World WAR Ii, and there wasn't a whole lot to do except fishing. There give a loggerhead turtles you see if she went to the beach that's at night I mean you might see. If you were lucky, you might see a turtle come up out of the Gulf and lay its eggs, but who would have expected it a month?
one visitor to the area that he thought he might have seen something. While he was out fishing on his boat. He told a reporter that he had been very startled when he saw a quote hideous. Looking something break water twice near his motor. He described it as having a round face. That was about
the foot wide and a great body about two feet in diameter. He said it wasn't a sea turtle crocodile or porpoise, so people
Think this must be a new species or something without with everything, they're fucking wealth. I don't know-
I mean it's just it's just a mystery. You know it it's a mystery, but it's also lots of fun. The story went national
and the clear water police chief started receiving letters from all over the country, including from scientists. Everyone had a theory. The police chief said that theories ranged quote from the sublime to the
ridiculous. He said that if the letters were any indication, Clearwater would be getting a lot of curious visitors soon. I mean, I think I think if I heard
about this. I would I would go out all night and wait for this thing. I think I mean I can't imagine. This must have been pretty exciting news. You know if I had been born then, and if I'd been old enough, I would have been there with a flashlight sitting quietly though up by the sand dunes and just waiting for something a noise, a silhouette man, I mean that's just how I live for that stuff.
About three weeks after the first tracks appeared, the chief of the sheriff's Identification Bureau got a call at one thousand, one hundred and thirty p dot m on a Friday night to
The Indian rocks bridge about six miles south of clear water, the collar told the chief to hurry. The monster was on the beach when the chief arrived. He found tracks come out of the water and going back in he described them as being about a foot wide and is having three long toes
with clause? One woman said her dog is going to see monster earlier that night. She knew her dog and seen it cuz. It started yelping furiously at about one thousand and thirty p dot m and the sheriff said he been called that
by a person who gave his name as John more residence
The ghost of a man named more, had been hovering around the beach since he had been killed there in an accident. Whatever the explanation, the tracks kept coming:
a reporter for the Tampa Bay Times wrote. It appears that old ugly really gets around
and so all this excitement and this attention
helps to bring down this guy named Ivan Sanderson
New York. While he was a soft taught, geologists tvs, an author, he worked for
Debbie NBC Radio and
he came down and apparently I've seen pictures of him. He was sort of like Douglas Fairbanks. You know slick black hair pencil
mustache a wardrobe. You know I don't know if he was wearing a piss helmet, but I'd like to think he was, I would say, from what I've read a ham. This was perfect for both the Clearwater monster and Ivan Sanderson. There was a match made in Heaven and
he gets into it. He was quite taken with the whole with the whole idea of because he was always looking for some spectacular new. You know thing Richard Crick
Bonus is working on a biography of Ivan Sanderson, he's
that's Anderson was known for his charisma.
Personality. He would often walk into restaurants
with a parrot on his shoulder, he was especially curious about mysterious or legendary creatures. He coined the term cryptozoology in the nineteen thirties, meaning the search for creatures that haven't been found and aren't recognized by science. Like the Loch Ness Monster or bigfoot. He had collected tens of thousands of specimens of animals for the
museum back of the nineteen thirty is what he did, his major expeditions to Africa of Cameroon and the Caribbean and whatever. So he was always looking for that great discovery of a great thing, and he thought there might be said that this was some strange
Know paleolithic creature that was living and leaving these flip prints on the beach in sand.
And convince the New York Herald Tribune and NBC, to send him from New York to Florida, to examine the prince and to see if he could figure out what or who had left them
you re plaster casts, and he would dig things up. You dig up of the actual plaster casts after making them he had,
aircraft and the pilot was
flying around looking for additional tracks and nothing extremely sophisticated. I mean it didn't happen
there are the word Eddie Electronic devices for in a like sonar her something he will look for the actual creature, it was relatively simple stuff. The zoologist would have, and
talk to people. What did you see? Where did you see it? He concluded that the creature was probably generally unhappy based on its wandering path. He said it was probably lost. He noted that quote. The general impression of the imprints is one of remarkable pudgie and that one of the toes seem to incline slightly inward indicate
He said that the tracks could not possibly have been manmade and he simply through the process of elimination, decided they were giant penguins, no giant penguins were ever seen and eventually Ivan Sanderson. Just went back to New York.
The tracks reappeared every once in a while, and people in clear water would start talking all over again excited the monster had come back to visit, but every time it was
this gas than any time there was any kind of a story on even just have the biggest ran on his face. Tat was the most unassuming guy and he was the last person that anybody would have ever expected. Such a thing out of my name, is Jeff Signorini from Clearwater Florida Spencer.
Most all of my life there tony Signorini was my father and he is also known as the clear water monster. I'm Phoebe judge
and this is love
two through US kids, as we found out about it it little like really dad just signorini. His father
grew up in a little town in Pennsylvania, Monongahela were
Madame Mary Jeff's mother, nineteen, forty two, he joined the air force as a flight engineer during World WAR two and when the war ended the two of them one on a two week
vacation to Florida and then were intending I'm goin back to Monongahela,
and at the end of two weeks
mom said well hesitantly. She said. Well, I guess we better start getting things packed up.
And dad's answer was why
not going anywhere. You ends
they never went back. There lived in Florida, the rest of their lives. Tony got a job work.
In an auto shop, there called auto electric
man named Al Williams hours.
Great guy. He was yes combustion with kind a bit, but the best description of in as
I saw him as a child. In my years, growing up around Al Williams had this reputation of being kind of crabby, but as far as Tony was concerned, AL wasn't crabby. He was very funny and he like practical, jokes and
Dad, I'm sure was, is willing accomplice on a lot of things somewhat
one that I'm aware of would say it at one point: snuck a horse into a holding cell in the police department and actually gotten it locked inside left, and I just waited for it to be discovered. Wait a second. How did they do that? I don't know now. This must have been a different time because, oh yes,
and they were one of em. They used to do that. You startled Saturday, night dances and clear water
a Tory among the waterfront. So all the cars would be part doubt front and they would go down there and remove hoods from one vehicle and put it on to a matching their goal of a different color, and so people would come out of it,
dance and it would be dark and they would notice anything, but they'd go home and then the next morning they would find that maybe they're green
had a blue hood or their black car had a red hood. They would intermixed with the in it. I think it always kind of came back on
Them is okay, they got us. Jeff says his father and ow would sometimes attach whistles to the ignition switches of their friends cars. You know you turn the key on the car and it would just go with a whistling sound
I think it was all the same. I think it was just a matter of printing and having some fun and surprising people. There was just always something to be having fun and something to do nothing that caused any damage. Your problems,
having fun and then tony Signorini. Now Williams came up with the idea for a prank. There would top them all about nineteen. Forty seven hour had seen a photo in
geographic, a fossilize dinosaur footprint and he was
at it, and he showed it to dad and he said we could have some fun with this
we'll be right back
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Ten percent off your first purchase of a website or domain, so see your father, you Father AL said what do you think about this idea and your father immediately said: why not.
I think so, how do you make? How do you make a Monstro feet? I mean I'm straight you. What is the? What is the blueprint for a Monstro feet? Well, I think the
just worked from that image. Him a photo of an imprint of a dinosaur foot
and they drew it out from there, and it was really intricate us.
As how how they did it mean they they had the three toes they had.
On the end, which were just a part of the cast made it
like there were claws out on the end of the toes
it was made so that it actually picks and up at the back like it would. When you take a regular footsteps in sand, so they first tried some of they made some concrete fee made a cast and poured the concrete feet
out and they found in testing it, that it wasn't heavy enough and it would make a good imprint into the sand.
So then they took their photos and what they had drawn up in their description of it to a friendly
who had had a metal shop, flour, water and told them what
they wanted to do, and he said sure I can do that they weigh all
thirty pounds a piece after having had the cast iron part of it the completed having that cast. They then bolted on a pair of
verse, high top sneakers, and then you would just put the shoes on and the feet would be attached. So even just moving these things around when you're, just picking them up not wearing them, they're quite heavy.
In the beginning, when they first left the first tracks on Clearwater Beach, they would go out at night and at that time it's not like you had condos
towering condos. Looking down on everything, there would have been a few bungalow type
buildings around that you could go out to the beach at night. It wasn't lit up and nobody would see anything
and the way they did it was. They went out in a robot and then
RO back up just up to the shore
And dad would put the feed on an step overboard
an walk up out of the water and go up onto the sand and then start down the beach for distance at various
times. They dropped sea weed behind, like it had come off of the monster anyway,
walk down the beach for a distance and he would just turned and walked back up.
Into the water. So it looked like the the creature had come up.
The beach from the water walked down the shore ways
then walked back into the waters.
I am away and now would be waiting there for him to pick him up and I'll hit said that debt at very deep.
Trusting of Al Williams, so he didn't put him out in a little bit deeper water because he was going right to the bottom and staying there with those. I did. Your father have a.
Plan of of how big stride he needed to to make to make these realistic, or does he just try to walk as a regular
person. Was there some rhyme or reason in how he he actually took his footsteps?.
The decision was to make them as long as possible to make the creature seem as big as possible and as he described, that it was get a foot put down,
and get that footprint set, and then you just start swinging the other leg a little bit and then swing it out to as far as that, one could
and bringing the other leg with you and with that from what they measured. He he was able to get between four and six foot strides, which was part of what made them think it was so large. There were some
skill, and this wasn't just strap in these on and going for a walk, correct. Yes, definitely
every now and again. Tony Signorini and Al Williams would pull out the feet. They nickname them, Denny the dinosaur they did this for ten years. I don't know what
generated. If they just said okay, let's go, do it again or hey? Don't you think it would be a good time to bring it back out some stuff
ran in the paper and said nothing was ever known and it hasn't been seen for six months and they'd say yeah might be time for it to be seen again. Did your mother know what was going on? Oh yeah
It wasn't anything uncommon for Al Williams to give dad a call and say: hey, let's go and they would take off and go do something and
Come back in a dead would tell her about it after the fact that story that I heard when he came home
in the wee hours of the morning. You know two or three I am just giggling to himself and covered in sand. Tony said
Ren's, granddaughter Alyssa, Shim KO, and she knew something was up, obviously, because that wasn't normal behavior, but I think she just found it entertaining
Due to know what was going on with them to know your grandfather well,
I did. I spent a lot of time with him growing up there. My grandparents house was maybe a couple
miles from where my family lived and
I grew up there and I,
remember the monster feet
being in this flake wooden creed, underneath one of the worst benches at the shop just out in the hedge. So it was kind of an open secret in that sense that they were just sitting there and that we knew about it. But it is also feels like just a kind of cool family thing that makes me feel like I can. I can do call stuff for do silly stuff and
important thing, as always just to try to make other people smile. The family kept secret for forty years and then Tony Signorini Decide
to let everyone in on the joke Williams
Had passed away and it was Tony's secret to tell he invited a reporter to the auto shop and pulled out the feet which were still in their box under the workbench. The reporters headline Red Clearwater can relax monster is unmasked. Do you think he was proud of it? Oh yeah, absolutely I mean there must be a thrill after having hidden something for so long to finally be able to say it was me
Absolutely tony signorini died in two thousand twelve Jeff wrote in his obituary that his father
mother were high school sweethearts. His father was devoted to his church and was famous for being the clear water monster. I just couldn't imagine it not being included,
It was a part of hooey was all the other things that were in their about is so
listen world war to what he did and where a worked and how and Bartleby was in church and everything. Those were all true. Those
while the primary parts of his life, they were all the things that were,
so much a part of him and the man that he was, but so was
a dinosaur. It was just. It was an alternate thing that could not not be included. It was something he took great joy and I don't know about pride. Maybe
pride, but mainly joy, in the entire episode and the fooling of everyone with it and it just.
Part of him, and it had to be part of this story. The last line of tony
Morin's obituary reads: men like him are few. Indeed do you think of your father when you pull a good prank? Yes, absolutely anything! That's done! That's the you know. He became the guidance
things in that way, Jeff Signorini has inherited the huge cast iron feet that is
father once more than he.
That now that the secret is out at least two historical groups have asked him to donate them, but he's hesitant to let them go. He wanted to keep him. It was a family kind of a thing. I have them as a part of him. It's a connection to dad
You know I I like thinking about Tony and Allet and and thinking about them doing this just to entertain themselves. You know just kind of play with reality whether it made a big deal or not, but just the joy of the
thinking. Maybe they could get arise out of someone? Yes, and it must have brought them great joy to the next day to talk about what they had done the night before and just a relish the stories in the newspaper or what they heard on the radio journalist, Jeff clinking back then, and then even better people who who then made the claim that they had actually seen the monster out on the beach. That must have been very sound.
It's fine, you know what is it about a great prank that we love so much? I mean there can be so many things going on in the world in tons of technology and people or have tens
stands at last ten seconds now, but still there's something about it. A great prank that seems too,
wipe that all the way and that everyone will stop to hear about a good prank. You know and the thing about that prank in particular. First of all, I wasn't cruel. You know it wasn't like a prank at the expense of somebody else. It was just one of these things that gave people some
silent and, I would say joy just this idea. I live in this world. Nothing happens, blah blah blah and suddenly there something outlandish. It was just fine, it is fine. Pranks
and you're you're right I mean especially
I mean a lot of misery
has just disappeared. Most of us think we know everything. Of course we don't that we've we like to think we do. We have access to all this information.
So it's really kind of funny when something can knock us for a loop, it's the stuff that makes life worth living. It is it it gives you a sense of wonder
to makes you curious as to what it's all about it. It keeps you
for the answer. Seeing this one
from the inside. I feel that way and when I say something else from the outside, I feel that way when it's just something that you can't figure
we have so much information anymore,
Many many variations when when something is just it's, it's in in its own way,.
You know I you think that we should all try to spend a little time thinking about a good prank that we could pull
might do us good to spend a little more time figuring out
We can have some
more fun, I think, would be a good idea. In fact, if you
If you turn around right now, you'll see that I'm in the city, that's good. Now, that's it
when I'm gonna try to work on that and to my own repertoire right there. This is love
is created by Laurence Spore and me Nadi
Wilson is our senior producer. Our producers are Susanna,
And Aaron Wade, audio mix by Rob buyers Michael refill
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is recorded in the studio of North Carolina public Radio, w you and see where proud, member of Radio Tokyo from Prx a collection of the best podcast around I'm Phoebe Judge- and this is love
Transcript generated on 2020-11-24.