Friday, February 6, 2009
Florida's Rip Van Winkle
One of the more bizarre legends handed down by Florida's early pioneers is a "Rip Van Winkle" like tale about a sleeping man found in the caves of today's Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna.
The caves at what would become the park were popular with early residents of Jackson County and they often rode out from town to picnic and explore. On one such expedition, according to the legend, a party of young people were exploring the Natural Bridge Cavern in the park when a wall suddenly gave way and exposed a previously unknown chamber.
As they climbed inside through the dust and debris, the explorers were stunned to find an old man stretched out on the floor of the new cave. At first they thought he was dead, but then to their surprise he began to stretch and wake up. He was dressed in skins with a coonskin cap by his side. He spoke a strange Spanish dialect but after some trying the explorers were finally able to understand what he was saying. When they told him the year, however, he became highly alarmed and announced that he had been sleeping for 100 years!
Panic stricken, the man ran out into the vast swamps of the Chipola River and was never seen again.
To learn more about this fascinating story that first appeared in newspapers as early as the 1850s, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/floridacaverns8. A longer version of the story can also be found in my recent book, The History of Jackson County, Florida: Volume One. It is now available at Amazon.com. Just follow the link for more information.