The Wakulla Volcano Archive


The Magnolia Monthly

(April, 1967)

                   THE WAKULLA VOLCANO

                          Whoever goes to Tallahassee will hear of
                     the mysterious smoke of Wakulla.  It was first
                     talked of in the early days when St. Marks was
                     just beginning to be known as a landing-place
                     for Gulf-coast vessels.  The sailors saw it,
                     from far out on the water, a tall , slender
                     column, now black like pitch-smoke, now gray
                     like the smoke from burningleaves, and anon
                     white like steam.  Its apparent location is in
                     the midst of a swamp, very little above tide-
                     water, wherein grow every conceivable aquatic
                     weed and grass and bush and tree,-a jungle a
                     hundred-fold more difficult to penetrate than
                     any in Africa or India.
                          Every newspaper attache who happens to get
                     into Middle Florida feels in duty bound to
                     "write up" this smoky phenomenon, but always
                     at a distance, and mostly from hearsay evidence.
He gets upon some high, windy hill near Tallahassee, and looking
southeast, sees, or what is quite the same, imagines he sees, the
lifting jet trembling against the sky, and he writes.  He goes and
sees Judge White, and writes more.  He sees Col. Brevard, or Mayor
Lewis, or Capt. Dyke, and adds some interesting particulars.  He in-
terviews an aged darky, who remembers 'when de fus' house wus built
in Tallahassee," and prolongs the account.  For the rest he draws
upon his imagination, or if his imagination should chance to be slow
to move, he whets it with a bottle of scuppernong.
     The older inhabitants of Tallahassee may, if you are an intimate
friend, tell you that once the New York Herald sent a man to explore
the swamp, and explain the smoke of Wakulla.  You will hear that this
man got lost in the jungle, and came near dying, and saw wonderful
things, and went away a wiser and silenter correspondent than was
ever in that region before or since.  You may get from Judge White-
a genial and genuinely interesting gentleman-some account of his own
effort to reach the foot of that tall smoke-column; how he floundered
for miles through mud-slush, water, sawgrass, swampwoods, and bay
thickets, millions of mosquitoes and legions of snakes, till, at last
he reached a tall pine on a tussock; how he nailed cleats and climb-
ed, and nailed cleats and climbed, up this tree, for a hundred feet
or more, and with a field-glass looked at the smoke, still six miles
distant; and how his assistants all gave up and deserted him, and how
wild jungle was utterly impassable any farther, and how he came down
from his tree, and floundered and splashed and swam and dragged and
fought his way back to terra firma, sick, discouraged, but more than
ever impressed with the strangeness of that smoke rising from the
awful quagmire.
     And it is no hoax, no illusion, no creation of a vivid Southern
imagination.  The smoke is there.  It has been noted and commented on
for nearly fifty years.  It has been seen, almost constantly, from
the north, the east, the south, and the west.  Its location has been
                     THE WAKULLA VOLCANO
accurately determined by intelligent observations.  It is a permanent
and persistent mystery.  It is the greatest physical phenomenon in
Florida.  It is a standing temptation to inquisitive and adventure-
some folk,-a constant taunt and banter which nature flaunts in the fa-
ces of scientific explorers, and it offers the reward of fame for
high achievement to whomsoever will solve its riddle.
     It was, as has been said, first noticed by sailors on the Gulf
coast, and by sponge-fishers; afterwards it came to be a source of
considerable speculation by the early inhabitants of Leon and Wakulla
counties.  For a time it was believed that it was a sort of beacon
or signal made by a band of smugglers or pirates, who had a rendez-
vous there.  Some would explain it by supposing that runaway negroes
had a camp in the swamp.  During the war it was held to be a colony
of deserters from the Confederate army.  Since the war it has been
dubbed a volcano.  Such, in short, is the history of the Wakulla
  (Excerpts from A TALLAHASSEE GIRL, by Maurice Thompson, published
in 1881.)
      An article on the Wakulla Volcano appeared in the March 15,
1964 issue of THE TALLAHASSEE DEMOCRAT in which writer Hallie Boyles
states that the volcano, mentioned so often in novels and other chron-
icles of Territorial Florida, disappeared after an earthquake in
1886 struck Charleston, S. C. and killed 60 people.  The same quake
rang churchbells in St. Augustine, caused water to disappear in Lake
Jackson north of Tallahassee, and a dry well to start flowing in
     There were many theories about the column of smoke.  Some people
thoughtit was bandits or pirates hiding out in the swamps, and during
the Civil War they were deserters....or escaped slaves.  Slaves them-
selves thought it was the Devil's tar pit.
     Four men claim to have seen the volcano.  One, William Wyatt of
Tallahassee, who likes to argue that "The Tallahassee Girl" was Ellen
Call Long and her father in the book the girl's real father, Richard
Keith Call (tho he died in 1862 and the book concerned Tallahassee in
1880) went with Fred Wimpee to the area about 1932.  He says they
started out with a Model T Ford, a machete, a hand-ax, flashlight,
and some sandwiches.  The car took them as far as it could and they
went on foot past two abandoned sawmills at Flint Rock and Fanlew,
then hacked their way southwest to the Gulf.  They finally found rocks
as big as houses strewn over a four-mile area.  Some boulders looked
like solid stone walls.  They slept overnite on top a rock, battled
mosquitos, and when returning to Tallahassee agreed with a man in Wa-
cissa who told them they were dam' fools.
     Judge A. L. Porter of Crawfordville and James Kirkland preceded
Wyatt and Wimpee to the place, finding it while thrashing thru the
Pinhook on a hunting trip in the late 1920's.  "We saw a rocky knoll
with a small crater in it," said Judge Porter, and it appeared to be
burned."  He thought gas had escaped and been set on fire.  He also
added,"I hate to give anything away that belongs to Wakulla County,
by re-apportionment or anything else, but I have to say the volcano
was in Jefferson County."
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