The Wakulla Volcano Archive

"Ever Heard The Tale Of The 'Volcano' In Wakulla County?"

Tallahassee Democrat

(September 9, 1956)

Page 7
Ever Heard The Tale Of The 'Volcano' In Wakulla County?
By Arthur Kennerly
Democrat Staff Writer

Superstitions, vivid imagina-
tions and strange misconcep-
tions have helped create an as-
sortment of weird tales and be-
liefs about unexplained hap-
pennings in the backcountry
around Tallahassee.
The baffling "volcano" of
Wakulla County, however, re-
mains at the top of the list of
North Florida natural peculiar-
ities that have fascinated Big
Bend folks down through the
The mysterious Wakulla
County volcano probably never
existed even though various
persons for almost a century
reported seeing smoke and fire
coming from the region where
it supposedly was located.
For many years persons liv-
ing in and around Tallahassee
could stand on a high hill and
look across the tree tops south-
east of the town and see the
thin, steady trail of smoke from
the so-called volcano rising
from the swampy forested sec-
tion in the vicinity of the Wa-
kulla - Jefferson - Leon county
border junction.
The smoke was first reported
back in the days when Forida
was controlled by the Spanish.
But it was not until after the
War Between the States that
folks began to think it came
from a volcano.
Many men made a hobby of
trying to find the volcano.
However, no one was ever suc-
The smoke was visible until
about 40 years ago. Sometime
in the period just before World
War I and the 1920's the undis-
covered Wakulla volcano smoke
Writers, historians, and sci-
tists, -- amateurs and profes-
onals -- have long pondered
over what created the smoke
and why it eventually faded
away. Some stick to the old
story that a volcano actually
Back in the days of the Span-
ish and when Florida was a
territory of the United States,
people thought the slender
thread of smoke rising from the
untrackable forests of Wakulla
County marked the site of a
hidden camp of pirates and
During the War Between the
States it was popularly thought
to be coming from a hideout
for a colony of Confederate
Army deserters and runaway
slaves. After he war the vol-
cano theory arises.
Oldtime writers let the pos-
sible existence of the volcano
get the best of their imagina-
A Chicago newpaper man
traveling through North Flor-
ida in the 1889's was amazed by
the miles and miles of unsur-
veyed wilds of Wakulla County.
And he said "It is in this im-
penetrable jungle that the fa-
mous 'Florida volcano' is sup-
possed to exist, for a column of
light hazy smoke or vapor may
be seen rising from some por-
tion of it .."
In the late 1880's near the
turn of the century, novelist
Maurice Thompson described
the volcano smoke at great
length. In his novel "A Talla-
hassee Girl" Thompson wrote
that "whoever goes to Tallah-
hassee will hear of the mysteri-
ous smoke of Wakulla. It was
first talked of in the early days
when St. Marks was just be-
ginning. Its apparent location
is in the midst of a swamp...
wherein grows every conceiv-
able aquatic weed and grass
and bush and tree . . . Every
newspaper attache who hap-
pens to get into Middle Florida
feels it duty bound to write up
the smoke phenomenon, but
always at a distance and most-
ly from hearsay-evidence ...
"And it is no hoax, no illu-
sion, no creation of a vivid
Southern imagination. The
smoke is there. It has been
noted and commented on for
nearly 50 years...It is a per-
manent and persistent mystery.
It is the greatest physical phe-
nomenon in Florida."
William Wyatt wrote in 1935
in the Tallahassee Historical
Society journal that 70 years
ago visitors in Tallahassee went
up in the Capitol dome (no
longer allowed) to see the thin
column of smoke rising above
the trees.
Wyatt claimed he explored
the area where the smoke orig-
inated and found a number of
sink holes and 15-foot high
piles of rock amid the swampy
region. Geoloists told him the
rock was not of volcanic origin.
Farmers in the vicinity of
Chairs, Capitola, and Baum
reported they occasionally saw
fire coming from the volcano
area at night. One Capitola
man claimed to discovered
a hot spring near the area.
Geologists disputed his claim,
saying warm springs are usual-
ly only found in oil-producing
regions and that the Wakulla
area was not oil country.
Many explorers in the late
1800's and early 1900's attempt-
ed to track down the origin of
the smoke. Apparently none
Sailors used to say "the Old
Man of the Swamp is smoking
his pipe" when they saw the
smoke from the coast. Negroes
believed the smoke came from
the "devil's tar kiln." But local
crackers, wise in the ways of
the woods, probably pegged it
down correctly when they said
the smoke came from some
peat, muck and fallen trees
that had become ignited and
were smoldering peacefully deep
in the untouched swamp.
Dr. R. O. Vernon of the Flor-
ida Geological Survey says the
people who believe in the smol-
dering muck fire theory are
probably right.
If they are right it will de-
stroy some of the speculations
many people have made on the
existence of the fabled Wakulla
volcano--and many eerie bed-
time stories of the search for
the elusive volcano will drop
into oblivion
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