Mar 30, 2022
Brad Bertelli joins us to talk about his recent book on the "Florida Keys Skunk Ape."
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Jim Harold 0:03
Bigfoot, Nessie, Chupacabra. Are these and other purported monsters the real deal, or are they really not more than a fantasy of those who want to believe? We'll ask those questions on the Cryptid Report.
Welcome to the Cryptid Report. I'm Jim Harold. And so glad to speak with you again. And we have a--it's gonna be a fun show, I think. Brad Bertelli is here. He is an author, columnist, speaker, and historian in the Florida Keys. He lives in Florida and curates the Keys History and Discovery Center. And we're so glad to have him with us. Brad, welcome to the show. And looking forward to talking about your book, the Florida Keys Skunk Ape Files: Island cryptids histories and mysteries.
Brad Bertelli 0:48
Thank you so much for having me on. I really appreciate the opportunity.
Jim Harold 0:53
So as a historian, what made you want to do a book, and I understand this is historical fiction, but inspired by an actual sighting. What--what spurred you on to follow this idea of the Skunk Ape?
Brad Bertelli 1:12
Well, this was one of--I wrote a column about this event, which happened on Key Largo in 1977. And it was a very--it was a two week event, it was--kind of got a lot of national exposure. It was really interesting, the story. It was taken very seriously at the time. And when I was doing a column--I've been doing a local history column for a decade now here in the keys. And this was probably the funnest column I ever did. And I wrote this a long time ago. And while I was still curating at the Keys History and Discovery Center, a job that I no longer have, I wanted to do a--a exhibit on the Skunk Ape, I thought it would be great for, you know, for kids, and a lot of fun. And again, based on this actual event, and then my creative writing background and my history background kind of got going and the book took off in a direction I wasn't really expecting.
Jim Harold 2:13
(Laughs) I've heard fiction authors say that when you're writing fiction, actually, sometimes the characters kind of determine the direction it goes and they do things that you never intended them to do, but say, "No, I'm not making a left around this corner. I'm going to make a right around that corner." Was that your experience?
Brad Bertelli 2:37
In a lot of ways, really, the book is three stories in one. There are the cryptid events, there are 50 events that--that all revolve around sightings of the skunk ape in the Florida Keys that date back to the--to the 15th century basically. And there's also--there's that--there are those stories, there's the historical context where I take real live events that happened in the Florida Keys, and I insert the Skunk Ape components and then (coughs) excuse me, I created the southernmost skunk ape society, which is the--a couple of a--couple of guys--a couple of kids in 1977 Keywest who find this--these two boxes of documents up in the attic of a house that kind of document all of these sightings, and so the third part of the story is the adventures of--of these two kids as they explore the skunk ape files and they, you know, get involved with the government. And so that portion of the story really did take a life on of its own that I wasn't really sure where it was going but, you know, as you do as fiction, you know, tends to happen, the path goes where the path goes and you just go along for the ride.
Jim Harold 3:59
So now Skunk Ape, for people who have heard that. That's basically equivalent to kind of American southeast Bigfoot basically, right?
Brad Bertelli 4:09
Yes, yes, Sasquatch, Bigfoot, Yeti. The skunk ape is sometimes described as a smaller version of Bigfoot. But what was interesting about the Key Largo sighting was the size of the creature who was eight feet tall, which is typically a little taller than most Skunk Ape sightings.
Jim Harold 4:32
And what's interesting when I would think of Key Largo, I'd be thinking of beaches and beautiful vistas and things. I wouldn't necessarily think of Skunk Apes or Sasquatch. But--but this goes--you kind of touched on this. Could you talk to us, putting your historian hat back on, how far back and how often these sightings supposedly happened in real life?
Brad Bertelli 4:56
Well, you know, sightings of the Skunk Ape go back to the 1800s. What was int--you know, what's interesting about a skunk ape sighting on Key Largo and kind of what was part of the impetus for the book was that if it happened once--and I believe the skunk apes are real, and Bigfoot is real. I believe, you know, that if it happened once, that wasn't the only time that a skunk ape was in the Florida Keys. Historically, you know, panthers and bears have been spotted on the islands and Key Largo being, you know, the largest of the keys and relatively linked, not--no, it's close to the mainland. It wouldn't be difficult for, you know, something, you know, bears did it, panthers did it. Why couldn't--why couldn't a skunk ape do it too? Make that crossing over to the keys.
Jim Harold 5:45
Now, when people reported seeing this skunk ape, was it threatening in any way? What kind of behaviors would it--would it participate in?
Brad Bertelli 5:58
It was, um, there was a father and son were out collecting bottles along the edge of the island in the mangroves, which really, generally, historically is, you know, kind of exploring the edge and taking a long--a long pole and sticking it down into the muck trying to tap glass. And as the father and son were down by the edge of the islands, there was a strong smell, kind of described as, you know, a dog that hasn't been bathed in months and months, a wet dog, and then looking up ahead, they noticed something, you know, wet and furry and large, kind of just--just up--up the way a bit. And when it stood, you know, it was this man, this, you know, eight foot tall creature. And it hung out around the property of this family, the Hawkman's and um, it's, it will stay--stayed in this area for about two weeks. And it scared the family, it did come up to the house, tearing through the windows, the father cut back the trees, 30 feet from the house hoping to, you know, to deter it from approaching. But it didn't, you know, it wasn't aggressive. It was just interested, I imagine, and kind of scared and not sure what to do. It was also cited by another person who lived nearby, kind of creeping beneath--taking shelter underneath a shed. The police investigated. It was taken--it was taken very seriously at the time.
Jim Harold 7:30
And is it a case like with this 77 rash--or 77 sightings? Was it something where people would write into your column and write you and say, "Hey, I saw that, too," was that very common?
Brad Bertelli 7:44
My column doesn't date back quite that far.
Jim Harold 7:47
No, but I mean, in later years, when they--when people--you said it was the thing that people wrote into you the most? So did they say, "Oh, 20, 30, 40 years ago, whatever it was, I saw that too." Did you ever get anything like that?
Brad Bertelli 8:00
No. But the 70s is really interesting, because there was this plethora of sightings between, you know, West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale. Even in 1977, it also, you know, inspired a--a politician from Cape Coral, who was in the, you know, in--a representative of Cape Coral, who--who treated a skunk ape protection bill that never actually passed.
Jim Harold 8:26
Brad Bertelli 8:26
But in that bill, he does cite the sighting in Tavernier and Key Largo. So it was taken seriously. People--I do get a lot of, you know, one of the things about the book is that people read it, and they think it's--and I take credit for this, because maybe, you know, it took the writing is--
Jim Harold 8:46
Brad Bertelli 8:47
--is well done, because people think it's real. And sometimes they buy the book, they don't read the back cover, where it says it's historical fiction, and they buy the book, and then, "hey, this--this is not real." And it's the first line of the book, "this is historical fiction." But people you know, don't--don't believe that it's real, or think that it's real. And then they buy it and say, "Hey, these are all kind of--something's not right here." But I've not had the experience of people, you know, a few people do contact. I have a you know, a Facebook page for the southernmost skunk ape file--files, and a Twitter account. And every once in a while someone does, you know, "Hey, I heard this," or, "there were some helicopters out by my property the other night doing, you know, kind of a, you know, a grid search and there was loud howling," so there has been that. Occasionally, some people do. And--and I, you know, it's an interesting relationship with people who are really hardcore investigators, and then my book, some of them don't like it because, you know, kind of playing both both ends, you know, both the fiction and the--and the actual accounts. So it's kind of interesting. The book is kind of positioned interestingly.
Jim Harold 10:00
Well on that subject, how do you do that? I mean, in other words, something that also, you know, obviously having a history background, you want to be respectful to history. And you are very respectful in saying upfront, it says it right there. I saw it in the book, "this is historical fiction," but in terms of actually writing it, how do you position where it's entertaining, it's fun, but it is also respectful of the people who experienced this and all that? How do you put all that together as a writer?
Brad Bertelli 10:32
For me when I started doing this book--remember the Blair Witch when it came out?
Jim Harold 10:36
Brad Bertelli 10:36
That was very much my idea of writing something that you know, is it real? Is it not real? And I first gave the book out to, you know, to friends to, you know, to read before I published it. You know, even people I told, "this is fiction, this is not real," were like, "Did this really happen?" You know, they were convinced that it was real. I tried to do that, as a historian, the history in the book is spot on, all the history is very good. So it's--in one ways, the skunk ape is kind of a metaphorical way to introduce history of the Florida Keys to people who might not otherwise receive that information. And so that the--the history base, and kind of incorporating the skunk ape with the history, I wanted to be able to tell--another way of telling history of the Florida Keys and the skunk ape is, you know, fascinates--fascinates me. And it was a lot of fun, kind of inserting him to all these historical situations with, you know, presidents and with, you know, Thomas Edison, and, you know, all these John James Audubon and--and Ponce de Leon. Kind of going back and writing alternative versions of history. And it was just a lot of fun. Um, I tried to be respectful. You know, I tried to tell the right history, and just have fun with this really interesting, you know, cryptid, who has an interesting story all by himself. And it was it was just a--it was just a--I hadn't written fiction, in a long--long time. I had moved to the Florida Keys 20 years ago with the intent on writing the great, you know, the great novel, Florida Keys novel, and kind of branched off into history. And I wanted to take a break because I had just been writing history for a decade non stop. And I just started working on this, the Skunk Ape files as kind of a way to embrace my writing background and have fun again, and it was just--and then this book kind of came from that.
Jim Harold 12:41
That makes a lot of sense. What do you think--and obviously, you said, you know, that's--the Skunk Ape situation was a thing that people were very interested in. Why do you think skunk ape, and by extension, Bigfoot is so fascinating to not only people in Florida, but people across the world? What fascinates us about Bigfoot?
Brad Bertelli 13:02
I think it's the unknown, the possibility of the unknown. And this large, you know, mythical creature, you know, who's been spotted on, you know, six of the seven continents, only Antarctica does not have a Bigfoot sighting. And, you know, going back into, you know, Aboriginal peoples and indigenous peoples, everybody has a hairy man or a Bigfoot, you know, story somewhere in the past. And it's--I think it's just the idea of something out there that we don't understand and can't prove, and it's just kind of--which is why there's such a prolific amount of--of television shows and books and people investigating. And I've really become involved with a lot of the, you know, members of a lot of these groups that go out every weekend, and looking for--looking for the Skunk Ape or the Bigfoot. And, um, some of them have embraced me, some of them have not. I've had a great supporter in David Shealy, who was the, you know, the foremost Skunk Ape authority. He has a Skunk Ape headquarters and a shoppe out in the Everglades. He's been a big supporter of the book, and, um, and he understands and appreciates kind of the path I took and what I'm doing about bringing--bringing recognition to this--this creature.
Jim Harold 14:22
Well, that's--that's the thing sometimes, you know, for example--perfect example is Hamilton, right? You know, a lot of people learned American history, or got interested in American history by Hamilton. So you're kind of doing something similar for the Skunk Ape.
Brad Bertelli 14:40
I think so.
Jim Harold 14:41
Now, I'm gonna ask you two ends of the spectrum here. What part of the book is closest to actual history? And what part is the one where you took the wildest flight of fancy?
Brad Bertelli 14:56
One of my favorite pieces of of the book was file number--file number 15 called the Skunk Ape ghosting. And there was an actual newspaper article published in the 18--late 1800s, where it describes a--it describes a--there's a large hairy ghost the size of a horse in Key West, which if you break that down, a large hairy creature, the size of a horse sounds a lot like a skunk ape. And that was one of my favorite ones because it was an actual--I don't want to call a sighting, but an actual documented piece of information that I, you know, expanded into this--this skunk ape sighting. I had a lot of fun with the others, you know, of just making things up. One of my favorites is when the Skunk Ape interacts with these Cuban rafters who are coming ashore. And it goes back to--I found the actual article called La Bestia. It was--the article is called La Bestia. It was a Cuban--it's a Cuban newspaper. And it was done back in the 1930s. And it's--I don't--I don't read Spanish, but I--but the picture uh, you know, in the story, and the title were pretty clear that we're talking about a cryptid. And that was a lot of fun having the--having the cryptid, you know, interacting and helping these--these Cuban rafters who, their boat is kind of stuck off shore and the--and the Skunk Ape walks out and helps to drag it closer to shore and then drops the--drops the rope and just kind of walks off into the--into the woods--into the trees and, you know, the the Cuban rafters are, you know, jumping off, some of them are jumping off because they're scared, some of them are sitting on the raft, you know, appreciating the, you know, the help getting to shore. That was probably one of my favorite ones to do only because I wanted to show a different side to a cryptid that isn't generally, you know, portrayed as one who's helping and interested in curious about the world around him and interacting with humans.
Jim Harold 17:27
Now, you had mentioned that you believe in Bigfoot and believe that there is a skunk ape. What do you--what do you think the skunk ape is in actuality? What do you think it is? Some people say Bigfoot, or skunk ape, or those types of things are flesh and blood animals. Some people feel that they're, you know, possibly something to do with aliens, other people say they're interdimensional travelers. What--what description would you venture your guess on?
Brad Bertelli 17:59
I address all those things in the book. And I create--I create, you know, instances and use those--the, you know, UFOs, and Bigfoot has lots of sightings that, you know, coincide with those things. And I--and I have a case of--like that where a skunk ape is up in north--north Key Largo and it's hit by a car, and it's laying in--in the trees and it's hurt and then a triangle shaped object appears overhead, and the light beams the skunk ape up and goes off, so, which is one way--one, you know, way of kind of showing why there's no bodies are ever found. I also talked about the interdim--inter--you know, interdimensional aspect, where I create what are called Skunk Ape caves in the Florida Keys.
Jim Harold 18:50
Brad Bertelli 18:50
And there's a really great, you know, and um--which don't exist. It's--the Florida Keys are ancient, you know, coral reefs. 100,000 years ago, these islands were all underwater and they were thriving coral reefs, and there's just no structure for a cave in the Florida Keys, but I create these caves, and on several instances where people are out in the woods, you know, hunting and they see a skunk ape, and they follow it into a cave and then it's gone and only left in the cave is--is the smell of a skunk ape. So it's traveling as--using the caves as kind of a portal from them--for them to, you know, to move throughout--throughout the keys and throughout dimensions. Personally, I think, um, I--I would probably stand more on just a--just a creature, unknown creature that has managed to--to survive and be elusive, you know, he is the world's you know, hide and seek champion, or--hide and seek champion for a reason.
Jim Harold 19:49
Brad Bertelli 19:50
I think that there's too much evidence, there's too many sightings over hundreds and hundreds of years, for it not--not to be something. And I think--I think it's just, you know, some creature who wants to be out in the woods, or you know, who wants to--who's existing without, you know, interacting with, you know, as much as possible.
Jim Harold 20:12
Yeah, it's it's one of those things if Bigfoot or skunk ape does exist, boy, they're--they're very, very elusive. But again, I talked to many, many people who either say they've had experiences or researchers who swear, this is--this is a very real thing. Do you think we'll ever discover the truth of skunk ape?
Brad Bertelli 20:33
You know, it's yay, if we did, and boo if we don't. I think eventually, something definitive will appear. Now, some people think that these creatures have a way of manipulating the technology so that--which is why there's never a good picture taken of one. Some people think they could disappear. And some people say they're, you know, masters of camouflage. And it's really interesting, you can walk out in the woods of Maine, or walk into the, you know, the thickets of--of the Everglades. And it really is easy to disappear. I mean, take two steps into the--into the--into the tree line and suddenly, you're not there anymore. So it's not inconceivable that these creatures are just master hiders. And I think that, you know, eventually--eventually, something's--something's got to give and something has to be found. And I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. I don't know if it will, you know, if--if that would erase some of the mystery and some of the lure.
Jim Harold 21:41
And then yeah, I guess it would, it would. Be--be careful what you ask for. But on the other hand, it would be--it would be nice to know, wouldn't it? (Laughs)
Brad Bertelli 21:50
It would give validation to so many people, you know, who have seen these and they were afraid to, you know, to bring up their, you know, to document their sightings because, you know, people still laugh at you. And, you know, there's a certain stigma attached to people who, you know, it's not in all circles, but definitely in some circles where these people are, um, you know, kind of ostracized for being crazy. You know, "yeah, you saw the skunk ape, you saw Bigfoot. Sure you did."
Jim Harold 22:18
When anybody does a major project like this, I think even if they're very steeped in the subject, they learn something, or they're surprised by something. Was there anything like that, or multiple things for you?
Brad Bertelli 22:33
Well, I think that's a great point. I mean, as a Florida Keys historian, the more I learn, the less I know. Because every time you learn something new, it opens up doors to--to ideas into pieces of history, and putting kind of the puzzle together, where the--where, you know, this fact makes more sense because now I understand how it relates to this fact over here, that before, were two completely different things. And now I can see the connection. And I--well, for me, I think the big thing I learned writing this book, on a personal level, anyways, was how much I really loved writing again, you know, how--how cathartic it was to just play with the words and not be so, you know, defined by the facts and, you know, telling this historic event. And I--and I did learn--it made me think a lot about how would a skunk ape survive in the Florida Keys, you know, in the 1800s, and what food sources and how--which is what I really, you know, which I spend a lot of time thinking about and puzzling out is, okay, what food sources, you know, there's the conch. I have you know, episodes where the skunk ape is going offshore and collecting conch--conch shells and eating snails. And the Florida Keys, a lot of people don't realize this, back in the 1800s, early 1900s, these were all farming communities. And how would a skunk ape deal with a farm, you know, this is easy, you know, pineapples growing and melons growing, you know, they would patrol at night just as the bears did and just as panthers, you know, would patrol those sites because they would attract raccoons and rats and the--kind of the food chain is--the natural food chain would be there, so I did learn a lot about--just kind of conceive how--how would a skunk ape survive in the Florida Keys, and a lot of the stories are based on--on that idea of, you know, how they would interact with people and how the people would would consider them. One of my favorite stories. I called the Matecumbe monster because, you know the boogeyman and the stories that people tell their children in order to keep them close, you know, do stories have a history or a lesson in them? You know, don't, you know, don't go out at night or the boogeyman will get you. It's just you know, one way of the parents to make sure the kids stay close to home so they don't get in trouble. And I incorporated that into a file I called the Matecumbe monster where on Upper Matecumbe Key, the families would talk about the Matecumbe monster, don't don't go out too far, or the Matecumbe monster will get you, and that was kind of the same concept of stay close to home. So, you know, there's something out there. We're not sure what it is, but stay close to home.
Jim Harold 25:23
Well, it's been a great conversation, and I hope everybody gets to check out the book. I think it's a great idea. And it's a lot of fun to kind of play around with these concepts, not--while respecting them, but also having some fun with it too. And maybe making people think and learn a little something. Brad, where can people find the Florida Keys Skunk Ape Files: Island cryptids, histories and mysteries.
Brad Bertelli 25:47
You can go on Amazon. This is a self published book, so you can go on Amazon to purchase it. If you're in the Everglades, the Skunk Ape Headquarters. If you're in Maine, the Cryptid Museum in Maine, Museum of Cryptozoology in Maine carries it. Several places in Key West, Island bookstore, the Key West Library, or Key West Airport. 14th. Martello Towers, the Conch Republic seafood restaurant carries it, or you can go to my website, bradbertelli.com. And you can order a--a fine copy directly from me.
Jim Harold 26:26
Very good. Well, it's been a pleasure. I hope everybody gets to check out the Florida Keys Skunk Ape Files: Island cryptids, histories, and mysteries. Brad Bertelli, thank you for joining us today.
Brad Bertelli 26:36
I appreciate it. Thank you so much for having me on, Jim.
Jim Harold 26:38
And thank you for tuning into the program. We certainly appreciate it. And we hope that you keep exploring the mysteries in your neck of the woods. We'll talk to you next time. Have a great week, everybody. Bye bye.