St. Petersburg Times: Tony Signorini said that in 1946 or 1947 his boss saw a picture of dinosaur tracks in a National Geographic and said, "You know, we could have fun with this."
Ted McLaren, St. Petersburg Times: Signorini’s tracks, using these 30-pound molds, created a sensation. A zoologist speculated they were left by a giant penguin.
Tony Signorini told the media in 1988 that it was all a hoax, and then recycled it as “news” again last summer. (I refused to post it here as “news” then for that reason.) The zoologist was Ivan T. Sanderson, and he based his sense of what might be happening on eyewitness accounts and the tracks.
What are we to make of the eyewitnesses’ sightings today?
George Eberhart’s excellent two volume book, Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology (2002) summarized the events, thusly:
Three-toes. Dubious FRESHWATER MONSTER of Florida.
Etymology: From its tracks.
Variant name: Old Three-toes.
Physical description: Length, 15 feet. Hairy or furred. Gray or dirty-yellow color. Blunt head like an alligator or rhinoceros. No neck. Front flippers hang from its shoulders. Back legs like an alligator but heavier. Huge, three-toed feet. Long, blunt tail.
Behavior: Amphibious. Bipedal; runs or waddles. Churns up foam when swimming. Makes a gurgling growl.
Tracks: Three clawed toes. Length, 13.5 inches, from middle toe-tip to heel. Width, 15 inches. Stride, 2 feet 7 inches.
Distribution: Clearwater-Tampa area, and Suwannee River, Florida.
Significant sightings: The first incident took place in February 1948 when a young Clearwater, Florida, couple on a beach road early in the morning reported to police they had seen some kind of monster stomp out of the sea. Tracks were discovered soon afterward coming out of the water, wandering on the beach, then returning to the sea. Other track discoveries were made in the Clearwater-Tampa area in March and April.
On July 25, 1948, fliers George Orfanides and John Milner saw a 15-foot animal swimming about 200 feet off the shore of Hog Island near Dunedin, Florida.
A couple from Milwaukee saw a huge, furry something with a rhinoceros head waddling down the beach into shallow water north of Tarpon Springs, Florida, in August 1948.
On October 21, 1948, a set of about 240 similar tracks were found near Old Town in north Florida, coming out of the Suwannee River.
In November 1948, Ivan T. Sanderson was flying above the Suwannee River south of Old Town when he and the pilot saw a large, yellowish animal rolling on the surface of the water, creating a large patch of foam.
(1) An unknown species of giant penguin, 15 feet tall, suggested by Ivan T. Sanderson and based on its tracks.
(2) A hoax by Tony Signorini and Al Williams who strapped on huge, cast-iron, three-toed feet to create the foot-prints at both locations in Florida.
Sources: Ivan T. Sanderson, “That Forgotten Monster: Old Three-Toes,” Fate 20 (December 1967): 66–75; 21 (January 1968): 85–93; Jan Kirby, “Clearwater Can Relax: Monster Is Unmasked,” St. Petersburg Times, June 11, 1988; “Florida ‘Giant Penguin’ Hoax Revealed,” ISC Newsletter 7, no. 4 (Winter 1988): 1–3; Bob Rickard, “Florida’s Penguin Panic,” Fortean Times, no. 66 (December 1992–January 1993): 41–43.
Is the Florida’s “Old Three-Toes” really a closed case?