In 1962, Miami man Edward McCleary and his companions were diving in the crystalline waters off Florida when a strange fog rolled in. Within its occluded embrace slithered a long, dark form that devoured one of the men before there was even time to react. The strange beast quickly dragged the other two men to the deep. McCleary barely had time to climb back into the boat where he watched the creature with fear as it circled him, peering at its quarry with green eyes from within a turtle-like head.
Those who denounce the incident, claim the men had haplessly stumbled into the feeding frenzy of large sharks, perhaps hammerheads. But McCleary insists to this day that he and his friends had been attacked by some type of sea monster.
Of all the myths and legends of the deep south, mermaids stand out in peculiar contrast to gothic tales of haunted plantations, shadowy swamp apes, and the countless instances where the Devil ‘went down to’ some town or another. If we aren’t thinking of Disney references or childhood stories, most of us equate mermaids with legends from ancient Greece and, later, northern Europe. Yet, if a diver from Australia is to believed, his encounter with one in the Atlantic waters off south Florida in 1988 suggests these famous half fish-half woman beings might have a southern twang.
Furthermore, there is the legend of the mysterious disappearance of an entire tribe of Native Americans from the Gulf.
The Biloxi (or Pascagoula) lived along the banks of the present-day Pascagoula River, which lies between Biloxi, MS and New Orleans. According to legend, they worshipped the effigy of a mer-woman and would hold elaborate ceremonies on the banks of the river, listening for her otherworldly music.
Around 1539, a Catholic priest converted many in the tribe to Christianity. They tore down the temple that housed the mer-god’s various effigies and tossed this into the Pascagoula River.
Legend claims that the enraged goddess erupted from the water and demanded her minions join her in the other realm. Powerless to refuse, the entire tribe leaped into the river and vanished from existence.
It is said that even today, locals occasionally claim to hear a susurrus emanating from the river, as if a chorus of voices chanted from deep below the surface.
Archaelogical evidence points to an abandonment stemming from conflict, perhaps with the neighboring Choctaws.
Still, one can’t help recall the two men who claimed to have a close encounter with an extraterrestrial life form while fishing on the Pascagoula River in the late 1960s. Perhaps their story wasn’t quite as ridiculous as we feel so comfortable making it…
One last thought on the sudden and wholesale demise of settlements. Such things have occurred before. One can easily think of the famous Roanoke vanishing, but there is also the disappearance of an entire group of Ibo tribesmen from Africa on Georgia's St. Simons Island when they vanished into the waters of Dunbar Creek rather than face lives as slaves. Some say the area (now home to industry and condos) is still haunted by the ghostly clanking of their shackles as they hobble forth to an endless death.