25 miles southeast of Tallahassee lies the mysterious Wacissa Swamp, which is home to one of Florida’s greatest (yet least known) legends: The Wakulla Volcano.
Seminole lore tells of “smoke rising in the swamp”. Throughout history, the rising smoke was visible from far out in the Gulf of Mexico, and was even used as a navigational aid for those sailing into St. Marks. In 1830, settlers blamed the smoke on Indian campfires or pirates. During the Civil War, people suggested it was smoke from a camp of deserters or runaway slaves. Others suggested it was the smoke from a moonshine still hidden deep in the swamp. The problem with each new theory was none of them accounted for why the smoke had been visible for over 100 years.
On a clear day, the smoke could be seen up to 20 miles away, and at night, people reported seeing a glow from far out in the swamp. The mysterious smoke even made the papers. In 1880, a reporter for The Tallahassee Patriot described seeing the glow “looking like a large fire shooting it’s flaming tongue up into the upper realms.” The New York Herald Tribune even organized an expedition into the swamp in hopes of finding the source of the mysterious smoke. Sadly the investigation did not go well and the reporter died of “swamp fever”.
On August 31, 1886, the smoke suddenly vanished after an earthquake hit Charleston, South Carolina, and sent tremors all the way through north Florida. The sudden disappearance of the smoke caused a new theory to surface about the smoke’s origin. Perhaps it had come from a volcano that the earthquake had closed up!
Over the years, scientists have denied the possibility of a volcano existing in Florida. The University of Florida’s geology department recently went on record saying that there is no proof that volcanic activity has ever taken place in Florida. However, in 1949, a survey crew building Highway 98 through the Wacissa Swamp claims to have found a giant hole that took six hundred tons of rock to fill. Many believe this hole may have been the actual volcano, but others are not convinced.
For years, hunters and hikers have reported finding an oddly shaped crater, surrounded by rocks which have been described as looking like they were “pushed from the earth and burnt by extreme heat.” Others report seeing steam occasionally coming from an odd rock formation in the swamp. Most reports seem to point to the existence of a crater on a high ridge where the Wacissa River and the Aucilla River meet.
For years, people have offered up numerous explanations for the mysterious smoke, but the swamp isn’t making it easy to find the truth. Somewhere out there, protected by alligators and snakes, lies Florida’s lost volcano, perhaps waiting to become active again.