The Wakulla Volcano Archive

Excerpt from


Lippincott's Magazine, March 1882

Page 220
A few miles north of Sopchoppy River,
which debouches into Ocklockony Bay,
is the Devil's Punch-Bowl. It is a huge
sink in the limestone, and the quantity
of liquid in his Satanic Majesty's con-
vivial vessel depends entirely on sub-
terranean causes, supposed to be under
the control of the ruler of the lower
regions A stream of considerable size,
called Lost Creek, has its source in
swamps to the north of this unfath-
omed sink, but is absorbed in the Bowl
and lost to view. Its unknown outlet
can only be through fissures of the cal
careous earth.
To the Devil's Punch-Bowl is attrib-
buted a singular phenomenon observable
on any fair day from the high ground
about Tallahassee. A column of what
appears to be smoke from a light-wood
fire—which is dense, owing to the pres-
ence of turpentine in the fuel, but not
black like that from burning bitu-
minous coal—ascends on the horizon
and becomes more distinct as the sun
nears the west. During the civil war
it deceived blockaders and blockade-
runners alike, both mistaking it for a sig-
nal from friends of the latter. A number
of vessels lured by this seemingly pro
pitious token, fell into the grasp of the
blockading fleet while trying to make port
in the adjacent bays or rivers Sometimes
the ascending cloud would be taken for
smoke from the camps of salt-boilers,
causing a detachment of marines to be
sent on shore to find and destroy works
used in producing supplies for the ene-
my But the supposed salt-camps were
never discovered, and the column of
smoke would vanish when its presump-
tive vicinity was gained: smoke, fire,
and salt-boilers were alike invisible.
Still the column rose day by day and
continued to deceive and mislead. The
blockaders were never able to discover
its cause, and with the end of the war
their interest in it ceased, and their rec-
ollection of it too, in all probability.
It remained, however, an object of local
wonder, and to-day the negroes have
many curious stories to tell concerning
it. One is to the effect that it is steam
from a geyser which has never been
found, owing to the impenetrable nature
of the swamp in which it is located.
Another attributes it to the operations
of illicit distillers who have never been
discovered by officers of the revenue.
I asked information of one of the gray-
haire colored residents of Tallahassee
Concerning the smoky column and, with-
out any prefatory remarks he went to
the kernel of the subject in this state-
ment: "Ef you was down in de neigh-
bo'hood of whar dat smoke is, sah,
an' should leab a jug 'longside de road
wid a quarter tied to de han'le, you'd be
mighty ap' to fin' dat jug filled wid
early next mornin'."
"Where would the quarter be,
"Dat would be gone, sah."
"And could I spend a quarter that
way every day?"
"As many as you like. Ef you tie
Page 221
a half a dollar to de jug-handle dey'll
gib you half a dollar's wuf of whiskey,
and dey'll gib you good measure fo'
"Do they do much business in that
"I dunno nuffin' 'bout dat, sah. I
only knows dat you git as much whiskey
in de jug as de money
tied to de han'le '11 pay
for. Dat's all I knows
bout de business."
I listened to various
theories formulated for
its solution, but all were
more or less involved in
doubt. I tried to master
the problem myself by
exploration of the region
from which the column
appeared to rise. I had
partial success in this, and
finally reached a satisfac-
tory conclusion by com-
paring notes with the
captain of a steamer who
has spent years in the
navigation of the rivers
and sounds of the coast,
and who had devoted
much hard labor and
considerable time to the
solution of a mystery that
had baffled the best ef-
forts of other men. The
work required to reach
the interior of the great swamp was
immense. Paths had to be cut with
hatchets and knives through the thick
undergrowth and tangled vines and
briers. The swamp was traversed in
several directions and its interior care-
fully examined. Observations by com
pass were token for the location of the
base of the column, and by field-glass
for its appearance above the trees.
These diligent searches revealed a con-
stantly-rising mist, which, meeting the
heated air above the luxuriant and com-
pact foliage, is driven from the periphery
to the centre of the swamp space, gradu
ally rising in its movement and becoming
more dense as it is concentrated, until it
assumes the appearance of a huge column
of smoke reaching from earth to sky.
The swamp is full twenty-five miles in
diameter when crossed from any direc
tion. Lying immediately on the coast,
its pillar of mist was well calculated to
deceive the mariners of any vessel look-
ing for friendly signs from shore. Why
the Devil's Punch Bowl should ever

have been credited with its origin
is what I could never understand, as
the centre of this mist-producing swamp
is twenty miles at least west of the
Bowl. But the exact locality of
either swamp or Bowl was not known,
probably, to those who indulged this
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