Words and images by Francheska Russo and Jamie Swann
Tucked away among the tall pines, hidden from the farm lands of Palatka, lies the unincorporated community of Bardin. It’s located just west of U.S. Highway 17 off State Road 100, but if you blink you may miss the small town.
Along the main road entering Bardin, County Road 309D, a sign once stood welcoming visitors to the sleepy area. The sign was a warm hello to all those who passed, until a wayward car knocked it down years ago, and it has yet to be replaced. Although, a sign isn’t necessary when the friendly waves from the cars passing by will always make you feel welcome.
“I have lived here all of my life, born and raised,” said Bardin resident J.J. Pennington. “I love our small community. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”
With a population of 424, it’s no surprise that everyone in the community has a story to tell.
Old men spend their days chewing the fat and relaxing in front of Bud’s Grocery, the hub of Bardin. Tales of hard times and good times are shared on the porches of the homes along the streets.
But one story seems to be shared more than the rest around the quaint town, the tale of the Bardin Booger.
While other backwoods towns across the United States are keeping their eyes peeled for Sasquatch, the people of Bardin have been on the lookout for the Booger since the late 1940s.
One of the earliest tales of the illusive creature dates back to the summer of 1947, when a woman riding her horse through the woods spotted what she thought was a very tall man in a long raincoat. Upon closer inspection, she realized the coat was actually fur and it was no man.
The kind of creature that the Booger could possibly be varies depending upon who you ask. Some say it is the descendant of an escaped circus monkey that grew to a shocking 10 feet tall. Others believe it is a skunk-ape, or Bigfoot, that thrives in the woods surrounding the town.
“I see monkeys out here in our woods all the time,” said lifelong resident Karen Moore. “But I’ve never seen one that’s 10 feet tall.”
Sightings of the Booger are rare, and the details are never consistent. Sometimes the Booger appears to look more human than animal, other times he is a mammoth beast standing on the side of the road. Those inconsistencies are all a part of the mystery, part of the appeal.
Sightings have been reported in newspapers throughout the years. A 1981 story in the Weekly World News, for example, quoted then-Bardin resident B.J. Glisson who said he had seen the Booger many years before.
“We had planned to meet my brother near the Etoniah Baptist Church,” the 70-year-old man told the News. “It was a bright moonlit night and we just kinda stretched out beside the road to rest until my brother arrived.
“There was an old cypress pond nearby and suddenly I heard somebody mumbling. I couldn’t understand the mumbling, but I saw something moving in the pond. It didn’t have any legs and it didn’t make a sound in the water.”
As another story is told, the Booger has the face of a caveman and he wears torn and dirty clothes. Yet a third tale recounts a rotten smell that seemed to emanate from the hairy creature. The smell was so powerful that when a man tried to raise his rifle to shoot the Booger, he was unable to maintain enough focus to fire off a shot.
Although bits and pieces of the stories and sightings may change, there are two details that seem to remain constant no matter who is telling it — the Booger is always carrying a lantern and he loves relaxing by the creek.
“I don’t know much about him,” recalled resident Loretta Vollendroff. “But from what I’ve heard, the creek down the road is where he hangs out. That creek is where he is seen the most.”
The Bardin Booger is a household name in the Northeast Florida small town. Most of the residents are more than aware of the Sasquatch-like being, capitalizing on it when they get the chance.
Bud’s Grocery, the community store and gas station, was well known as the place in town to get all things Booger related. Bud Key, long-time owner, once had Booger T-shirts and hats for sale in his store for curious Booger hunters.
Another local couple turned the Booger into their business.
Bardin’s Lena Crain and her late husband, Billy, kept the flame of the Booger’s lantern burning bright, dressing up in their homemade Booger costume and showing up around town for special events. Billy would sing his Bardin Booger song while Lena played the role of the Booger herself.
In the years since Billy’s passing, Lena still does events, but instead of live music, she plays a recorded version of the Booger tune. Neither the Crains’ song nor their costuming ever imagined the creature as frightening.
“The Booger is not a scary creature,” explained Lena Crain. “The kids love him and I want to keep it that way. I would hate for anyone to think of the Booger and be frightened.”
The life of the Booger lives on in more than memorabilia, costumes, and tales that get passed down from generation to generation. Every so often, an article about the swamp ape will show up in local newspapers. The local stories are usually penned by the same man, Jody Delzell.
Delzell is a contributing writer for the Palatka Daily Newspaper and plays a large role in keeping the Booger from extinction. Delzell first decided to write about the Booger in 1981. After realizing the mysterious swamp creature everyone in town would talk about had no name, Delzell creatively came up with the nickname Bardin Booger.
Since his first story in 1981, Delzell has written dozens of pieces about the Booger. One of the more recent articles was written in 2014, when the Booger decided that a run for president was in his future.
“I keep him alive because he’s fun,” explained Delzell. “The people love to hear about his antics.”
The future of the Booger, much like himself, is unknown. Maybe he’s dead. After all, a Facebook page bearing the creature’s name hasn’t had a post in two years.
Or, maybe the Booger is just hiding out in the sandhill scrub surrounding Bardin waiting for his next unsuspecting victim. Some residents just aren’t sure.
Others, such as Pennington, question the Booger’s existence but realize the creature has brought a small amount of fame to the tiny town.
“Most people think of the Booger when they think of Bardin,” he said. “I don’t believe it’s real. It’s fun to joke about with people though.”
But joking or not, real or nonexistent, the Booger has assumed a place in Florida folklore.
Like the creature of Loch Ness and the Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas, the Booger of Bardin lives on.