In February 1948, residents of Clearwater, Florida, a small town of only about 15,000 people were drawn to the Gulf beaches, not for swimming or sunbathing, but for mysterious three-toed footprints in the sand.
About 14 inches long and 15 inches wide, the tracks came out of the water, continued along the shoreline for nearly two miles, and then disappeared back into the sea. The footprints were photographed and plaster casts were made.
Experts indicated that the creature would have to weigh more than 2000 pounds for the size of its legs.
Public reaction split between door-barricading panic and a puzzled skepticism. If some monster were leaving these tracks, what kind of damage could it cause.
In 1988, a Times reporter was interviewing a pair of local missionaries when they told her she should talk to Tony Signorini, a longtime friend of his. When the writer showed up at Signorini’s automotive repair shop, he pulled a box from beneath his workbench and showed her a pair of feet.
There never was a Giant Penguin. Signorini was “Old Three Toes.” The whole thing had been a hoax dreamed up by his former boss, Steven “Al” Williams, a notorious prankster.
According to Signorini, in 1948 his boss had seen a photo of a fossil dinosaur footprint in National Geographic. After studying it, Williams announced he and Signorini could have some fun.
He kept up the prank for ten more years until 1958 and eventually revealed the secret in 1988. The iron casts have been inherited by his son Jeff.
Tony Signorini died last year, leaving his son Jeff an unusual legacy that shows the profound impression he made on the history of the Tampa Bay area.
In any case, it shows how difficult it can be for a son to follow in his father’s footsteps.