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Man Played Prank On His Home Town For 40 Years

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Man Played Prank On His Home Town For 40 Years

The name Tony Signorini might not mean much to many people, but for those in Clearwater he was man synonymous with one of the biggest hoaxes in the coastal town's history - The Giant Penguin Hoax.

Way back in 1948, locals at what is now something of a beach and surf resort started reporting huge foot prints on the beach resembling a penguin's foot prints but just really, really big. It was a prank that fooled not just the townsfolk, but also renowned New York-based zoologist Ivan Sanderson.

As the Tampa Bay Times reports, the tracks were first seen by a local one morning. They noticed them coming out of the sea and followed them for a good two miles through the dunes, before the tracks then returned to the water.

They appeared to be about 14 inches long and 11 inches wide, so although they were penguin-shaped, they were much larger.

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Tony's son Jeff Signorini (right) laughs while holding up the monster feet along with his niece Alyssa PremruCredit: Tampa Bay Times/ZUMA Wire/Alamy Live News
Tony's son Jeff Signorini (right) laughs while holding up the monster feet along with his niece Alyssa PremruCredit: Tampa Bay Times/ZUMA Wire/Alamy Live News

Soon, these tracks appeared on other beaches in the area and news of them started to appear in local newspapers as people argued about whether this was a hoax or whether there was in fact a giant penguin - or some other monster - walking among the Clearwater residents.

Step forward Sanderson. He'd been on several African jungle expeditions for the British Museum and Cambridge and turned his adventures in a book.

He was also became known for appearing on TV with Zoo animals and became the founder of the pseudo-science cryptozoology - which basically was the search for legendary animals such as the Loch Ness monster.

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These giant foot prints fitted his cryptozoology studies perfectly and he went to Clearwater to talk to locals and explore for himself. At one point - having found the marks 100 miles north of the town along the Suwanee River, he even dug a print up and took it home for further study.

Sanderson decided that there was no way the prints could be a hoax. 'Old Three Toes' as he called it was supposedly grayish-yellow, about 12 feet long, with large, flipper-like arms. It made big waves, as if kicking with powerful legs.

He knew this because he claimed he'd seen it while flying over over the Suwanee.

"The imprint is, in fact, very much like that of a vast penguin," he wrote at the time.

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However, it was of course no such thing.

Signorini worked at an automotive repair shop and his boss Steven 'Al' Williams concocted up the idea after seeing a picture of a Dinosaur foot print in National Geographic.

They designed a pair feet to match the photo and had them cast in iron. Then they bolted a pair of high-top trainers to them and set about making mischief.

To get the illusion of the giant penguin's long stride, Signorini would stand on one leg, swing the other one back and forth to build momentum, then take a leap.

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Ultimately he'd keep 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.

Given that they weigh 30 pounds each, you've got to commend Signorini on his commitment to the hoax - not least for how long he kept it up.

Featured Image Credit: Credit: Tampa Bay Times/ZUMA Wire/Alamy Live News

Topics: Interesting, US News

Simon Catling
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