Background: This is an urban legend from the American South as told by a 20 year old boy, G, who lived in Florida in his youth and still has family in the area. He was first told the story by his father, but he has heard of different versions of the story from other people who say it happened in a different place. He recounted this legend to my boyfriend and I one night.
G: Ok so, back in the 1990’s, a boy and his dad were going water skiing on a lake in Seminole, Florida. I believe it was called uh… Seminole Lake. It’s a small lake next to the interstate in St. Petersberg county. So, he was water skiing and his dad was pulling him, and y’know, he fell, as you do when you’re water skiing… and when he fell in the water, y’know his dad has to turn the boat around. Oftentimes in Florida there’s obstacles in the water so you have to take like, a long turn-around. So he takes this wide turn and he comes back around and he sees that his son is waving his hands in the air, and he’s like, screaming. And so he pulls up next to his son, and his son is crying out that he’d fallen in barbed wire–because, I mean like that area of Florida is not very nice. It’s actually right next to a warehouse where they sell water equipment like jetskis and boats and stuff, so it wouldn’t be uncommon for that kind of stuff to be in the water. So he was crying out that he was getting torn up by barbed wire, and when his dad finally pulled him out, he had over a hundred snake bites on him. He had gotten tangled in a nest of water moccasins. And uh, well he’d been bitten 40 or 50 times so he had about a hundred holes in him. And he died.
Me: Oh wow. And that’s real? You believe that really happened?
G: Oh yeah. I think in 1990 something. I actually looked it up once and found a very similar story that apparently happened in Alabama. It was on Snopes. So I guess it’s just kind of an urban legend to people around here. Texas, Alabama too. But I think it definitely happened.
Me: Do you think people use it as a kind of cautionary tale? Like, “don’t go in the water, don’t fall in, there’s snakes!”
G: No. I mean like, it never stopped me from water skiing. Maybe I just wouldn’t go to Seminole Lake.
My thoughts: I think this story isn’t so far-fetched that it’s unbelievable, so that probably contributes to its appeal and its tendency to continue to spread around and shock people. I think Floridians especially like to milk the stereotypes about the crazy dangers of the Florida swamp. I’ve heard it called the “Australia of America” because of its reputation for scary creatures, and it’s my guess that this legend probably hammers that nickname in for people when they hear it.