Tomoka's Carnivorous Pink Cloud
Florida has a long history of weirdness.
The 1950s sure did see all kinds of craziness. The Cold War raged, fear of nuclear weapons invaded every home and school, constant UFO sightings put people on edge, and World War II still weighed heavily on humanity. The '50s brought fresh ideas into comics, movies, and magazines—mostly touching on the cultural fears without calling them out directly. Elvis packed venues, Hitchcock films hit theaters at least once a year, and what would later become classic literature flew off the shelves—an exciting time for everyone.
Just imagine seeing all of this in ten short years:
- The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
- The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
- Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote
- Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
- The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
- The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien
- The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
- Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
- Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
- Harper Lee began writing To Kill a Mockingbird
- Singin' in the Rain
- Rebel Without a Cause
- Twelve Angry Men
- A Streetcar Named Desire
- The Day the Earth Stood Still
- The Mummy
- The Ten Commandments
- Curse of Frankenstein
- The Man Who Knew Too Much
- Rock & Roll became a thing
- Color TV released
- The Space Race between the USA and USSR took off
- Racial segregation ruled unconstitutional in public schools
- The first organ transplant (kidney) happened
- Vietnam War began
- Alaska became a state in the USA
- Queen Elizabeth's Coronation
- Winston Churchhill
- Warsaw Pact signed
- DNA discovered
Are you kidding me?
I have to stop bullet pointing now because just look at those lists I threw together in a few minutes—most off the top of my head. That's insane.
With all that going on in the world, what was happening down around Florida?
A mysterious pink cloud of death, that's what.
Yep, you read that right. From around 1955 until 1966, residents were terrorized by a thick, creeping ground fog in the woods by the Tomoka River, west of Daytona. In those days, the area around Tomoka River was about as rural as you could get. I'm mainly picturing cows and alligators here, with little farmhouses dotting the fields.
The carnivorous cloud tended to show itself in cooler weather and rolled across the forest, dissolving foliage and digesting anything or anyone unfortunate enough to be in its path. The thing killed about a dozen people, leaving only bones behind.
Have you ever been to Florida? Did you see a carnivorous pink cloud and live to tell the tale? No? Me neither. So, what the hell was it?
Well, there are a few theories on it. Let's walk through them.
Theory #1—A Native American Curse
Oh, come on!
Isn't it always a Native American Curse® or an Indian Burial Ground™?
This is the most popular theory, so I suppose I'll summarize it.
Chief Tomokie was a legendary chief of Timucuan warriors. He grabbed a golden cup and drank water from a sacred spring, violating the practices of his people in the process. The tribe attacked him, but he was invincible because he kept drinking while taking a slew of arrows to the knees (and elsewhere.) A beautiful maiden named Oleeta walked up to him, drew her bow, and put a poison arrow right into Chief Tomokie's heart. Since then, his spirit wanders the mist of the Tomoka River forever.
He even has a statue erected in the '50s.
Except Florida refuses to repair it, so it looks more like this now.
Anyway, I see a big problem with this theory. European invaders, new infectious diseases, colonial warfare, and slave trading sent the Timucuan people into extinction soon after the turn of the 18th century. But why did it take so long to activate an ancient curse? And why would it curse innocent Floridians and not his own tribe that killed him? 🧐
Theory #2—Swamp Gas
Government officials blamed the whole thing on swamp gas.
That was kind of the go-to for the government back then. Everything was swamp gas.
UFO sighting? Swamp gas.
Missile in the sky? Swamp gas.
Politician caught taking dirty money? Swamp gas.
Okay, this is the same thing as #1. Chief Tomokie, the same story, but now he's a ghost. Again, why did Chief Tomokie wait until the 1950s to wreak his ghostly revenge? 🤨
Theory #4—Hydrofluoric Acid & Rayleigh Scattering
This is the first of two theories I had while writing about the pink cloud of death. My brain immediately went to a ground cloud of hydrofluoric acid, colored by Rayleigh scattering (the reason the sky is blue and sunset is pink.) HF acid was first prepared in 1771, and oil refineries started in the US in the 1850s. The acid is used in the refining process and is extremely dangerous, known to cause ground clouds under certain conditions. It's colorless, but that's nothing a little Rayleigh scattering wouldn't fix. Unfortunately, it's difficult to find historical information about specific oil refineries, so I have no simple way of validating this theory.
Theory #5—Rocket Ships & Water Vapor
This is the second of the two theories I had while writing about the misty murder vapor.
March 3, 2021. A pink cloud in the sky set residents of Jersey Shore into a panic. A rocket took off over 200 miles away down in Virginia. The rocket released "a small quantity of vapor into the near-vacuum of space," and the pink color was caused by that Rayleigh effect I mentioned. Click that link for some beautiful photos of the cloud. Now, it wasn't hanging on the ground like the one described by Tomoka River in the 1950s, but what would happen if residents saw a pink cloud in the sky and started chatting about it? A bit of hysteria can go a very long way. (More on this coming in the future.)
Interestingly, Florida's first rocket shot off in 1950 from Cape Canaveral—much, much closer in terms of miles to Tomoka than Jersey Shore and Virginia.
Of course, my theories are pure speculation because I'm not about to suit up and play around with acid and rockets.
"You know, bad bacteria is usually pink." — My Spouse, Tae
Tae's right—that stuff will kill you. If you ever open up a yogurt that's supposed to be white and see that it's pink, don't take that gamble. What else? Red tide algae are deadly, but it doesn't go floating around in the forest. You see, there really aren't that many modern theories on the whole thing. Decades passed, and people handed down the story, but there hasn't been a sighting of the carnivorous pink cloud since about the mid-sixties—making it more difficult to determine anything about it.
With all of these stories and theories flying around, there's one detail that's easy to miss, and it's an important one:
Everyone at the time was sure people disappeared, but no one remembered any of their names.
Was it real? If so, what was it?
Related Clouds, Fogs, and Mists of Certain Death
- Color Out of Space (2019 film) — based on an original short story by H.P. Lovecraft. Many movies inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's original story were made.
- The Beach House (2019 film) — climate change horror with a great story.
- The Amazon Vapor — an episode from a Canadian cartoon series called Martin Mystery.
- The Mist by Stephen King — a novella from 1980 and a film from 2007.
- Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000 film) — if you're interested in the effects of hysteria.
Originally published in my weekly newsletter Into Horror History. Subscribe at my website https://www.jahernandez.com to get these straight to your inbox.