Saturday, December 27, 2008

Kingdom of the Monkey Skulls

Another for my mother (12/27/2005) - Three years gone by but your voice echos through my adventures.My father once joked that when archaeologists discover this site in the future they'll theorize that an ancient race of tiny people lived and thrived here. In fact, the ground beneath my feet today was the site of my childhood home and the Florida Monkey Sanctuary until 1988. Many monkeys found refuge here. More were born here and some were buried here. When my mother sold the property 20 years ago, many of the monkey cages were torn down. I returned in 1993 to see what had become of the place. An older man had moved in with his even older mother and I was content to know that the land was well taken care of. Flash forward to 12/27/2008 and today's visit. The house has been torn down and burned due to termites. The owner long since gone. The land is now used as a horse ranch. The neighbor's yard is less than welcoming. I don't test the dog or my speed. But we have permission to walk our old property. Beautiful old oaks cast their branches out over sandy soil. Margaret, a Clydesdale and my first horse (and the first word I ever spoke - Mah-gwet!) is buried here.What appears as a ditch is a dried up moat that encircled two islands. Peter's Island (named for my grandfather) was inhabited by squirrel monkeys in the 70's until a Florida Panther swam across and taught her kittens how to hunt. The bridge was built by my dad and me when I was 13. The next owner built the handrails, but our bridge to nowhere actually went somewhere. As a kid the island was completely forested and seemed to be a dense impenetrable jungle that I would always try to explore.Spread across the 10 acres were several corn cribs that functioned as housing for several hundred primates over the course of 20 years. On past explorations I had discovered little remains of the Sanctuary but I forged further into the "creepy" corner of the property and found three round concrete slabs that once were the foundations for the corn cribs. A shallow pool remains. My sister Tiffany called it creepy and I think she was referring to the NW corner. The NE corner was always creepy to me and I would run as fast as I could - from what I don't know.
As I explored further I instantly recognized the distinct aqua blue color of the swimming pool that once belonged to a troop of Weeper Capuchins. On rare occasions I would have the good fortune of hosing out the cages. The pool was always the toughest to clean. It was a task normally relegated to my mother or father. I must confess that while hosing the cages, certain monkeys would come down and shake the cage. I don't know if they were tainting me or playing, but I would spray them. They looked peeved but they always returned. I tell myself they were having fun. An orange tree grows at the edge of a concrete slab. No doubt the consequence of a discarded seed or two. The monkeys and apes were fed Monkey Chow as well as grapes, apples and oranges that my family prepared for them. (Marshmallows were always a vice of several sugar-loving simians). Today the ancient ruins from the 70's are lightly covered by tropical vegetation. Water pipes remain buried beneath leaves and soil. Bones of long past primates rest just beneath the surface. To the casual observer, all of these subtle clues might be dismissed. To me, they are my Machu Pichu. Relics of my childhood that echo a memory of my mother.


  1. Wow, it must've been kind of bittersweet to walk around the old property. You seem to have so many good memories of the place that it's a really nice thing you can still go there and explore. I wonder if you had the opportunity, would you buy the land?

    Thanks for sharing your trip.

  2. Beautifully written and a wonderful tribute to your mom and your past. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Thanks Jim - and SwampAngel - if you happen to have $900,000 to spare....The land used to be in a remote area but there is a CVS going in less than 2 miles a way so property values are going up. Sad but there may be 10 houses here someday soon.

  4. Pete. Great post. I feel your pain in the loss of your mother....I really do...
    I am sorry I never really had the opportunity to walk the property when I was there working. I remember all the pens and cages...and the Monkey Chow...I forgot about that term!!! Didn't realize there was so much there.
    Funny thing is, last week I past Jackson Road and had the thought of going down to see if I could find the property.
    I do remember your dad taking me to the newly constructed I-75 overpass (not yet opened) and we sat and just looked out over the area. Can't remember what we talked about though.
    Life changes things but we do have our shared memories!

    -Mike Hamlin

  5. Ah yes, the creepy part, back where the white faces were I believe. I don't know why that was so scary. Funny that there are still pools and such. Didn't see that when I was there with you in May, but I love that big ole tree!

  6. Very nice post. I never had the good fortune to visit the sanctuary when we were growing up. But I do remember visits to school by monkeys - always a highlight!

    I haven't been to srq in almost 10 year. I doubt I'd recognize any of it.

  7. Wonderful post.

    I remember a day when your dad was starting to build that bridge. We helped drive posts into the mud and cut long steel bolts to size. I was cutting a bolt with a hack saw and it slipped... I yelled "SOB!!!" so loudly that your mom heard in the house. I've always been mortified by that moment because I respected and appreciated your mom so much.

    Thank you for letting me be a part of such a beautiful place and time.


  8. I think you were at the sanctuary more than others. For some reason you were able to deal with the lunacy. I'm glad you brought back that memory. Unless it's in a picture I don't remember so well. :(

    My mom had quite the repetoire of fould language herself so she probably didn't mind so much. As long as it didn't come from her own kids mouth.