devilfishThis alarming incident in St. Augustine, Florida, was reported in the 24 May 1879 issue of Frank Leslie’s Boys’ and Girls’ Weekly.  A slightly abridged transcription of the article follows.

“A Flying Monster: Miss Bigly’s Thrilling Adventure in Florida”

I arrived in this quaint old Spanish town a few weeks since in quest of quiet lodgings, which I desire for my own personal uses during the coming season.  There is but little life stirring within the crumbling walls of this old-time citadel; indeed, its architecture, its inhabitants and its customs properly belong to the seventeenth century and it is for one who has but recently emerged from amidst the stirring events constantly occuring in our Northern cities to consider that he is still, in the nineteenth century, within the borders of progressive America….

But to my intents.  My purpose in writing at this time is to furnish you with the details (in brief) of a very romantic, yet thrilling, incident, occurring recently to a young lady from the North, Miss Martha Bigly, who had been sojourning for some days at Olustee Bar, some eighteen miles south of this place.  The hectic flush, that sign of that dread disease, consumption, had supplanted the roseate hue of health upon her fair cheeks, and she had sought this balmy, sun-girdled clime in the hope of regaining that priceless boon–good health.

One bright sunny afternoon, while engaged in strolling along the pebbled beach, picking up fantastically-carved shells that had been washed up from the great mysterious laboratory of the sea, and listening to the waves rolling quietly upon the shore, producing sweet cadences of contentment and peace, she espied what at first appeared to her to be a beautifully-colored shell floating upon the surface of the sea.  Being protected at the feet by a pair of rubber boots, she boldly advanced into the surf and reached out her sun umbrella to aid her in securing the coveted prize, when to her utter horror, this seeming inert object suddenly became a thing of life; the shell-like appearance changed in an instant to that of a monster; long slimy claws were thrown around about a pulpy sac-like body, and with a bound it ascended into the air and hovered around the head of its intended victim.

Being momentarily stunned by the sudden transformation, and horrified by the revolting aspect of this hideous object, she did but parry its onslaughts with her umbrella, and that inconspicuously, retreating to a rock where she stood at bay until the baffled monster returned to the sea and disappeared.  So unexpected was the attack and so revolting the sight of the fish to one of her delicate frame and extreme nervous sensibilities, that it was some days afterward before she regained her wonted composure.

The fish that caused this consternation is known among scientists as the argonauta, a species of the devil-fish indigenous to the waters of the tropics, and ’tis of rare occurrence that it strays away from that latitude, at least so far north as off the coast of Florida.  The power of the propulsion through the air is a rare one with the argonauta, but it undoubtedly exists in some species.  I sent you a sketch of the thrilling incident.—Yours, Invalid.


For other flying things in the collection, take a look at the Cotsen virtual exhibition on kites