Bizarre Travel: Harry Potter and the Stranger’s Tomb! Sniffing out the Skunk Ape!

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Among the historical treasures in the Israeli town of Ramla, south of Tel Aviv, are the ancient remains of the White Mosque, once a massive stone monument raised by one of the legendary figures of the 8th century: Sulayman ibn Abd al-Malik.

Although in recent history, more visitors to Ramla have been seeking a stone treasure in the nearby British Military Cemetery that bears the name of one of the legendary figures of the 21st century: Harry Potter.

Yes, it’s A Harry Potter, but obviously it’s not the fictional wizard from the JK Rowling books. That hasn’t stopped a small army of selfie-seeking “Potterheads,” however, from visiting the head stone, which marks the final resting place of Private Harry Potter of the Worcestershire Regiment, who was killed during a 1939 skirmish in what was then British Mandatory Palestine.

The soldier’s brother, Ken Potter, told Metro UK online: “We couldn’t believe people visit his grave but apparently they come from miles around.”

There’s been a similar, albeit less pronounced phenomena in Cradock, South Africa, where visitors have sought out a gravestone in the local cemetery with the name Harry Potter, a local man who died in 1910. The grave is even listed on as one of the Top Ten things to do in Cradock, along with the Egg Rock of Cradock, the Cradock Golf Club, the Great Fish River Museum and the Daggaboer Farm Stall. The headstone of Harry Potter got an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars from the two people who rated it.

You would think there would be an endless number of cemeteries with at least one Harry Potter, although “Harry” is rarely a formal name, which is what typically ends up on a tombstone. According to, Harry is the medieval English form of Henry, and was the nickname of all eight of England’s King Henrys. Even the current Prince Harry probably won’t have that on his crypt; his real name is Henry Charles Albert David, making him one of the few people around with four first names.

Even more popular among fans of the Harry Potter books, movies and theme parks is a churchyard cemetery in Edinburgh, Scotland, called Greyfriars Kirkyard. And while Greyfriars is definitely not a potter’s field, the generic name given to burial grounds for the poor, there are a number of Potters there, as well as a number of other names that resemble those in Rowling’s books. Supposedly, she wrote the first books at the nearby Elephant House cafe and might have been inspired by names on the tombs. 

An endless flow of Potter fans take photos and pose with crypts that bear names such as Elizabeth Moodie, Charles Black, Anne Potter, William McGonagall and Thomas Riddell. Most scholars agree that William McGonagall was probably the worst poet in Scotland, if not the entire British empire, although the real mystery might be how Rowling was inspired to use the name. The poet was buried in an unmarked grave and it wasn’t until two years after the first Harry Potter book that someone put up a plaque for Potter fans to pose with.

While Edinburgh has been using the Potter connection for tourism, it might be too much of a good thing. The city council tweeted last year that Greyfriars Cemetery, which first opened in 1562, is suffering severe damage, especially on the ground around Tom Riddell’s grave, due to “100,000’s of visitors.”

It’s worth noting that, while Potter-heads are beating a path (literally) to the headstones of dead people with names similar to those of their fictional heroes, they probably are oblivious to the elaborate domed mausoleum of Sir George Mackenzie, a 17th century Scottish lawyer and writer. Mackenzie, it turns out, took part in the Midlothian trials of 1661, and was an advocate for one of the more controversial movements of the 1660s.

Legalizing witchcraft.


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The massive Florida Everglades, larger than the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined, are widely considered one of the most biodiverse spots on the planet. Beyond the usual suspects — the streamlined river otter, the American alligator, the marsh rabbit, the gulf toadfish, the Gumbo Limbo tree and the Zebra long-wing butterfly — the National Park Service says there also is the mycteria americana, or wood stork; the sus scrofa domesticus, better known as wild hogs; the procyon lotor, or raccoon; and the Ardea Alba, which is a great egret, not Jessica Alba’s sister.

Not on the National Park Service’s list of species in the Everglades is the Skunk Ape.

Because the government doesn’t recognize its existence, if you want to learn about the legend of the Skunk Ape, you have to go to a remote spot on U.S. Highway 41 in Ochopee, Florida. Just south of the Big Cypress Swamp Welcome Center and the Ochopee Post Office Historical Marker, you’ll find the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters, a modest museum documenting sightings, encounters and the history of this potentially endangered species. You’ll also find Dave Shealy, the founder, head researcher and, presumably, the gift shop manager of the headquarters.

Shealy, who first spotted what he believed to be a cousin of Bigfoot when he was 10, has spent more than 30 years searching for the Skunk Ape and trying to raise awareness about the species, according to the online site for the headquarters. Articles about Shealy and his research facility identify him as the “Jane Goodall of Skunk Apes.”

Legend has it the creature is similar to Bigfoot, an upright walker covered with fur, but is shorter and only has four toes on each foot. According to Shealy it spends about half its life in the trees and probably smells terrible either from its time in underground alligator caves or because it doesn’t bathe. Skunk Apes, according to Shealy, happen to love lima beans. Who knew?

Shealy’s family first settled the land in 1891 and owns a small campground in what today is a protected portion of the Everglades called Big Cypress National Preserve. The family also operates guided tours of the Everglades. Coincidentally, the research headquarters is also the sales office for the tours and camping spots, as well as the gift shop, which offers a wide array of Skunk Ape items, including Skunk Ape T-shirts, Skunk Ape hot sauce, Skunk Ape hats, Skunk Ape Christmas ornaments, a Skunk Ape onesie for infants, and the official Everglades Skunk Ape Research Field Guide, with tips on how to spot a Skunk Ape.

Those who have seen the video and photo evidence, which you can purchase in the gift shop, describe the Skunk Ape as if the physique of an above-average homo sapien male was imbued with a pelt-like outer layer, independent of the lower layers of skin, that gives the appearance of primate species native to the Congo and Rwanda. 

So, basically, it looks like a tall guy in a gorilla suit.

In 30 years, Shealy has only seen a skunk ape four times, although he believes that there might be 7-9 of them living in the trees and he’s collected footprint casts and stool samples, which begs the question: which smells worse, the animal or its scat?

Representatives of the National Park Service, who are professionally skeptical of mythical beasts and the people who see them, used very polite language in a documentary about the Skunk Ape that seemed to imply that you have the same odds of spotting one as you have of seeing Bigfoot and a Chupacabra playing checkers in the Bermuda Triangle. 

Despite all of Shealy’s efforts, including appearances on the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet and in Smithsonian magazine, the odds are good that most people still have never heard of the Skunk Ape. According to top experts employed by this podcast, that’s probably because the beast’s habitat is in Florida, and there’s so much other bizarre and unexplainable human primate behavior to compete with for attention.

The Skunk Ape, it seems, never had a chance.


(Writing, recording and engineering: Spud Hilton. Photos and illustrations: Spud Hilton. Site and its contents are property of the Inappropriate Traveler Podcast Network and Spud Hilton.)