The Lizard Man Back to Bike Stories // Back to the Weeville Home Page
The Herald, Friday, Sept. 29, 1989
Cyclist tracks lizard
Jimmy Buffet's newest album is called "Off to See The Lizard." In the title track, a group of children gather around a superstitious lady as she describes a red iguana that turned lava into gold. The kids then embarked upon a great adventure into the bay. They were off to see the lizard. "Deja, deja, deja vu. Believe it and it will come true."
In the spirit of fearless adventure, I designed myself a long weekend trip to the midsection of the state. I was off to see the lizard man.
For anyone who somehow missed out on the lizard man hoopla, the story goes like this. An alleged 7-foot swamp monster terrified a young man named Chris Davis as he changed a tire on the road through Lee County's Scape Ore Swamp. His tale quickly was followed by reports of damaged cars, missing animals and other mayhem that would logically follow in the wake of an unearthly creature on a binge. The whole commotion flared and died some months ago, but not before it put the small town of Bishopville firmly on the map.
The hot 70-mile ride through the "South Carolina Ozarks" south of Great Falls left me exhausted in Camden, some 22 miles short of Bishopville. As I checked into a Camden motel, I began my search for the elusive lizard man.
The proprietor of the motel seemed well versed on the subject. With a smile he said, "The lizard man was a hoax." He went on to say that a real estate man had made out best of all. This unnamed entrepreneur sold 6-by-8 foot tracts of swampland. For only $490, the adventurous type could get a deed to the property, a visor, T-shirt, canteen and a flashlight. It was the Lizard Man Hunting Kit.
The motel operator also claimed that two marketing companies still are competing for the rights to lizard man paraphernalia. When bucks are available, controversy thrives.
I checked into my room and called the Chronicle-Independent, Camden's newspaper. The lady on the line didn't have any new stuff on the lizard man, and hadn't heard anything out of Bishopville for quite a while. She said she learned about the lizard man by reading the story in The State newspaper. That piece was the one that attracted the national media before the story spread locally.
The motel operator recommended a nearby restaurant where I quizzed the waitresses. They offered only idle comments, but the head waitress introduced me to Dawn Mason, a radio personality with WPUB in Camden. Dawn wrote down two sources to call when I arrived in Bishopville.
The bartender at the restaurant, a Bishopville resident, shared tales and opinions that would tie in with others I would hear later. I was rapidly becoming a supersleuth, hot on the lizard man's trail.
The next morning I made for Bishopville down SC 34. When I was about 10 miles from town, I stopped at a store and generated some talk. I asked, "What happens to a town the size of Bishopville when the national media descends for such a bizarre reason?"
The lady behind the counter rolled her eyes. "There were cars lined up bumper to bumper on both sides of the road, all waiting for the lizard man to come out of the swamp."
A Columbia radio station had offered a million dollar bounty for his (or its) live capture. All the locals could do was sit back and watch.
A customer came into the store and the lady behind the counter said, "Doris, this is a newspaper man. What do you think about the lizard man?"
Doris looked at me in utter disgust. "I don't think about the lizard man at all. Never."
"No comment," I laughed. "No comment," she answered sternly. I felt bad about ruining her day. After all, this was supposed to be fun.
At the store I got complicated directions to where the thing actually happened. I left SC 34 and bounced along on Lee County back roads. This was some very lonesome country. The bugs in the bushes serenaded me as I counted the paved roads to my turn. I finally found myself back on 34 without ever seeing any of the "you can't miss it" landmarks that heralded the lizard man's lair.
I went on into Bishopville. The town reminded me of Chester with no hill. The comfortable houses blended into a main street where businesses were welded into block-long buildings.
I found the clothing store where I would ask for one of Dawn Mason's references. Dawn's friend wasn't there, but the man running the store was himself a lizard man aficionado. He had shipped lizard man shirts as far away as Las Vegas. He gave me easy directions to the infamous spot in the swamp, a course that would be on my way to an overnight stay in Sumter.
I found Browntown Road and went a couple of miles north. The road went sharply downhill for the run across the floor of the swamp. I have to admit it's murky and creepy down in there. It is very conducive to an "I wouldn't stop there at night" attitude.
I was quick to notice a good-sized tree beside the road, recently splintered by some strange and powerful force. Then I noticed the set of skid marks leading right up to the tree. After looking high and low, I found no trace of any monster in Scape Ore Swamp.
I heard the same theory several times. Contrary to the findings of a police investigation, many locals feel sure the lizard man is actually a butterbean farmer.
The farmer has a shed just across I-20 from the swamp. He had suffered repeated thefts from his property and the locals guess he arranged himself for a good dose of frontier (in this case, swamp) justice. He would scare the thieves away once and for all. Perhaps Chris Davis got too close after the trap was set.
The farmer was long ago questioned and cleared by police. He emphatically denied any involvement. The only supporting facts were he had reason for vengeance and he was just about tall enough to dress up and play lizard man.
In any case, the real lizard man, whoever or whatever he is, remains at large. None of the locals I spoke with suggest that the whole thing was merely a figment of Chris Davis' imagination. They all think some living thing gave Davis a real scare in 3-D.
One local merchant said, "I'd like to know who or what it was, but it doesn't really matter. It brought our town a million dollars' worth of publicity when we least expected it."
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