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  • Barbra Davis

Weird America: 3 Strange But True Historical Markers

Updated: May 4, 2022

My interest in weird markers began when the local newspaper ran a brief story about an unusual historical marker located in nearby Punta Gorda, Florida.. It’s old – though no one seems to agree on how old – and weather-worn but it’s been touched up some and is very readable.

After looking into the local oddity, I began to wonder what other strange "historical" markers have been erected in America. (Told you I have a lot of free time since I retired.) To my surprise, I found there were many events memorialized in historical markers that I never read about in my history books. Here are 3 of my favorites:

1) Punta Gorda, Florida

The marker I read about in the paper, titled "First White Man Dies In America," is located at 3498 W Marion Ave., Punta Gorda. This is the site of a small but pretty area called Ponce DeLeon Park. The park was set aside by the city as a tribute to that famous Spanish explorer, who was one of the very first European explorers to visit Florida’s mainland.

Hardly anyone locally is too impressed by the park, even those of us not native to the area. Most folks just go there to use the boat ramp. However, I had to see this hard-to-believe marker for myself. Sure enough, the plaque is there, a lasting tribute to the historical event.

It doesn't give the name of the white man who was killed, though it does explain that he was killed by arrows from the Caloosa Indian tribe. This apparently happened in either late May or early June of 1513. While many white men have since died in America, this probable follower of DeLeon was apparently the first.

Inscribed on the plaque are these words: On this day, May 24, ships were sent to seek a mainland colony site and to sound and chart the newly found "Bay of the Holy Spirit" (Charlotte Harbor). For three weeks explorations continued, seldom by land. There were at least three meetings with the Caloosas; once they offered "guanin" (low gold) and skins for trade and promised more. But in other meetings fighting erupted and "several Indians" and one Spaniard were killed. Thus, the first white man died in America, victim of Indian arrows, and the place of his death was called "Matanca" (now Pine Island).

2) Goleta, California: "Where the Japanese Attacked California"

Like me, you probably thought the only time the Japanese fired on American soil was when their ships attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. But there is a unique historical marker in tiny Goleta, California, (a suburb of Santa Barbara) which marks the spot where a Japanese submarine surfaced in 1942 and started shelling the area.

When this documented shelling began, the local pier and surrounding land of the Ellwood Oil Field were targeted. Thus this town became the first place in America attacked by a foreign enemy since the War of 1812. (Remember, Hawaii was merely a U.S. territory at that time, not a state.)

This was also the first attack of World War II against America’s mainland. Very little actual damage was done to the area, and apparently no one was hurt during the 20 minute attack. The Japanese sub then sailed back out to sea , never to return. Since oil was vital to the American war effort, this could have been an important strike if it had been more effective.

It is said that the sub’s commander radioed Tokyo, stating that he had left Santa Barbara in flames. (From this website:

Had this truly happened, it probably would have been noted in more places than just one strange historical marker.

Since no mention seems to have been made of the incident at the time, it is entirely possible that the government barred the press from reporting the information to prevent widespread panic, and fear of continued Japanese attacks along the Pacific coast.

Inscribed on the marker are these words: "On Feb. 23, 1942, at 7:00 PM, During One of President Roosevelt’s Fireside Talks, the Japanese Submarine I-17 Shelled the Richfield Oil Field Facility at This Site with 25 5-inch Rounds. Not Since the War of 1812 Had the U. S. Mainland Been Attacked by a Foreign Power."

3) Florence, South Carolina: "The Nuclear Accident at Mars Bluff"

On March 11, 1958, the U.S. Air Force accidentally dropped an atomic bomb near Mars Bluff, South Carolina. Although the 7,600-lb., 10'8"-long bomb (a more powerful version of the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan) was unarmed, its high-explosive TNT-loaded trigger detonated on impact. The result was a huge crater and a very embarrassed crew.

No radiation was emitted, as the core remained in the plane, and only a few injuries were noted. The explosion did destroy the home of the Gregg family, and killed a few of their chickens. If the bomb had been fully armed, it would have destroyed everything within a 10 mile range of the drop point.

The Air Force, of course, refused to make much comment on the event, merely stating that the bomb was dropped from 15,000 feet. The B-47 from which it was released was headed for England on a training mission. It seems that somehow during the flight a red warning signal activated, causing the crew to believe the bomb was not secured properly. When the co-pilot checked on the bomb he thought he was re-connecting the lock. Instead, the bay doors opened and the rest is history.

The following words are on the Marker Reverse: "ATOMIC BOMB ACCIDENT AT MARS BLUFF, March 11, 1958. In 1958, in the midst of the Cold War, the U.S. Air Force accidently dropped an atomic bomb near here. The unarmed 7,600-lb., 10'8"-long bomb was aboard a B47E bomber on a training mission headed for England. It’s high explosive trigger detonated on impact, making a crater as large as 35 feet deep and 70 feet wide."

Your Turn

If you do a little investigating, you, too, may find a weird or unique historical marker near your home. It seems federal, state and local governments all create such markers, so there are a lot of them. Wouldn’t it be a unique vacation to take time and visit a number of these strange monuments to forgotten historical events?

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