A small crowd lined up at the front doors of the South Florida Museum on Tuesday morning as the facility reopened after the drowning death Sunday of Snooty, Manatee County’s long-time beloved mascot.
Cordelia Ellis, 6, and her brother Finn, 4, visited the museum to purchase Snooty memorabilia, and they brought cards and sweet potatoes for his growing memorial. Cordelia opened her card and read what was inside before placing it on the memorial.
“I miss you Snooty,” she said.
That was the overwhelming sentiment as misty-eyed visitors recounted their experiences with Snooty. Barbara Connor couldn’t contain her tears, saying, “I grew up with Snooty. He was only 10 years older than me, so you can imagine how hard this is.”
Connor made the early morning visit to pick up anything with the image of Snooty on it for her daughter and 14-year-old grandson. The family had visited Snooty several times over the years. They were at his annual birthday bash Saturday.
“I just saw him,” she said. “It’s devastating. I’m hurt.”
Charlotte Housby and her brother Bill Breidenbach are visiting family from California. They scheduled a visit to see Snooty on their last day in town. On Tuesday, they could only see the tank where three manatees are currently rehabbing in preparation for their trips back into the wild. Absent, of course, was the aquarium’s long-time attraction.
“Our family is from here and they always talk about Snooty and how we have to go see him when we come,” Housby said. “They’ve been talking about Snooty since the 1970s.”
Housby teared up as well, saying, “I missed him. I’m one day too late.”
So even though cameras were on, it was too dark for us to see what happened.
Jessica Shubick, South Florida Museum communications manager
The museum staff is trying to get on with their mission of education. Brave smiles were forced as some greeted a bus full of school-aged children from Sarasota. Jessica Schubick, communications manager, said the staff is being helped by an outpouring of love and support since Snooty’s death.
“It’s been heartwarming to see people who loved Snooty as much as we did come out today to grieve with us,” Schubick said. “Our entire staff, volunteers and board have been heartbroken. Today is an opportunity to share that grief with the public, but also to show that we have to go on in fulfilling our educational programs.”
Speculation on how Snooty gained entrance to a plumbing access area and drowned remains under investigation.
Shubick said staff has theorized that, depending on what the manatees were doing, “It’s possible they could have bumped the panel and because they are so powerful, maybe knocked it off, but we don’t know what happened, and can’t say that for sure.”
The museum and aquarium have security cameras that operate around the clock. Shubick said the cameras were operating, but the manatee habitat is supposed to be as real as possible, and that includes keeping it dark at night.
“So even though cameras were on, it was too dark for us to see what happened,” she said.