HISTORY OF PASCO COUNTY

Lacoochee


The Iron Man

By NELL MOODY WOODCOCK

There’s hardly a man alive today who grew up in Lacoochee who doesn’t have a tale about the Iron Man. He was incredibly, almost unbelievably strong. And the legend of his exhibition of that strength grows each time former residents gather for their annual reunion.

A man called James Hammond came to Lacoochee in the late 1940s and with him came some tall stories. Some say he had worked in a circus as a Strong Man. Supposedly, he would lie on his back, a huge stone would be placed on his chest, and an assistant would smash the stone with a sledge hammer.

By all accounts, he looked the part, as he was tall, and had a well built body. People claimed that his entire chest looked like calloused muscle.

Hammond supposedly had killed a man in Georgia and was on the lam from the law when fled to Lacoochee. And his bar-room encounters were legendary. He would get drunk and then proceed to badger someone into a fight. There was always one or more rough and tumble loggers willing to challenge him.

At work on Monday mornings, everybody was anxiously awaiting to hear the latest episode of the Iron Man.

Hammond was living at the Cummer Hotel where he was arrested by two FBI agents, according to Billy Hayes. Billy said he had just returned from the service after World War II and was paying $10.00 a week for his room and board at the hotel. He was sitting on the porch when Hammond was arrested without incident.

“We never saw or heard of him again. However, his reputation lived on.....” said Buddy Weeks who contributed to this story.

In a 1998 letter, the late Rudolph Crawford, stepson of Jesse Stanley, said Hammond acted as his own attorney and “beat the rap” when he was returned to Georgia.

According to legend, Hammond could:

  • Lift the front of a car or pick-up truck until the wheels cleared the ground.
  • While standing, allow someone to strike him in the chest with the flat side of a broadaxe or sledgehammer. He would stagger back, but not go down.
  • Sit in Fred Merritt’s place and occasionally take a full bottle of beer and break it over his own head.
  • Once he had an altercation outside Merritt’s place and chased two men around a car in front of Abraham’s Drug Store, firing at them with a pistol.
  • In another fight, when he was stabbed in the back side with an old curved-back knife, he reached behind himself, grasped the knife with the right hand, and with his thumb, broke the knife blade. Jesse Stanley, who was a constable, took him to the hospital where it was determined that a portion of the bottom right lung had been severed.

The joke around Lacoochee was that the surgeon had to weld the wound.


The Legend of the Iron Man, II

By J. W. HUNNICUTT

When I was in elementary school in Lacoochee my mother worked at Brabham’s Grocery which was located on the west end of the strip of stores.

I frequently went to the store after school to wait for my dad to get off work at the planing mill. One afternoon word that the Iron Man was coming was passed to the merchants. Mother and Mrs. Brabham closed and locked the doors. I went to the window and watched the Iron Man cross the tracks from the Coast Line Depot and approach town. He reached the center of the road in front of the stores and continued west towards the Crossroads. A single sigh of relief was breathed by everyone downtown and business resumed as usual. It was like a scene from all the western movies I had seen at the Vivian Theater.

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