The main evidence for the existence of giant octopi is the arrival of a globster on the beach of Anastasia Island, Florida in November of 1896. A globster is a large mass of flesh and bone that gets beached and is at first unidentifiable. Most globsters turn out to be basking sharks or, sometimes, whales. This, however, was not the case of the globster from Florida.
On November 30, 1896 Herbert Coles and Dunham Coretter discovered what they thought was part of a whale on the beach that was partially buried in the sand, leading to the thought that it had probably already been beached for several days. The next day, DeWitt Webb, founder and the president of the St. Augustine Scientific, Literary, and Historical Society, took a look at the carcass. The part that was visible at that time was 18 feet long and 7 feet wide. It was a very light pink. More importantly, Webb decided that the carcass was not a whale, but a giant octopus.
Edgar Van Horn and Ernest Howatt made the first photographs of the carcass on December 7. These do not survive, but drawings based on two of them do.The next day, Webb wrote letters to several people trying to get someone else to investigate the carcass. Several days later, a man living in the area named Mr. Wilson, excavated around the carcass and found what he claimed were several arms: "One arm was lying west of body, 23 feet long; one stump of arm, west of body, about 4 feet; three arms lying south of the body and from appearances attached to same (although I did not dig quite to body, as it was laid well down in the sand, and I was very tired), longest one measured over 32 feet, the other arms were 3 to 5 feet shorter."
One of the letters that Webb had sent, was to A.E. Verrill, a scientist who helped to discover the giant squid. Verrill published a note on the subject in the January 1897 issue of the American Journal of Science. He decided that the creature was not an octopus, but was, instead, a giant squid. If it was a squid, it would have been much larger than any known specimen of this creature. In an 1897 issue of the magazine Nautilus, Webb also called the creature a squid. Webb continued to send material on the carcass to Verrill and in the January 3, 1897 issue of the New York Herald, Verrill announced that he believed the carcass was a giant octopus. However, the paper failed to state that Verrill had written the article.
In the February issue of the American Journal of Science, Verrill named the creature Octopus giganteus and said "It is possible that it may be related to Cirroteuthis [another kind of octopus], and in that case the two posterior stumps, looking like arms, may be the remains of the lateral fins, for they seem too far back for the arms, unless pulled out of position. On the other hand, they seem to be too far forward for fins. So that they are probably arms twisted out of their true position."
Between January 9 and 15, the carcass washed out to sea again. Fortunately, it washed back up, on Crescent Beach. The "arms" found by Mr. Wilson had fallen off the carcass while it was out to sea. Webb attempted to have the creature turned over and even with a dozen men and strong tackle, he could only partially raise it. In a January 17th letter to W.H. Dall, Curator of Mollusks at the National Museum, Webb wrote: "Yesterday I took four horses, six men, 3 sets tackle, a lot of heavy planking, and a rigger to superintend the work and succeeded in rolling the Invertebrate out of the pit and placing it about 40 feet higher upon the beach, where it now rests on the flooring of heavy plank...on being straightened out to measure 21 feet instead of 18 ... A good part of the mantle or head remains attached near to the more slender part of the body ... The body was then opened for the entire length of 21 feet ... The slender part of the body was entirely empty of internal organs. And the organs of the remainder were not large and did not look as if the animal had been so long dead ... The muscular coat which seems to be all there is of the invertebrate is from two and three to six inches in thickness. The fibers of the external coat are longitudinal and the inner transverse...no caudal fin or any appearance if there had been any...no beak or head or eyes remaining ... no pen to be found nor any evidence of any bony structure whatever." No details of any of the internal organs that Webb supposedly found survive. On February 12, Webb shipped several samples of the carcass to Verrill and Dall.
Another article by Verrill about Octopus giganteus was published in the February 14, 1897 issue of the New York Herald. He speculated that it would have had tentacles over 100 feet long. He also suggested that it was killed in a fight with a sperm whale, and was partly eaten by this same whale, but was washed up by a storm.
On February 23, Verrill received the samples. His comments, written on the same day, appeared in the March 5 issue of Science: "These masses of integument are 3 to 10 inches thick, very tough and elastic, and very hard to cut. They are composed mainly of tough cords and fibers of white and elastic connective tissue, much interlaced. This structure resembles that of the blubber of some cetaceans. The creature could not possibly have been an Octopus. It was probably related to the whales, but how such a huge bag-like structure could be attached to any known whale is a puzzle that I am unable to solve at present. The supposition that it was the body of an Octopus was partly based upon its bag-like form and partly upon the statements made to me that stumps of large arms were attached to it at first. This last statement was certainly untrue." Verrill restated these views in another Science article, with a commentary by F.A. Lucas, who said, "The substance looks like blubber, and smells like blubber and it is blubber, nothing more nor less."