Mystery in History Alligators in the Sewers Part 1

The history of the urban legends about alligators living in the sewers.

ALLIGATORS IN THE SEWERS

One of the most persistent urban rumors is that alligators live in the sewers of various major American cities. Alligators and crocodiles have materialized in cotton bins in Texas, express trains in West Germany, hot water ditches in Illinois, and basements in Kansas, and there is good reason why reports of them slithering and slinking through the New York City sewer system should not be dismissed.

Many people believe the alligator stories originated in the 1950s when baby alligators became a popular gift item, only to be flushed down the toilet when they grew too big. However, alligator sightings in New York actually go back to the 1930s. On June 28, 1932, several alligators were seen in the Bronx River, and a dead three-footer washed up on the bank. On Mar. 7, 1935, a 3-ft. 'gator was captured alive in North Yonkers. A barge captain at Pier 9 on the East River brought in a 4-ft.-long alligator on June 1, 1937. Five days later a commuter bagged a two-footer at the Brooklyn Museum subway station.

Perhaps the most exciting alligator story from the 1930s is the one that appeared in The New York Times on Feb. 10, 1935:

ALLIGATOR FOUND IN UPTOWN SEWER

Youths Shoveling Snow Into Manhole

See The Animal Churning In Icy Water.

SNARE IT AND DRAG IT OUT

Reptile Slain By Rescuers When It Gets Vicious--

Whence It Came Is Mystery.

According to the Times, the alligator was discovered by three teenaged boys shoveling snow on East 123rd Street, near the Harlem River. It was sundown, and they had almost finished dumping the accumulated snow down a manhole into the sewer below.

Salvatore Condulucci, 16, noticed that the sewer was clogging up with slush and bent down to take a look. In the fading light he could barely see the icy mass. But it was moving, and a dark shape seemed to be trying to break through. Salvatore could hardly believe it. He sprang to his feet, yelling something about an alligator. Jimmy Mireno, 19, looked skeptical. He moved closer, peered down the dark hole, and had to admit that he, too, saw an alligator. Frank Lonzo, 18, was next. Soon there was a crowd of curious onlookers around the manhole, straining to get a glimpse of the strange reptile thrashing around in the slush.

The boys thought of pulling the creature out and sent someone down the street to the Lehigh Stove and Repair Shop for some rope. Then Salvatore Condulucci (who had learned such things watching western movies) devised a noose of clothesline and managed to rope the 'gator around the neck. Pulling hard, he hard the grating of skin and claws against the broken ice, but he couldn't get the animal out. Several people offered to help. They finally hoisted the alligator out of the sewer and up onto the street. It looked dazed, probably as much from the cold as from the clothesline ordeal.

One of the boys moved closer to loosen the line, and the alligator feebly opened its long, tooth-lined jaws. Clearly this was an alligator in a bad mood. The boys jumped out of the way, and the crowd seized snow shovels and started to bludgeon the animal. The alligator lashed its tail weakly a few times, but already half frozen, it died without much of a fight.

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