Monday, April 30, 2007

Out Of Place Alligators

On April 22, 2007, the New York Times reported a fascinating news story, namely that a two-foot long alligator had been found sunbathing by a small lake in Huntigton, N.Y., and had been captured by county police. At the time of the article's publication, the police were still looking for the owner of the animal, presumebly to press charges against the person for illegally owning an alligator. To the uninitiated, this would just seem to be a simple case of an escaped pet, but those of us who tend to look at the world through "Fortean-tinted glasses" (to borrow a phrase from Scott Maruna) will immediately think of the "crazy croc" phenomenon, which has been extensively documented by researchers such as Loren Coleman, who discussed it in his classic book Mysterious America.

Out of place animals are nothing new to the American landscape, and alligators in particular have popped up everywhere, making appearances in environments far outside their native territories. With this in mind, it is no surprise that even Long Island has had encounters with runaway alligators, although as in other cases they were always placed into the "escaped pet" context. Take for example, an article from the June 4th, 1896 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

In this case, as is noted in the article, the feral alligator seen around Woodsburgh was said to be the escaped pet of a Mr. Reiner, sh0wcasing an early example of this explanation that has since been regularly used by police and the media to account for "crazy croc" reports. There are no known followups in the local media on this report, so the outcome remains sadly unknown(if anyone has any extra information related to this case, please email me).

Manhattan has also had its fair shares of OOP (out of place) alligator reports, which may have subsequently given rise to the urban legend of alligators that live in the sewers of New York City (again, as discussed in Loren Coleman's book Mysterious America). Most of the reports have already been uncovered and examined by Coleman and other researchers, but there may still be reports out there that have yet to see the light of day, such as one from Sept. 22, 1899, once again from the BDE:

Back in September of 1899, some boys witnessed something peculiar at 175 McKibbin street, located in the Eastern District. As the author of the article notes:

All those who came to see the animal at the Bock residence were puzzled over how it had come to wind up in a puddle in the Eastern District of Manhattan, with the boys even declaring that they had seen another alligator of similar size that they had been unable to capture. It was even speculated that there may have been more alligators lurking in the cellar, but whether this was ever proven to be true sadly remains unknown at the moment. As with most other cases of this type, the alligators were explained as being escapees:

Forget about drugs, the number one trade of illegal goods in this country must apparently be in alligators..

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