Urban Legend? New York’s sewer alligators
So most of us have heard the supposed urban legend of rich American families buying cute little pet alligators for their darling children only for them to be quickly flushed down the toilet once they realised these things surprisingly grew into big, dangerous snappers. Then our poor flushed pet would survive in the Big Apple’s sewer system and roam it’s tunnel system chowing down on homeless people and city workers alike. You get the picture. It certainly sounds like a very unlikely tall tale, but since the 1930s there have been a surprisingly large number of sightings of the scaly beasts.
For the past seven years February 9th each year sees the unofficial celebration of the city’s “Alligators in the Sewers Day.” That particular date was chosen as it was on the same day in 1935 when in East Harlem, NY, a group of teens snared an 8ft alligator underneath a manhole on 123rd Street. Salvatore Condulucci spotted the creature as he was shovelling snow into a manhole. The gang of lads put a rope round it’s neck but when it attacked them they killed the alligator.
The following days New York Times led with the dramatic headline “Alligator Found in Uptown Sewer,” what was to be the first of many of the accounts up to present day, although which are genuine is another story.
Michael Miscione, the official borough historian for Manhattan, and the man responsible for the annual alligators day, talked about the incident recently with The New York Times, he said It was believed this particular alligator may have escaped from a steamer that had traveled north from the Everglades and swam into the Harlem River and into a sewer outflow.
This one was eight foot, pretty big, but only half the size of the largest gator on record, which is thought to be a giant alligator captured at the Alabama river on August 16, 2014 by five members of the Stokes family. It measured 15 feet and 9 inches long and weighed 1,011.5 pounds (458.8 kg). Now that’s a big old boy.
In terms of modern day accounts, there have been a few, the most notable on July 22, 2013, an 8-foot-long alligator was pulled out of a sewer close to Central Park. After it’s capture the animal was killed and an autopsy revealed It had been feeding on dogs and rats, they even found a watch in it’s stomach!
Of course alligators aren’t the only creatures that have been found in the sewers, there’s been a rise of sightings of giant rats underground. Mainly due to the rich, easy sources of food to be found down there. One such huge rat was found in a Footlocker store in the Bronx. They nicknamed it ‘Master Splinter’ after the kung-fu sewer rat mentor in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics. This one may not have excelled at Martial Arts however.
Although some alligators have been spotted, they’re largely small and not the massive beasts of legend that might reside down there. New York’s climate would make it extremely difficult for them to survive and thrive during the colder months. Regardless of fact or fiction, what at least may be a myth achieved one wonderful thing, it spawned a classic 1980 B-movie that after watching definitely makes you think twice about heading underground.