Posted by: Loren Coleman on March 11th, 2009
In my updated 21st century edition of Mysterious America, besides the 1930s’ NY gator articles written for The Journal of American Folklore and my earlier works, the following info was also included:
University of Utah’s Professor of Folklore Jan Harold Brunvand first read of my alligator-in-the-sewer interests in the 1983 edition of Mysterious America, and mentioned my discoveries in his books, The Vanishing Hitchhiker, More of the Straight Dope, and Rumor! This lead to two decades of exchanges between Brunvand and myself, most of which have had to do with alligators in the sewers.
His readers have been very interested in finding early examples of the ‘gators. Some have been most intriguing.
In 1999, Russell L. Martin III, Curator of Newspapers at the American Antiquarian Society passed along this information to Brunvand:
“In the course of our work, we recently discovered what may be the earliest example of the classic urban legend, ‘alligators in the sewers of New York.’”
Martin continued, “Filed away with our bound volume of the New York Evening Post was a single issue of a previously unknown newspaper. The title is The Planet, published in Union Village, N.Y., July 18, 1831. It is unclear whether it survived beyond vol. 1, no. 1. At any rate, in the midst of the news and anecdotes is this curious item: ‘A live Alligator, it is said, was seen on Friday in the slip between Murray’s and Pine street wharves, New York.’”
During 2000, Brunvand sent me an old record of an alligator in a sewer other than one in New York.
Ms. Phyllis Harrison was searching old newspaper files for advertisements and references to auctions, a particular interest of hers, when she came across the following article in the September 28, 1927, Vol. 5, No. 8, issue of the Bloomfield, Indiana, Democrat:
ALLIGATOR FOUND IN SEWER
Employee of Pittsburgh Bureau of Highways and Sewers Pulls Out 3-Foot Saurian
Pittsburgh—The North side has been famed for many things. Now it is the habitat of the alligator.
If you don’t believe it, ask George Moul, a perfectly reliable employee of the Bureau of Highways and Sewers. He has the proof on exhibition at his home in Lockhart street. He got it yesterday when he was sent to fix a sewer in Royal street.
He had lifted the manhole and was prodding to remove the obstruction, when a strange face, with rather evil-looking eyes, bobbed in his range of vision.
After the first shock Moul grabbed the head and drew forth a 3-foot alligator. He got a rope and led it to his home and is trying to dope out how the Florida native got this far North.
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