Early Sewer Gators

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:


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.

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

9 Responses to “Early Sewer Gators”

  1. theprof responds:

    It’s surprising what you can turn up in old newspaper archives -I have LOTS of fun. There is this problem,though,of more academical people who just read books,sit in front of computers and make big pronouncements. NEVER get their feet dirty in the field.

    These people claim things to be “urban legends” such as,especially in the UK,unmarked white delivery vans said to dump things in the countryside,etc.. When I mentioned to a certain Fortean that a white van had been seen by three different people to dump “city foxes” in a countryside field I got a loud laugh and “Hah! But unmarked white vans are just urban legends,old boy!”

    I contacted a friend in traffic police and asked if he could check how many white vans they had on record in my particular area.

    Response:12000. Just looking out my window this morning I saw ten unmarked white vans. Because I looked.

    How many of those who say “Alligators in the sewer? Rubbish! Myth!” have actually got up,put on waders and gone into sewers to look?

    I hope we get this Monster Quest in the UK but so far I’ve had to resort to You Tube for old editions.

  2. cliffhanger042002 responds:

    theProf – Check out the other “Gators in the Sewers” thread going on and you might find an answer to this question: “How many of those who say “Alligators in the sewer? Rubbish! Myth!” have actually got up,put on waders and gone into sewers to look?”

    This is an interesting story. Has it/can it been verified? I’ve seen several examples here on cryptomundo where we talk about these earlier journalists making up stories that sound very credible due to the fact that they list names, places, and quote eyewitness reports, etc. but in the end we kind of come to the conclusion that it was a fabrication. I’m not saying that is the case with this particular report, but one must ask that question though, especially when you consider that there is no photographic proof to back up the claim. And I do find it very odd that a journalist wouldn’t get that evidence, as the picture would be worth far more than his report of the event.

    So that’s yet another issue that intrigues me with this particular subject, the lack of photographic evidence of these early reports, and of course the lack of photographic evidence in recent years with the commonality of photographic devices.

  3. osiris_investigators responds:

    While this is certainly less surprising that seeing them up north, I saw a gator in the sewer here in Florida back in the 80’s when I was grade school age. My parents and I were returning to our car from the Martin Marietta family day in Orlando, FL when we noticed a large crowd of people standing around a sewer grate (not sure if that is the correct term). This wasn’t a storm drain draining to a nearby lake – it was an opening to the sewer system. Not sure how he got there, but a large crowd of witnesses including myself saw the gator there; I remember it like it was yesterday.

  4. cliffhanger042002 responds:

    I was on a trip for work and saw a gator in a drainage ditch in a area outside New Orleans. It was actually Toca, La. I was at a jobsite doing a site visit when this happened and the plant workers (locals) said it was a pretty common occurence. That particular gator had even been named by the guys at the plant. They actually got a big kick out of my discovery of the gator because it caught me completely off guard. I was standing near the street, right outside the plant, at the end of the day talking to the guys I had just met and I was leaning against stop sign. There was a huge roadside drainage ditch so there was a 4′ diameter pipeline under the access road. As I was standing there talking to the plant employees (and I don’t think we were standing in that spot by pure chance) an 8-10′ gator walked out of the pipe and scared the hell outta me. I’m sure they had me standing there on purpose hoping that would happen too. But they laughed their butts off at me. It had been a very hot day in August when that happened, so I assume the gator went into the pipe for shade and cover. But that seems very common in areas where gators are indigenous.

  5. cryptidsrus responds:

    Very interesting old reports, Loren.

    Alligators in the sewers are not that improbable, after all.

    Not really “cryptozoological.”

  6. cryptidsrus responds:

    Thanks for the report, Loren.

  7. Alligator responds:

    I still have to respectfully disagree with you Loren. I will revise my estimate to say that an alligator could survive a few weeks to a few months in a sewer but I still can’t go for a reproducing population. The farmed gators that are in the dark get chow loaded with nutrients to compensate for the lack of vitamin D from the sun. They are tough critters, and can live in some pretty crappy environments for a long time. But they are still susceptible to fungi and bacterial infections. Alligator farms have lost substantial numbers to periodic outbreaks multisystemic inflammatory disease, including pneumonia, pericarditis, and multifocal arthritis. The sewer would be an even better breeding ground for this than the farms. I ended up treating some of my friends “pets” in my youth because they didn’t keep their gators and caimans in correct environmental conditions. Gosh, I remember when you could to any “pet corner” of a five and dime and buy one for $5.00. My mom hated it 🙂
    My opinion and $4.00 will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

  8. Loren Coleman responds:

    Instead of going down the wrong drainage pipe again, I recommend those that are dismissing the reptile-friendly underground environment that await Sewer Gators, please read the 50+ comments here to review the choices of facts versus feelings about these crazy crocs.

  9. cliffhanger042002 responds:

    Loren – Great photo!! Did you take the photo yourself?

    This photo looks like a classic sanitary sewer photo. There are a few things I can point out about the photo. First, look up at the very top of the photo where the bricks are bright red, this is the high water line, where sewage flows have gotten somewhat severe, actually very severe, and this would represent “full flow” at its peak. At the moment the photo was taken, the sewer appears to be experiencing normal flow conditions, indicated by the fact that the sewage flow level is contained completely within the invert. The 2 areas on either side of the invert are called “benches” and were constructed so that maintenance crews can get down there, manuever, and do whatever work is needed during low or normal flow conditions. Near the bottom left of the photo, there appears to be an accumulation of grease, which is what usually causes most of the obstruction problems inside the sewers. Most restaurants have grease traps, but the grease from residential kitchens typically drains into the public sanitary sewer system, and it tends to accumulate as shown.

    The benches would be an ideal spot for gators to lounge during normal and low flow conditions, but during full flow you can see from the photo how the capacity of the pipeline is challenged and there is nothing to hold on to in order to maintain position and prevent being swept downstream and possibly into the sewage treatment plant.

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