On February 10, 1935, a 16 year old boy named Salvatore Condulucci was shoveling snow into an open manhole. Suddenly, he saw movement and shouted, “Honest, it’s an alligator!” But are sewer alligators real things? Or is this just an urban myth?
The Chaos Book Club
Today is Day 9 of the Chaos book club. Chaos is an adventure thriller along the lines of Indiana Jones or books written by Clive Cussler, James Rollins, Douglas Preston, or Steve Berry. If you haven’t already done so, please consider picking up a copy at one of the following locations:
I actually mention the 1935 sighting in my book. It’s perhaps the most famous account of a sewer alligator living in New York City. According to the original newspaper article, Condulucci and his friends fashioned a slipknot and hauled the gator to the surface. It was surprisingly big, measuring almost eight feet long and weighing 125 pounds. Upon reaching street level, the creature, starved and cold, snapped at the boys with its powerful jaws. They proceeded to beat it to death with their shovels.
Afterward, the neighbors speculated on the sewer alligator’s origin. They finally decided that it must’ve somehow taken refuge on a steamer in the “mysterious Everglades.” Then it sailed to New York where it fell into the water. It swam into a sewer conduit which led to its eventual discovery. After being killed, it was taken away by a sanitation truck to be incinerated.
After a brief spurt of alligator sightings in New York during the 1930s, it would be almost seven decades before the next alligator was reported. In the summer of 2001, a small gator was caught swimming in Central Park’s Harlem Meer. But other than that, there’s not much to report…that is, unless we consider the stories of Teddy May.
A Sewer Safari?
In his fascinating 1959 work, The World Beneath the City, Robert Daley recounts conversations he had with Teddy May, who is somewhat of a “sewer legend” in New York. May’s exact job title is uncertain although it’s believed he might have held the position of Foreman or District Foreman.
According to May, he once discovered a colony of two-foot long sewer alligators. He believed that they had been sold by unscrupulous pet dealers to satisfy a Depression era fad for painted turtles. How did May handle this menace to his beloved sewers?
“Within a day or two of admitting that there really were alligators in his sewers, Teddy May was able to face the problem of eliminating them. A few months later they were gone. Some succumbed to rat poison. Others were harassed by sewer inspectors into swimming into the trunk mains, where the Niagara-like current washed them out to sea. Some were drowned when blockages filled their secluded pipes with backwash–to the very top. And a few were hunted down by inspectors with .22 rifles and pistols–not as part of the job, but as sport–possibly the most unusual hunting on earth, a veritable sewer safari.” ~ Robert Daley, The World Beneath the City
May was known to be a yarn-spinner and most historians are doubtful that this “sewer safari” ever took place. In fact, these same historians usually doubt the veracity of the 1935 account as well. Back then, newspapers were known to print outrageous stories in order to sell papers. And the fact that the sewer alligator was incinerated before it could be photographed does merit some suspicion.
But could an alligator survive in the sewer? The answer seems to be yes. While New York’s above-ground climate isn’t conducive to gators, its sewers are an entirely different matter. Sewers are actually quite warm, due in part to decomposing waste, and a gigantic rodent population is readily available as a source of food.
“As noted from alligator growers and authorities…the darkness in the sewers is not a problem for gators and actually increases growth in these animals. Also, the temperature is routinely high (easily 95-97 degrees F with +60% humidity). Food, breeding materials, and access to other environments are not in short supply in the NY and other urban sewers. Alligators are also able to resist infections in lots of nasty conditions…I stand behind my sense that alligators could and may have already bred in the sewers.” ~ Cryptozoologist Loren Coleman
A Sewer Alligator…in Chaos?
Of course, all this is not to say that sewer alligators do live in New York – only that it’s possible. Since much of Chaos takes place in the tunnels and sewers deep under New York, it was only natural that my hero Cy Reed would come face-to-face with one of these fabled creatures. And unfortunately for him…well, I’ll let you read it for yourself…
Suddenly, the alligator reared upward. The movement was so fast I didn’t have time to react.
Its head turned toward me and I saw its eyes. They were red as blood, yet dark as night. As I stared into them, I felt like I was looking into the soul of the devil himself.
The gator lunged at me. My instincts took over and I dove to the south. As I rolled through the water, I seized the machete from my waist with my free hand.
I rose to my feet. The gigantic alligator was just a few feet away. I backed up, trying to get some breathing room.
It followed me.
I backed up farther. It continued to follow me, gnashing its teeth in the process. Looking down, I studied the small puny objects in my hands.
I’m going to need some bigger weapons. ~ David Meyer, Chaos
That alligator, as you’ll find out, is far more mysterious and deadly than even Cy realizes. Well, that’s it for today’s entry in the Chao book club. Tomorrow, we’ll be leaving New York City and traveling to Japan in order to peel back the layers of the mysterious Minamata disease that plagued that country during the 1950s. I hope to see you then!
Chaos Book Club
- October 17: Chaos has Arrived!
- October 24: The Story of Chaos
- October 25: The Great Train Robbery?
- October 26: Is Treasure Hunting Immoral?
- October 27: What was Operation Paperclip?
- October 28: Nazi Treasure & ODESSA?
- October 29: Do the Mole People Exist?
- October 31: FDR’s Lost Subway Car?
- November 1: Do Alligators Live in New York City Sewers?
- November 2: The Mysterious Minamata Disease?
- November 3: Die Glocke & Nazi Wonder Weapons?
- November 4: Buildering: The Art of Climbing…Skyscrapers?
- November 5: The Strange Case of Red Mercury?
- November 6: The Island of Stability?
- November 7: The Nazi Atomic Bomb?
- November 8: The Nth Country Experiment?
- November 9: Why did America really bomb Hiroshima?
- November 10: New York’s Forgotten Subway Tunnel?
- November 11: Alfred Ely Beach’s Last Secret?
- November 12: The Strange Science of Superconductors?
- November 13: What’s Next for Cyclone Reed?