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NYC Urban Legends

by Craig Bridger, 10/17/2012

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  • Alligators in the Sewers
    Everyone knows this one: in the grips of a fad, City kids bought baby alligators as pets and flushed them into the sewer system, where the reptiles were free to propagate (blind and albino in some accounts). While that never happened, there are, oddly enough, shades of truth to the story. There have been sporadic newspaper accounts of sightings, including the most famous one, published in the February 10, 1935, edition of The New York Times, about an 8-foot-long gator that was pulled from a Harlem manhole by some excited youths who subsequently killed the beast. Then there's Robert Daley's 1959 book The World Beneath the City, in which retired sewer superintendent Teddy May explains how he exterminated a colony of gators with rat poison and .22 rifles. (An official later told folklorist Dr. Jan Harold Brunvand that May loved spinning yarns.) The gators are part of the City's identity, memorialized in everything from Tom Otterness' whimsical sculpture in the 14th Street subway station (the A, C and E lines) to Thomas Pynchon's novel V. "Alligators are the closest things we have to mythological creatures," explains Steve Zeitlin, folklorist and founding director of City Lore. "The notion of monsters lurking under the earth is a time-immemorial archetype." Of course, the notion of them lurking aboveground in New York City isn't so far-fetched, as the NYPD discovered one being kept as a pet in Brooklyn not too long ago. And more than a dozen have been reported since in suburban New York, on Long Island.  


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