Legend of the Albino Alligators
An April Fool's Joke
First, let’s put to rest any tales about giant, albino alligators living in New York City sewer systems. They’re pure rubbish. Although at one time it was fashionable for northerners vacationing in Florida to take back baby alligators as pets.
However, as these adorable infant gators matured, at some point their owners realized they weren’t so cute anymore and had actually become a menace. Most were simply flushed down a toilet and discarded.
But,apparently some managed to survive their journey through the sewer system, or so legend has it. Supposedly these survivors bred and became colonies of giant albino alligators. Strange as it may seem there may be the slightest hint of truth to this belief. The most common version of the story is alligators were surviving by feeding on rats and rubbish, growing to huge sizes and striking fear into sewer workers.
In 1935, an eight-foot alligator was found by a group of teenage boys at the bottom of an East Harlem manhole. No one believed it actually lived down there, but probably escaped from a cargo hold and swam up the Harlem River. The gator wasn’t much of a threat however, as it was killed by the boys who found it.
Stories of monstrous sized albino gators in the New York sewers date back as far as the 1920s, but they didn’t become popularized until author Robert Daley published his book, The World Beneath the City. His source was a retired sewer official named Teddy May who claimed to have investigated reports of the creatures and had personally supervised the destruction of a colony.
The original version had May posting watchmen to find out how sewer workers were getting whisky down in the “pipes.” Sewer inspectors first reported seeing alligators in 1935. Eventually May went to see for himself and he reported seeing gators about 2 feet long.
Poisoned bait was set out, followed up by flooding the tunnels to flush them out where hunters with .22 rifles were waiting. Oddly enough, no one thought to bring a camera along to record the event, or have one of the carcasses stuffed and mounted for posterity.
Along with the gator stories another urban legend surfaced around the late 1960s…that of the fabled, elusive "New York White." New York White was reportedly a potent, albino strain of pot growing wild from seeds flushed down toilets during police drug raids. However, none was ever seen, harvested or smoked, as if anyone in their right mind would smoke it considering where it was supposedly grown. Besides, who would be brave enough to venture into the sewers to harvest it, what with the giant albino gators and all?
No matter, there are always those gullible enough to believe these stories without giving logical thought as to whether such things are possible. Some have said It's freezing cold in the sewers during the winter and alligators require a year-round warm environment to survive, much less reproduce. And if the cold didn't kill them, the polluted sewer water would. Others say the sewers are warm, pointing out homeless people are seen sleeping on gratings on cold nights. The legend is perpetrated by the occasional alligator turning up in streets or parks, which no doubt is an escaped or abandoned pet.
Some versions suggest these sewer gators are also blind in addition to being albino. The explanation given is they were forced to live in an environment without sunlight, therefore it follows they would eventually evolve into blind creatures with no skin pigmentation. Without skin pigmentation they would have no protection from the sun and continue living in darkness. Quite convenient for explaining why no one has a photograph of one. And those instances where an alligator has been seen, they have been the regular color. There is also the glaring fact no one has been reported attacked or killed by a white alligator.
The urban legend of white monster gators is still told today. And regardless of the facts, that’s their story and they’re sticking to it.