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Legend of the Albino Alligators

Updated on September 3, 2011

American Alligator

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.


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    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 6 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Daffy, That's music to my ears, thanks so much for being a loyal follower. I work very hard on my stories and statements like yours are what keeps me going.

    • Daffy Duck profile image

      Daffy Duck 6 years ago from Cornelius, Oregon

      The gator legend I knew about, but the pot is news to me. I've never heard of that particular legend before. This just shows that you can take any circumstance and turn it into an urban legend if you just spend a little time thinking about it.

      Love the hub. You've become one of my favorite hubbers to follow.

    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 6 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      That's OK Paradise. We bought a white alligator suit and if we run into any albino homeless folk, we'll dress him up in it and take pics.

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

      I heard about the alligators in the NYC sewers; I have never heard, before this, that they were albinos! Cool! I wouldn't go huntin', Pete and JY, you might run into a totally crazy albino homeless man instead!

    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 6 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Crazyhorse, thanks for pointing out those facts. I'm not from there, as many readers aren't also and wouldn't know these things. I was reporting on the legend and what has been said and claimed about it. But, I appreciate what you've said and have adjusted the story accordingly.

      Peter, Awwww come'on. I was planning for the two of us to go check it out

    • PETER LUMETTA profile image

      PETER LUMETTA 6 years ago from KENAI, ALAKSA

      Well, well, well a plausable scenario. It could be. You never know. I am not going to go find out that's for sure.


    • crazyhorsesghost profile image

      Thomas Byers 6 years ago from East Coast , United States

      It is a historical fact that alligators some quite large have been found in the New York Sewer System. Though I have never seen anything about a albino one.

      Its really quite warm in the New York Sewer System with an average winter time temperature of 67 degrees. If your in New York you see steam rising from the sewer grates in the winter time. Homeless people sleep on the grates and down in the sewer system tunnels especially in winter and often year round.