Alligator Rides and Water Slides

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Crazy, Cool #iamaMariner Stories – Part 1

Toddler stares down alligators without fence. Public Domain – LA Public Library

My grandmother’s cousin had a pet alligator.

Think this story is odd, or going nowhere fast? Bear with me.

He lived in Seattle and bought a baby alligator on vacation, circa 1950. The alligator had its own bathroom, and when it got too big for the bathtub, he lined a hope chest in metal and made it a bigger tub. It ate two whole chickens a day and after several years, when it outgrew that chest, he gave it to the zoo. I kid you not. Call my grandma and ask – 555…actually, please don’t call my grandma.

This is a story my grandmother told me when I was a kid. I always thought the story was exaggerated. Maybe he had a pet lizard that my grandma thought was as big as an alligator, or something of the sort. But, the story stuck with me nonetheless. Just last week, though, I found out that this story is legitimately true and it’s not *that* crazy. Or rather, LOTS of people were *that* crazy at the time.

In fact, pet alligators where in vogue in Los Angeles, California. A trend which spread over the country – well at least baby alligators were packaged and shipped all over the country – because of two men, “Alligator” Joe Campbell and Francis Earnest.

Women packaging baby alligators, circa 1930. Public Domain – LA Public Library

These men started the California Alligator Farm in Los Angeles, California, in 1907 to breed, showcase, and harvest the reptiles.

Entry for California Alligator Farm. Public Domain – LA Public Library

Admission cost a whopping 25 cents (about $6.50 today) and visitors could see the animals from birth – in incubator houses – to full grown, in a series of 20 ponds on the property. Some of the ‘gators were even taught to do basic stunts, like climb and ride a water slide, though sources suggest that they did not, in fact, like this activity. I wonder why?

Cradle to Grave – stage photo of baby alligator incubation house with handbag. Public Domain – USC Library
Alligators slide for an onlooking crowd. Public Domain – USC Library

Experienced alligator wrestlers also performed shows with some of the older and larger residents, like Barataria Ben, a 265 pound creature “who [was] about 135 years old”, or El Diablo who “[was] estimated to have attained the venerable age of 150 years”, or “Louisiana Joe, the patriarch of the farm, [who was] said to have about two hundred years to his credit”. A quick Google search today will tell you that the American alligator will only live to be 30-50 years old. But that didn’t stop the farm from boasting, “Here are to be seen hundreds of alligators of all sizes from little babies, hardly the size of a lizard, up to huge monsters, 500 years old or more!” Ignore the discrepancy in age between the patriarch and the ages advertised, please, the visitors certainly did.

Think that’s about as close as you want to come to these predators? Then turn away now, because you know what else was offered at the park? Alligator rides. Yep, you read that correctly.

Family rides an alligator. Public Domain – LA Public Library

Not just alligator rides for adults, either. Your children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, young siblings and pets were also offered the opportunity.

Dog with alligators. Public Domain – LA Public Library

But let’s go one step further – your babies were welcome to hang out with little…and not so little… ‘gators, too. Reptilian babysitters anyone?

Infant with baby alligators. Public Domain – USC Library

And, we’re not done yet! Some truely daring individuals swam at the farm.

Woman wrangles alligator. Public Domain – LA Public Library

Or, had a picnic!

Women picnic at California Alligator Farm, circa 1920. Public Domain – LA Public Library

But, maybe the cutest thing was bottle feeding the animals.

Woman bottle feeds a young alligator after swimming with them. Public Domain – LA Public Library

I mean, seriously, who thought this was a good idea?! OSHA, animal rights groups, and lawyers alike would LOVE this park today. *She said sarcastically.* Although, I will admit that my two-year-old would actually love this place! Alligators, or “ah-gators” are his favorite. Did you know they go “CHOMP”? I digress…

Now that we have metaphorically visited the California Alligator Farm, it is time to stop in the gift shop on our way out. There you will see postcards of some of your favorite memories.

Postcard depicting the alligator slide. Public Domain – LA Public Library

If you’re interested, you can buy a pet to take home – babies cost between $1.25 and $2.50.

Woman walks pet alligator, circa 1950. Public Domain – LA Public Library

But, if a pet alligator isn’t quite your speed, you can settle for a nice alligator skin handbag (for her), alligator tooth cufflinks (for him), or a cleaned alligator egg (for the kiddos). As a 1910 review claims, “So in this queer industry little is wasted”!

And, if you just can’t get enough of this alligator park, housing is available in the neighborhood! Residents report that the alligators speak in B-flat and like best to chat at night. Occasionally, when the park floods, one may even find its way into your backyard or swimming pool. While this may be *normal* in Florida, it is surprisingly uncommon in Los Angeles.

In 1953, the park was moved to Buena Vista, California; and, with low visitation, it closed in 1984. Yes, if you are reading this, the farm was likely open in your, or your parent’s, lifetime! Although I am sure much had changed.

I present you this story for three reasons.

1) It proves my grandma’s cousin isn’t crazy.

2) I think we should build a water slide for alligators in The Mariners’ Park (any takers?)

3) The daring individuals who visited, or (dare I say it) enjoyed, this park may have taken our #iamaMariner campaign to an extreme. In fact, they give me the idea to find other interesting #mariners; keep a look out for the next installment in the series!

 

P.S. In case you read through this blog thinking I have a very active imagination and/or impressive photoshop skills (my husband says he will vouch for my lack of creativity! Text him and ask – 555…actually, please don’t text my husband), check out this video. No, my imagination and my beginner photoshop course did not give me the art necessary to bamboozle you so epically. Also, here are my sources:

2 thoughts on “Alligator Rides and Water Slides”

  1. Some of those remind me of the “Alligator Farms in Florida that I visited when I was a child and when my children were little. Though we always stayed in the safe visitor locations. 🙂

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