Home of Ralph the Swimming Pig to be bulldozed

Jeff sez,

San Marcos, Texas' Aquarena Center, formerly a hilarious tourist trap called Aquarena Springs, will be bulldozed, with the land being restored to turn-of-the-previous-century condition.

Aquarena was the home of the infamous Ralph the Swimming Pig, and his keeper Glurpo, a one-time "nightmarish aquatic clown" (http://www.boingboing.net/2005/01/20/nightmarish-aquatic-.html) turned "underwater witch doctor." There were also "aquamaids" who picnicked & performed ballet underwater, diving ducks, and a sadistic swan named Rufus.

Glass-bottomed boats will continue to ply the lake, described as "home to eight federally listed endangered species. ... one of the oldest continually inhabited sites in North America, and the second largest artesian spring in the western United States."

(Full disclosure - I worked in the underwater show for a couple of seasons in the early 70s. I WAS Glurpo, (in his witch doctor persona) as well as Bubblio, Scrubblio and "Announcer" and I knew Ralph personally!)

Demolishing Aquarena (Thanks, Jeff!)


  1. Really, BoingBoing? You leave a link in there that not only isn’t hyperlinked, but doesn’t work?

    You’re way better than this sloppiness.

  2. Ahh; don’t tease. All of us that went to SWT remember those mermaids fondly. Well worth remembering

  3. @#2
    Is this better? The URL works for me, btw.

    nightmarish aquatic clown

    It’s very cool that they’re turning it back to a natural state, but I’m sure they won’t take out the dam & drain the lake, as it’s now home to the previously-mentioned endangered critters. It’d be sweet to see the big springs as they were before the lake was filled. The entire flow of the San Marcos River pops up out of the ground at this place.

  4. I had many trips there in my youth. It used to have a cable-car going over the width of the park, and other things to do, so it wasn’t all about the pig / mermaids. Some seriously humongous blue catfish live in those clear spring waters, best seen through the glass-bottom boats.

  5. TAKUAN – AWESOME link. Those women are hot!

    My father was the veterinarian for Ralph for many years and I saw the underwater show many times when I was just a boy. The women were cute, and the show inspired me to do some night scuba dives in Spring Lake to see the fish and springs for myself (scuba diving was severely restricted to protect the wildlife, fauna and springs).

    Back in the day, San Marcos was a great place to be a kid. Spring Lake feeds into an old ice house with a pretty decent waterfall that us kids used to hang out at to oogle the college girls and jump off the roof of the restaurant that was built on the site of the ice house.

    Good times! Probably a good thing that the old submarine theater will be removed and the site restored to it’s original state.

    Oh! Aquarena Springs had this awesome park for tourists that had all sorts of kitschy attractions such as the “gunfighter” which was a life-sized gunfighter that you could “draw” against and use a light-beam six-shooter to shoot the mannequin before he drew and shot you! It was great fun! Not to mention the chicken tic-tac-toe game where you played tic-tac-toe against a live chicken. No joke! The chicken would win or draw every time…

  6. I saw Ralph when I was very young, and again with some uncles when I was a little older. It’s one of my earliest memories, come to think of it. That, and a monkey in a diaper at the San Antonio zoo.

    Aquarena Springs had a cable car that you could ride through the park. I rode it with my grandfather, and when we were done, we went to see the swimming pig, followed by the glass bottomed boat ride.

    More proof of how depressing it is growing up in Texas. OK, I kid. Ralph’s incredible.

  7. RABEL: Yup, I remember the cowboy-bot and the tic tac toe chickens. They had all kinds of things the chickens would do for a quarter’s worth of feed. I am glad hiking the trails is still going to be possible. That was a lot of the fun, even as a kid.

    Another time I remember snorkeling the San Marcos for miles and diving for railroad ties every time we passed under a railroad bridge. Still quite a gorgeous area for underwater fun due to the water clarity. Good times.

  8. I thought, oh, well that makes sense, he’s such a Disney fan, but couldn’t get a job in the Magic Kingdom, so he decided to be a castmember at another Florida attraction. But then I kept wondering, was this at the same time he was making Open Cola? Can one seriously have budding cola career AND be a clown witch doctor/diving pig friend (and Announcer!) All before the age of 10?!? Surely begoggled hot-air balloon riding blogger time travel would be needed to cram in SO MUCH LIVING.

    Then I read the article again, preparing to update Cory’s wikipedia entry. Then I found that “Jeff sez” line above the picture that I totally missed. I had to read this post 3 times before figuring out that some guy named Jeff was the sadistic aquatic clown witch doctor, friend of diving pigs, in the 70s, not Cory Doctorow.

    My internal chronology of Cory’s career is now, sadly, much more linear.

  9. Cool beans.

    I have a “Roadtrip America” book somewhere, full of kitschy attractions, with an entry for Aquarena springs. The reviewers were quite enthusiastic about its attractions.

  10. Aquarena Springs. As a UT Austin Freshman in 1982, I took a date there, we watched the show, had some beer, and did naughty things in the backseat of my oldsmobile.

    That place was GREAT.

  11. I grew up in nearby Buda, and went to Aquarena Springs many-a-time with visiting relatives, and for various events at its conference center. I remember one time when my little sister came unglued when the submarine theater started to submerge. She wasn’t fond of the glass-bottom boat ride, either. I competed in a geography contest there in elementary school, visited to interview ecologists for a research project in middle school, and attended my debate squad’s annual banquet there in high school. In 2006, my wife’s sorority had an event at SWT (now Texas State University at San Marcos, which owns Aquarena Springs). I killed some time walking around the grounds. About the only things left operating was the gift shop and the glass-bottom boats. The old western village arcade has become a small aquarium exhibit, and the skycar stations are badly rusted and overgrown with kudzu. There was a scuba diving class going on over by the old submarine theater. I saw plans for the restoration, which included subterranian viewing galleries looking out into Spring Lake. They had already constructed a wetlands walk through part of the park, which was pretty cool, particularly the portion that went out onto the lake, supported by pontoons. Interesting coda: my little sister was recently, for a season, a ride operator for the glass bottom boat.

  12. @#11 Brettholomew
    “What really worries me is that this might cause LBJ to rise from the grave.”

    Cause?? He is un-dead and kick’n. Saw him in Stonewall headed to Fredericksburg for Octoberfest! “fermented grAIIIINs!!!!”

  13. I went scuba diving in the springs in the late 90s (daytime unfortunately). The natural freshwater environment was a bit underwhelming compared to a reef dive, but at the end of the dive we swam through the old Aquamaid tank. I remember circling around these enormous mushrooms covered in moss. It was a bit like being on a wreck dive and discovering an Alice-in-Wonderland Atlantis.


    I am underwhelmed by your post. I really thought you would have been like:

    “YOU BULLDOZERED IT UP! DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!!!” *pounds fist in the reeds*

  15. I enjoy this posting. While at A&M in undergrad school My buddies and I took a beer induced road trip and just had to stop and see the swimming pig. (of course) This posting reminds my California ass of home. Way cool.

  16. I understand why TSU wants to return the land to its natural state… but as a former Aqua Maid, I’m sad to see it go. I, too, swam there in the early 70s for three years, during the time when the girls actually word mermaid tails.

    Glurpo, I don’t know where that gawdawful glown costume came from. It was either before or after my time because I’ve never seen it before.

  17. I was an aquamaid in 1966-67. We were paid $2.00 a show and each show lasted about 45 minutes. We fed huge cat fish with frozen dog food and the little perch would be attracted too and they bit. Ouch! The breathing apparatus we used was my first experience with scuba. There was a hose attached to the front of the theatre glass where we breathed in just enough air to stay at the same elevation in the water. — to perform the underwater ballet, have a picnic where we would eat celery and drink Delaware Punch (that I hate to this day), What joy this story has brought me this morning! Great memories!

    I remember Mr. Hada!

  18. More Aqua-Trivia…

    Underwater scenes in the movie “Piranha” were filmed in Spring Lake.

    One of the many Ralphs & his trainer (possibly the woman in the picture at the top of this item) appeared on the TV game show “What’s My Line?”

    The original Submarine Theater, a long metal box that moved up & down at the end of metal arms, once broke loose during a performance, & tipped forward about 45 degrees. I was working as a parking attendant that day & remember hearing people yelling, & seeing the show’s announcer standing at the top of the stairs, which were now pointing straight up. Luckily, the whole thing didn’t sink, and the audience was evacuated through hatches at either end of the seating area.

    There’s now a webcam at the bottom of the lake.

    There’s a great new novel set partly at Aquarena Springs – Billy Taylor’s “Based On the Movie,” in which the main character, a film crew dolly grip, is “throwing out that year-old Christmas tree decorated with five hundred empty Vicodin bottles and flying to Texas to work on a movie starring Ralph the Swimming Pig.”

    Cutie, did Junior, the biggest catfish in the show area, ever lay in your lap? I recall that he would only do that for one of the aquamaids, whose husband was, coincidentally, also nicknamed Junior. The fishy Junior would allow her to turn him over & rub his belly. (Don’t know about the other Junior…)

    The breathing apparatus was technically a “hookah” system, not self-contained like Scuba. Air was delivered at about 100 psi in a flexible hose, with a rubber flex nozzle on the end. With practice, you could stick the nozzle between your side teeth & tuck the hose under your arm, and breathe normally by flexing the hose with your jaw. If you weren’t careful, you’d blast your face with the full 100 psi. The air often reeked of mineral oil, which, I believe, was the lubricating oil used in the backstage compressor.

    Helen, the clown costume was retired before my time, too. The original “stage” for the show was a boxy proscenium affair. Later, it was turned into a fiberglass “volcano” and I assume that’s when Glurpo morphed from clown to witch doctor.

    Hey, how about all the former employees getting together & helping the ‘dozers take the place out? Might be fun! I wonder what will happen to the Theater? Got pond, anyone?

  19. There will be a reunion of all former Aquarena employees on Sat., November 7, 2009. PLEASE contact Aquarena Center for details. We want as many aquamaids, boat drivers, etc., as possible to attend.

Comments are closed.