Alligators in NYC sewers

Are the alligators in New York City sewers just an urban legend? Not according to Salvatore Condoluci, 92, who in 1935 claimed to have caught and killed an 8-foot-long gator in a sewer on 123rd Street near the Harlem River. However, it wasn't until the publication of Robert Daly's 1959 book The World Beneath The City that the sewer alligator stories slithered into popular culture. In honor of the book's 50 year anniversary, the New York Times found and interviewed Conduluci. The article also quotes BB pal Loren Coleman who has studied this curious bit of urban folklore in great depth, covering it in his book Mysterious America. According to Daly's book, the former superintendent of city sewers, Teddy May, saw the reptiles firsthand. From the NYT:
 Images 2009 11 18 Nyregion Headline-190 Mr. May decided to go down to sewers himself to determine whether there was anything other than an excess of whiskey behind his inspectors' reports of narrow escapes from alligators. That startling description of what he found, given by the man affectionately known as the King of the Sewers and recounted by a journalist, was immortalized in "The World Beneath the City":

Alligators serenely paddling around in his sewers. The beam of his own flashlight had spotlighted alligators whose length, on the average, was about two feet. Some may have been longer. Avoiding the swift current of the trunk lines under major avenues, the beasts had wormed up the smaller pipes under less important neighborhoods, and there Teddy had found them. The colony appeared to have settled contentedly under the very streets of the busiest city in the world...

"These tales had a journalistic background," said Loren Coleman, director and curator of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Me., who has researched and written about the topic for decades. "Daley's book came along, and it was almost like independent confirmation."

"The Book Behind the Sewer-Alligator Legend" (NY Times)

More background at Cryptomundo


  1. San Francisco had a juvenile aligator in Mountain Lake Park a few years ago! And up until the early 70’s you could buy pet monkeys and aligators at woolworths and other stores I’m sure.

  2. Although I think it’s feasible that someone could have purchased a small alligator at a pet shop and discarded it in a NYC sewer, I think it’s highly unlikey that any could survive for any length of time, and grow to any notable size.

    Alligators and all reptiles need copius amounts of sun to animate them b/c they are cold-blooded. Without it, they would grow lethargic and die. Also, sunlight is vital in their ability to obtain adequate Vitamin D (as it is with humans to a far lesser extent). Without it, their bones would grow weak and deformed. I have personal experience with this because I had a pet turtle as a boy, and it didn’t get adequate sunlight so it’s shell grew deformed. BUT, I got it a full-spectrum lightbulb, and it recovered. WHEW.

  3. How is Conduluci’s story different from any *other* alligator in the sewer story? No photographs — nothing at all. And what’s with Coleman’s explanation? Something printed in a newspaper is reputable just because it was in a newspaper?

  4. Of course, Mr. Badger is missing the point. The authentic journalistic nature of the story, instead of it merely living in the realm of a purely folkloric origin, is significant, and was addressed in my Journal of American Folklore contribution.

    As opposed to finding out that there was no Mr. Conduluci and this was merely a newspaper tall tale, which is often heard in explaining these accounts, the New York Times tracked down a living eyewitness from the 1935 event, no easy task. And re-interviewed Mr. Daly.

    Look at the record, please, and you will see this is not just one isolated incident, but there is a tapestry of events that underlie these sightings, findings, and killings of alligators in New York City’s past and modern eras.

    Loren Coleman

    1. People claiming to have been abducted by aliens have been interviewed by journalists as well. Nobody doubts that Betty and Barney Hill (or any of a number of people claiming to have been abducted since) were real people either. The “authentic journalistic nature” of many of these reportings and their associated “tapestry of events” (love the phrase) is not a significant piece of evidence in favor of the objective existence of alien abduction either. What would move both sewer alligators and alien abductors out of the realm of folklore is actual *evidence*.

  5. People would be aghast to learn how alligators are raised on alligator farms, but the reality is they are grown in almost total darkness (in many ways not unlike the circumstances to be found in the hot, humid, dark sewers of an urban area).

    Here’s what one academic paper observed about the normal conditions on an alligator farm:

    “Alligators were kept at a constant ambient temperature of 32 C in water-filled igloo-shaped or rectangular concrete pens, which on average held approximately 200 animals of approximately the same size and age. The igloo-shaped pens had 848–897 l of water and the rectangular pens had 799–3,464 l of water. Pens were kept dark and completely enclosed with the exception of narrow gaps around the entry door for feeding or maintenance. Pens were provided with chlorine-treated well water that was drained and refilled three times a week. Alligators were maintained on a diet of ground beef and alligator chow.”

    (Source: Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 41(1), 2005, pp. 96-106;

    Alligator farmers learned long ago that alligators grow faster and are healthier if grown for their meat in darkened pens.

    Consider this, alligators outlived the dinosaurs by being extremely flexible in a variety of living conditions. Sewers, filled with plentiful food, such as rats, plus rather warm temperatures in watery settings, do not sound too wonderful by human standards, but for alligators, it’s rather close to gator heaven.

    ~ Loren Coleman

  6. Doubtless some “De-Bunkers” worrying about this, but then again like “Jack Chick Christians” the truth only works when it goes their way…

    They like repeating again and again and again the “Vitamin D” thing. Perhaps that is true, but again the gator was seen by kids kicking snow from a grate, in short it gets light from above. Then it has all the heat from hot water flushed down, tons to eat and a whole stew of chemicals, chiefly that MAN’S diet is spiked with Vitamin D and many others because we ourselves are kept animals to work for the elite and don’t get a fraction the sun we should get either. So all these vitamins (often toxic waste byproduct) go through our system and get flushed down the toilet, and any homeless person they eat is also full of vitamin D from milk and the ‘cheap’ foodstuffs.

    But they’ll whine; “Someone PUT it THERE”…

    And, uh, huh, that’s right- But it doesn’t “Win” the despicable fake intellectual snits the argument. The whole thing about “Gators in the Sewers” is that they are unnaturally put there.

    1. Odd that alligator farmers spend so much money on pricey alligator chow filled with vitamins. Silly farmers!

  7. The sewer gators had bad meat.

    And do we know if the gators were always inside? Or hung out part time at the exits of sewer pipes? This particular gator could have just walked in that morning and caught that day in the sewer.

  8. They should double check this one.
    Maybe were actually facing teenage mutant giant turds!
    Bad pizza must be the culprit here…

  9. Whoah – this is weird. Just last night I watched “Alligator” with my son – starring Robert Forster, Dean Jagger et al – written by John Sayles. My son asked me: “Is it really possible for alligators to live in the sewer?” Thankfully, I told him: “Anything is possible. But I don’t think they get that big.”

  10. By weird coincidence, I received and watched the DVD set of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere today, in which are mentioned giant white alligators in the New York City sewers (which Hunter fought and killed).

  11. We researched the alligators in the sewer legend for my TV series “Freaky Stories”. I wish I still had the scan of the original 1935 Times article – the journalistic style was quite different from today. It also went into great depth; explaining what the boys were doing when they found the gator, how they caught it, killed it and what happened to it. There was a fair amount of documentation at the time – though no photos.

  12. Now you’ve got me worried about the ‘strong’ scrabbling noises in my ceiling! my cat and i listen on red alert on the cat’s side, and curiosity on mine. Well as to the alligators, they’ve been exploited in the media enough, hunted to make hand bags … SO, I say I can fully understand their wish to be anonymous and in peace in the sewers…Funny too that the mystery of what’s under our cities doesn’t concern or interest people these days. i once lived in a big Block of townhouses, strata title place, where the town’s sewers had a major glitch and it was funny to see little bobbing turds going peacefully along! I know that there are places underground, offices and under a major city here in Australia. Found out from a bike courier friend who often took a deep braths and delivered stuff there. We just are so sure that we know everything about how our system works aren’t we?

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