Wednesday November 29, 2006 – “It was found behind an apartment building in Brooklyn, not in the sewers of Manhattan; it isn’t particularly big (under two feet long, police say); nor is it even, strictly speaking, an alligator (it’s a caiman).  Still, press reports on yesterday’s discovery of an abandoned saurian are likening it to the age-old urban legend about discarded pet alligators thriving in the New York City sewer system. Some say the creatures grow to monstrous size and turn white due to the lack of sunlight.

The urban legend is false, of course, but “gator” sightings do occur with some regularity in New York and environs, odd as it seems. The last such incident happened five years ago, when a specimen of similar size — dubbed “Damon the Caiman” by city officials — was captured in Central Park. Though illegal in the city, caimans can be bought on the Internet and are sometimes kept as pets, only to be abandoned when they outgrow their welcome.”

From David Emery’s Urban Legend Blog (

Alligator vs. Caiman - Caimans are the most common alligator pets. They are a so called miniature alligator.

Alligator vs. Caiman - Caimans are the most common alligator pets. They are a so called miniature alligator.

“Although the story of the ‘Sewer Gator’ in New York City is well known and various versions have been told and built up over the decades, recent reports validate that the stories are much more than urban myth.

A trapper reported an abundance of the reptiles in sewers in Ormond Beach, Florida, as he told WFTV that they were using the sewer to travel through the city after sighting the first one with its tail sticking out from a sewer pipe in October 2005.”




“New Yorkers are supposed to be born skeptics, but we’re actually the most accomplished spinners of these tall tales. Not only is New York featured in urban legends that spread around the globe, there are scores of homegrown legends associated with Gotham landmarks.

“Because this city is so large and diverse, it’s particularly rich in urban myths,” says Steve Zeitlin, director of CityLore, a Manhattan-based organization that collects area folklore.

From sewer alligators to skyscraper-spooking ghosts, urban legends are the contemporary equivalent of fairy tales, injecting a note of the fantastic into otherwise predictable modern life. But no matter how bizarre, most urban legends are just this side of believable — and often betray real concern about issues such as crime, health care and sexual promiscuity.”

From “Tales from the Urban Crypt: Legendary Whoppers about Gotham run the Ghastly and Ghostly Gamut” by J. D. Heiman


The Alligator People _1959_

Possible images of Alligator/People Hybrids from the 1959 film “The Alligator People.”



Alligator People

Alligator People - 2





Film Trailer:

On Urban Legends

April 24, 2009


“I also found the fabled albino New York City sewer alligator. They are extinct now. Maybe the C.H.U.D.s killed them all?”




April 24, 2009


SAN DIEGO –  Dec. 13, 2004 – Representing the urban legend of the “New York City Sewergator,” a sculpture of an alligator made out of Chicken of the Sea chunk light tuna cans is the 2nd place Peoples’ Choice Winner for a Canstruction event.

Canstruction is a charity event held in cities across the United States and abroad where architecture and engineering firms design and build sculptures composed entirely of canned food.  After the event, food is donated to local food banks and shelters.

For the first time in Canstruction’s 12-year history, the public was invited to vote for their favorite sculptures, which were on display at the New York Design Center.  More than 2,700 votes were cast between Nov. 11 and Nov. 24; votes were tallied Dec. 2.

The “NYC Sewergator” was created by Weidlinger Associates and used approximately 1,300 3-ounce, 6-ounce and 12-ounce Chicken of the Sea Chunk Light Tuna cans, which were donated by the seafood company.

Quotes from the Experts

April 24, 2009


“The theme of displaced creatures is an old one, and modern folklore has spawned many rumors of an animal — usually a fearsome one — lurking where it does not belong.” — Jan Harold Brunvand, folklorist

“I would bring leftovers from lunch, a long line and a hook, and spend a part of each day in the sewers looking for alligators. I saw rats, cockroaches — probably caught a lot of sicknesses — but I never saw anything like an alligator.” — Frank Indiviglio, herpetologist

“It’s like the Loch Ness Monster or the Big Foot. People believe in those stories up to a point that it does make sense.” — Esteban Rodriguez, NYC sewer worker

“What could better serve as a metaphor for the city as a jungle than the belief that the New York sewer system is filled with albino alligators, which swim through toilet pipes and bite victims in public washrooms?” — Gary Alan Fine, folklorist

“We pulled it out of a 8 inch line in Edmonton, I actually don’t know what it is, but I do know it sure scared me when I saw it on the CCTV, I thought we were going to have to call in CSI as it looked like it might have been Human. I just saw the back part and the curve of the jaw. It was a rather scary day.”  From:

Speculation and Comments:

“It is an Herbivore, but what kind? I would hazard a guess by size, if it were domestic, a sheep or goat, if it were wild, a deer, or Caribou. If you know, I would be interested in hearing what is was.”

“It is the lower jaw of a domestic pig (or it could be a “feral” pig). It’s also a young one because behind the rear molars is a set of teeth that hasn’t yet erupted (come through the bone). I am intrigued by the wear in the middle teeth of the left jaw though – rough diet?”

“Still, that is a really weird thing to be pulling from a sewer line. Oh yeah – also look at the lower canine teeth that basically function as tusks. They are larger in adult males. Good find!”

Suggested Resources (for comparison): -lower-jaw-2…

Wash a street or flush a toilet on the East Side and the wastewater goes here, to the Manhattan Grit Chamber on 110th Street at the F.D.R. Drive. Come visit.

Published: June 23, 2006

The best places to see the celebrated products of New York — its Broadway talent, its skyscraper architecture — are well known.

But the best place to see Manhattan’s byproducts — what is stuffed down its sinks, flushed down its toilets and washed from its gutters — cannot be found in tour guides. There is perhaps no better vantage point than the Manhattan Grit Chamber, which strains solids from much of the borough’s sewage as it flows underground to the Wards Island Wastewater Treatment Plant.

“This is where it all winds up,” said John Ahern, who oversees the chamber, a large building at the eastern end of 110th Street in Manhattan, next to Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive.

The Manhattan chamber handles sewage from much of the Upper East Side and Upper Manhattan, which makes up about a third of the city’s total. From the baby’s bathwater to the dead rat washed down a curbside storm drain, from a slop sink at Gracie Mansion to a Washington Heights bodega bathroom, it all goes into the street sewers, which, in their intricate latticework, are laid out so that the sewage flows by gravity to one large main bound for a tunnel running under the East River to the plant on Wards Island, surrounded by Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx. There it is cleaned of toxins and released as purified water into the river.

To keep the tunnel clear, grit and other solid materials must be strained before the sewage enters. That’s where the chamber comes in. It was opened in 1937 along with the Wards Island plant and the city’s other grit chamber in the Bronx and strains sewage from the west Bronx. It also feeds the Wards Island plant.

At the Manhattan chamber, sewage enters through a 12-foot-wide main and flows into a basement room, where it is split into four canals, slowing its flow so that solids settle to the bottom. The sediment is collected by an arm that sweeps the bottom of the canal and empties into buckets that automatically rinse the grit and lift it up to the ground floor, where it is deposited in metal bins.

The detritus floating in the channels — yesterday, this included cigarette butts, bottle caps, plastic bottles, candy wrappers and plastic spoons — is skimmed out by a rake and pulled up an incline called a screen climber, which resembles an escalator, and is also deposited into bins.

They sit at the foot of the elegant columns gracing the building’s Art Deco lobby, one of the aging Art Deco features in the building that are being restored. The refined architecture is at odds with the omnipresent stench.

The strained waste water proceeds along the canals and through sluice gates, then drops several hundred feet down a shaft into a nine-foot-wide tunnel running as much as 500 feet below the East River to the plant.

The bins of accumulated solids, called “screenings,” are frequently dumped by forklift into larger ones for transport to Wards Island and are held there until they are shipped to landfills out of state. The whole process is costly, and might be less so if people paid more attention to what they flush down the drain, city officials say.

The containers each hold 10 cubic yards. “We fill about two or three of those on a busy day,” Mr. Ahern said.

A busy day comes when it rains. The chamber handles about 100 million gallons of sewage a day — more than double that when it rains and the storm drains and street sewers are flooded. The flow increases enormously, and the whole operation goes into overdrive. The sewage treatment workers head for higher ground upstairs.

Yesterday, everything in the cavernous basement room was spattered with dried rags and detritus, reaching up to a high-water mark on the wall about eight feet up.

“We haven’t had any rain in a few days so the flow is a little slow,” he said. “But when it rains, this whole room can get flooded out. It comes in like a deluge.”

John Ahern, superintendent of Wards Island treatment plant, with debris at the Manhattan Grit Chamber.

Mr. Ahern is the superintendent of the Wards Island plant, which, after Newtown Creek, is the largest of the city’s 14 treatment plants. The list of things he has seen and seen strained from New Yorkers’ sewage provide enough fodder for a one-man show.

For starters, he pointed into a bin of screenings. There were mostly rags, soiled paper towels, condoms, rubber gloves, MetroCards, dental floss and tampon applicators — that and a dead rat. There is no demure way of describing other contents.

“Sometimes you find money,” he said, looking into the bins. “We get a lot of stuffed animals, anything kids throw down the toilet. We don’t get much feces or toilet paper because it gets dissolved into the flow.

“We get a lot of turtles and fish. We got a carp this big,” he said, holding his hands 15 inches apart. “We’ve had a canoe come in here; it got caught on the screen. We’ve had pieces of telephone poles, Christmas trees. Oh, you name it — mattresses, dead dogs. We got a live dog once.

“Once we got this thing: it was a wire that started gathering rags and stuff in the sewer and just grew like a snowball and came washing in, a big ball of garbage,” he said. “We called it the Volkswagen.”

He stood on a catwalk between the canals and looked down at the dark gray waters, pocked with bubbles.

“That’s from the methane gas released by the sediment,” he said.

And yes, the sewers sometimes become a grave for the unfortunate.

“We’ve had a few dead bodies,” he said. “We got a homeless woman, but it’s mostly men. Once we had a guy who was shot. The last one we had was a homeless guy, a few years ago in the Bronx. They go into the manholes to look for jewelry and money, and then they get overcome with gas, go unconscious and die down there. When we get a dead body, we shut down the operation and call the cops.”