Residence: Brooklyn, NY

Incident Location: The Fulton Fish Market

Age: 42

Gender: Male

Occupation: Commercial Fisherman

Injury or Fatality: None

Other Witnesses: Unknown

BEGIN RECORDING

Captain Cousteau: Hello Rusty!  Thank you for meeting with me.  Please recount your sewergator encounter with as much detail as possible…

Rusty (refused to provide last name): In 1989, we sold our house in Queens and moved in with my wife’s parents in Brooklyn. We used the capital to purchase a 40-foot 1978 commercial fishing vessel. It had a fiberglass hull and a diesel engine and came from Nova Scotia. I was able to pay in full at the time of the purchase, picking it up for $13,500. I named my boat “Riot Ready.”

At that time, the Fulton Fish Market was in its historic location near the Brooklyn Bridge—above Fulton Street in Lower Manhattan. In its original location, the Fulton market was one of the last, and most significant, of the great wholesale food markets on the East Coast. The market was already transitioning from a commercial dock to a truck depository. As a local, I was still able to dock and sell my haul directly to the market without a middleman. I would wake up at 4 a.m. and prepare the Riot for the Atlantic. On a good day, I would finish unloading at 3 p.m. While the Riot is not a factory ship, I use large nets and over the years I sought to harvest tuna, cod, salmon, shrimp, krill, lobster, squid, and crab from wild fisheries far out in the Atlantic Ocean.

After selling my load, I head home for dinner. My catch is then sold to restaurateurs and retailers who purchase fresh fish of every imaginable variety. Fulton prices are tracked and reported to the national government as the market distributes and buys fish to and from ports across New England.

New York is a city of rats, so on the waterfront we have a great need for cats. When the traffic dwindles and most people sleep the neighborhoods are swept by strays. The strays live a life drastically different from kept cats and often die from malnutrition, exposure or food poisoning. Part-time grocery store or restaurant cats were once used to keep rodents away. The number of kept commercial cats has diminished with the decline of small grocery stores and rise of supermarkets, along with more stringent health inspection guidelines. Flea ridden felines are no longer the go-to source for rat removal.

At the fish market the need for cats remains great, but not everyone believes their service outweighs their nuisance. Once, a longshoreman with a severe allergy tried to get rid of all the cats by poisoning their food supply. Within a day the rat infestation was out of control. They covered the crates and stole the workmen’s lunches. Finally, cats were recruited from surrounding neighborhoods, but even then a group of virile rats will sometimes manage to kill a cat. That’s why the cats refuse to sleep at the market. Fearing that the rats would overrun them, they retire behind dumpsters in abandoned alleyways.

The first summer after purchasing the Riot, I began feeding Chester. Cats are punctual and Chester kept track of my schedule and knew my weakness for orange tabbies. As a boy, I’d had an orange tabby named Rambler who I kept until I began fishing commercially as a crew member on a factory ship. I moved out of my father’s bi-level in New Jersey and got an apartment in the city. I saw Rambler on the weekends and always remembered to bring home a bag of catnip with a side of fresh tuna from Friday’s catch.

There’s nothing more depressing than old age in animals. It seems somehow wrong that Rambler, my childhood confidant, should have graying fur, sagging skin and old blind eyes. Rambler became more quiet, and coughed in his sleep and on one December day, while I was in Ft. Lauderdale with friends, Rambler died alone on my parent’s living room floor. My parents kept him in the outdoor refrigerator where they stockpile meat for family barbeques until I returned from vacation. We buried him in the backyard in a small cardboard box I’d taken from the market.

Chester looked a lot like Rambler. He had yet to acquire the cagy, expressionless, haunted look of the other felines of the waterfront. His face was still so full of expression, and I swear that cat had an uncanny sense of time. He was so punctual that a day never passed when Rambler wasn’t awaiting my arrival. When I adjusted my schedule for the 4th of July holiday, I worked a makeup Saturday and was surprised to find that Chester knew not to await my arrival on weekends, knowing that I didn’t work on those days.

That August the cat population once again began to decline. Supervisors questioned all of the longshoremen, but no one admitted to laying down the poison. They contacted the local shelter to see if they had increased their pickup in the area and found that the pickup had also declined. By September the rats had infested the market again.

Chester was thriving and no longer needed my assistance to pull in his dinner. He still awaited my arrival and I always paused to let him rub against my boots. I often scratched him behind the eats as he proudly displayed the large carcass of the rat he’d caught that day. He’d already slit the vermin down the belly and eaten its liver, but he always waited for my arrival to finish off his prey. Occasionally, his dinner was still alive upon my arrival, but always very near death. The rat would squeal as Chester pressed his paw into its broken ribcage. He would tap the rat to ensure that it was still alive. After it cried out in pain, he would pounce on it, tossing it in the air before once again securing it to the ground with sturdy grip on its tail. Before leaving I always congratulated Chester with a celebratory belly rub.

Every day Chester’s catch grew larger, while my load decreased. The market was having trouble maintaining its dock service with its continued rat problem. Crate carries quit and discussion of relocating to Hunt’s Point had already begun among the longshoremen. Pressure was building to redevelop the area due to the Market’s desirable location, high real estate value, and increasing financial problems. Moreover, the market was cramped and lacked modern amenities. More and more men in great shiny suits walked the docks, discussing the site’s potential for retail and residential use. And every day there were more rats.

–Sure, the Bronx market is technologically advanced. It offers climate control. But there’s something nostalgic about an old open-air fish market. There’s some value in hauling my load onto a dock where commercial fishing has gone on for more than a century. I particularly miss the urban legends.

At the time, the rumor began to circulate that the rat problem wasn’t really a rat problem at all. Alligators, although not commonly found along the northeast Atlantic shore, had been sighted in sewers and rivers around throughout the city for decades. The cats could have been killed by gators, which preyed on the felines’ curious nature. Dock cats weren’t afraid of the water and would follow rats running through debris that floated at the water’s edge. Old oil drums floated upside down and discarded lumber was stacked recklessly against the barricades. Hundreds of plastic bottles and soda cans created a thick layer that would sustain a cat’s weight as it bounded after his prey. Some cats misjudged the thickness, and getting too close to the edge of the debris, fell into the bath—an easy meal. But that was just the beginning. Eventually, the gators learned to stalk cats that came near the waterfront, lying in wait in a location the cat was likely to traverse.

The only problem with this theory was that no one actually saw an alligator, no substantiated report of any large reptile with teeth, scales, and large, muscular tails. Not a single confirmed account. Still, somehow every log that fell into the water looked more and more reptilian. The city grew wary of the waterfronts. I began to worry for Chester. He had become the top cat, King of the Docks, proudly presenting me with freshly killed rats nearly equal to himself in size. But even Chester, like the others, might one day disappear. I didn’t know whether the alligator theory was a real possibility, but it was one possibility I could do something about.

My wife and I had been married five years and she wanted to have a baby. Lucy hated cats. She came from a family of dog lovers and animatedly refused to allow a litter box in the house. “Real pets do their business in the bushes,” she said. Until I’d met Chester, I hadn’t even considered asking Lucy if we could acquire a pet. But, now, the conversation seemed inevitable.

I asked Lucy if she wanted to go out to dinner on Friday night and she agreed. I put on the dress shirt and slacks I wore to church and made a reservation at an expensive-looking restaurant in Little Italy. Lucy bought a new dress and seemed anxious. I hadn’t been this nervous since I’d asked her to marry me. Just before the check came I paused, leaned forward and placed my hand on hers.

“I want to adopt a cat,” I muttered.

Lucy retracted and pulled her hand from underneath mine. Before I realized what was happening Lucy had slapped me across the face and left the table. Everyone in the room was looking in my direction. The sting of her fingers on my cheek continued to burn as I rushed to the matradee’s stand and offered him a wad of bills from my wallet. I didn’t bother to count the money and only later realized that I must have spent over $300 on that meal, certainly the most expensive dinner we had and will have eaten in this city.

I followed her to the parking garage. She was pressing herself against the passenger door. I had the keys.

“I thought you were going to ask me to have a baby!” she shouted into the empty garage.

I couldn’t respond. I was standing directly in front of her and yet she continued to shout. I unlocked the car door without saying a word and she climbed in. The silence continued all the way home. The next morning we woke up and without finishing our discussion we continued as if nothing had happened.

I left early that morning, eager to get out of the house. I arrived at the market and finished unloading my catch early as well. Chester wasn’t waiting in his usual spot.

“I’m early,” I told myself. “He’ll be here soon.”

I tied the boat up and seated myself on a crate. It was October and the sun had begun setting earlier. As the shadows lengthened dozens of fur clad, bulbous lumps scampered in the growing darkness.

Thirty minutes passed with no sign of Chester.

An hour.

I walked to the end of the dock and counted the logs that looked like alligators. There were three that had a mild resemblance.

“What are you still doing here?” a supervisor shouted from the landing.

“Have you seen Chester?” I asked.

“That orange cat you like so much?”

“Yeah.”

The man looked confused. He didn’t seem to understand why I cared.

“He’s inside. Cat got into a bit of trouble today. Go check the locker room.”

I wanted to run, but hesitated while the supervisor was watching. My feet were light and I struggled to lay down heavy, slow steps. I swung the door to the locker room open, but didn’t see Chester. I stepped between two wooden benches and walked to the end of a row of lockers. At my feet was a small cardboard box, not unlike the box I’d used to bury Rambler.

I was devastated. I loathed the idea of looking inside. I sat down on the end of one of the benches and moved closer, pressing my ear against the cardboard. I quieted myself. The room was noiseless except for the hum of a distant motor. If Chester was alive I should be able to hear him rustling inside.

Finally, I gained the courage to peel back the cardboard and look inside. Chester looked up at me with a pleased grin as if to say, “You found me!” nestled in a tangle of shop rags and old towels. I reached inside so that I could give him a proper greeting. I pulled the towel away. It was stained with blood.

Despite the injury, Chester quickly popped up to say hello. I rubbed his head and neck and counted his legs—four—he still had four legs. And as I ran my fingers down his back he turned so that I could rub the crest of his spine. Then I noticed the damage. Chester’s tail was gone!

That was all the proof I needed. The Fulton fish market was overrun with alligators and Chester was coming home with me. I tucked him into the cardboard box and safely stowed it below deck.

That night, at Lucy’s suggestion, I slept on the couch with Chester. My punishment didn’t last long, as Lucy was soon pregnant. We had a baby girl in July.

END OF INTERVIEW

Photos of Incident Location:

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Photo of “Riot Ready” Commercial Fishing Vessel:

Fishing Boats

Photo of Sewergator Victim: Chester (Missing Tail Not Shown)

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First Dive

April 28, 2009

Sewergator?

Sewergator?

Clearly Ms. Coventry and her lawyer Louis had seen something unusual—or had they? The dog could have simply gotten caught in some underwater muck and drowned. Typically, alligators live in the south eastern portion of the United States, in the lagoons and swamps. They are usually between 6 and 14 feet. Crocodiles, on the other hand, are not native to the US. It is for this reason that I knew we were searching for an alligator. I still had many questions though: was this one isolated case? Or was there a colony of alligators just below the city’s surface? Smaller alligators tend to live in large groups. Unfortunately, neither Ms. Coventry nor her lawyer were able to see how large the animal was because it was partly submerged.

The Diving Saucer

The Diving Saucer

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, located between 86th and 96th streets, can certainly sustain a population of large reptiles. According to Central Park’s official website, the reservoir, “covers a full one eight of the park’s surface. The 106-acre water body is 40 feet deep and holds over a billion gallons of water,” (http://www.centralpark.com/pages/attractions/reservoir.html). Until 1991, the reservoir was an integral portion of the fresh water supply in the city. Since then though, it has been largely converted into an aesthetic attraction and this has allowed the park’s wildlife to live there in peace. Though not able to utilize Calypso, my ship, in the reservoir, I decided to investigate this incident with my crew using the Diving Saucer. The Saucer can dive as far as 350 meters (equal to approximately 1,150 feet) and can stay underwater for up to five hours (http://www.cousteau.org/technology/diving-saucer). This tool would be perfectly suited to an exploration of the vast reservoir.

Taking a member of my crew with me, the Diving Saucer was transported to New York and prepared for the dive ahead. Alligators are nocturnal, and so I thought that we would descend in the manner of an alligator, at night, in order to catch a glimpse. When we finally descended beneath the dark, still waters of the reservoir, I kept the Diving Saucer’s lights dimmed. I did not want to frighten any creatures, especially this alligator. We viewed the magnificent wildlife that calls the reservoir their home, but still we did not see any sign of the alligator.

As it does every morning, the sun began to rise at about 5:30. My crew members and I had scanned the waters from above and below the surface, but we had not seen an alligator or, for that matter, any unusual or large creature. Though beautiful and majestic, the small fish and birds native to the reservoir were not what we had come in search for. I felt disappointed, but I was not discouraged. We had set out two weeks after the incident relayed by Ms. Coventry. By now, the alligator could have easily wandered over land to another body of water in the park, or could have entered one of the many abandoned sewer tunnels leading into the heart of the city.

I needed more interviews, more information. The reports of a “sewergator” were numerous, but many dated back many, many years. The alligator of the 1935 reports would not be alive today. If the reports have any truth to them, that alligator(s) would have left descendants; Pollock’s could have been one of those descendants. In the wild, alligators can live from 35 to 50 years and they reach sexual maturity at about 10 to 12 years of age. That means that there is a possibility that seven generations of gators have been born since the original sewergater, five of which could still be swimming in the depths, and every generation increasingly adapted to their adopted environment. I absolutely had to find this hidden habitat.

The Alligator People _1959_

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

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Film Trailer:

Pop Culture

April 24, 2009

The Simpsons, Episode 80 – Marge in Chains

May 6, 1993

Bart: We flushed the gator down the toilet, but it got stuck halfway, and now we have to feed it.

Grandpa Simpson: I’ll bet you want a piece of me! Well, you ain’t gonna get it, see!

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“Alligators were introduced to New York City’s subway system in the 1800s to combat the rat problem. The alligators eat the rats and all is well, except that the city regularly needs to pump out the alligator’s waste. This is one of the special trucks.”

From: http://www.kenrockwell.com

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“Alligators in the sewers form one of the most enduring and endearing urban legends known. Sadly, today’s sewergators are threatened by a diminishing supply of the gullibility so crucial to their survival. In response to this crisis, Sewergator Enterprises has joined forces with renowned folklorists to establish a refuge on the Internet, the only place in the world still capable of meeting the special needs of the sewergator population. Here, with your help, the subterranean saurians can flourish as never before.”

See: http://sewergator.com

Hello!  My name is Jacques-Yves Cousteau.

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I am a French naval officer, explorer, ecologist, filmmaker, innovator, scientist, photographer, author and researcher who studies the sea and all forms of life in water.

I recently read Robert Daley’s fascinating excursion under the sidewalks of New York, “The World Beneath the City” (1959).  Daley was born and educated in New York City and prior to becoming novelist, served as Deputy Commissioner of the New York City Police Department (NYPD).  One chapter, in particular, “Alligators in the Sewers” (pp. 187-194) was of particular interest to me.  I will recount this information as follows:

Robert Daley's "The World Beneath the City" (1959)

Robert Daley's "The World Beneath the City" (1959)

ALLIGATORS, small boys and at least one horse have accidentally swum in the sewers of New York.  The boys and the horse seem not to have enjoyed the experience, but the alligators throve on it.

Sewer inspectors first reported seeing alligators about 1935, Teddy May being Superintendent at the time.  Neither May nor anyone else believed them.

“I says to myself,” May recalled, “them guys been drinking in there.’  He refused to approve reports mentioning alligators.  Instead, he set me to watch the sewer walkers to find out how they were obtaining whiskey down in the pipes, and where they hid it when off duty.

Before long Teddy’s checkers reported that there ways no evidence of clandestine booze below decks, but that inspectors were still claiming narrow escapes from alligators.

“I’ll go down there and prove to youse guys that there ain’t no alligators in my sewers,” rasped Teddy.

A chastened Teddy May returned to his office a few hours later.  Had he been a drinking man, he would have poured himself a stiff one.  He sat at this desk screwing his fists into his eyes, trying to forget the sight of alligators serenely paddling around 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.

Teddy could not comprehend how they had got there and, though he wouldn’t admit it, he did not know how to get rid of them.

Various sewer inspectors advanced their own theories about the origin of the anachronistic reptiles.  The most plausible was this: During those years painted turtles had become a fad among youngsters, and nearly every boy or girl had a bowl or tank in their house containing a “collection.”

Because turtles sold so well, dealers began to import their distant cousins, lizards, salamanders and even alligators, riding the fad for all it was worth.  Now turtles, lizards and salamanders do not grow much and, handled roughly by children, die rather easily.  But the recently hatched alligators, shipped up from Florida in tiny perforated boxes, grew and grew and grew until the bowls and tanks which contained them were too small.  At Junior’s insistence, the residence of the friendly ‘gator was thereupon transferred to the family bathtub, only the gator wasn’t too friendly any more and Dad had grown extremely nervous about lifting him out every time anyone wanted to bathe.  Also, those were depression times and the voracious appetites of the beasts became a bit nerveracking too.

As the days passed, Father grew madder and madder.  Junior’s tears would not be able to save his pet much longer.

Finally the breaking point came.  Either the alligator went, or Father went.

Having reached this decision, a new problem arose.  How does one kill a two-foot alligator–you can’t stuff a live one in a garbage can.  Various ways were considered and, in most cases, discarded.  Poison was difficult to obtain, expensive, and a risk with children in the house.  Besides, who would hold Junior while a wad of strychnine was rammed down the throat of his “friend.”

No one wanted to use a knife on the beast.  Merely to touch it was repulsive to most parents, who hardly relished the prospect of sawing through that armor.

So parents adopted the easiest way.  One night after Junior was in bed, Father rushed into the bathroom, grabbed the alligator by the tail and, teeth bared insanely now, darted out into the street, straight for the corner sewer.  His strength increased tenfold by the emotion of the moment, Dad dug two fingers under the manhole cover and whipped it aside.  With a plop, the alligator disappeared.

Dad’s feeling of release, as he walked back to the house, was ecstatic.  He hated alligator, so he thought, was gone forever.

Within a day or two of admitting that there really were alligators in the sewers, Teddy May was able to face the problem of eliminating them.

A few months later they were gone.  Some succumbed to rat poison.  Others were harassed by sewer inspectors into swimming into the trunk mains, where the Niagara-like current washed them out to sea.  Some were drowned when blockages filled their secluded pipes with backwash–to the very top.  And a few were hunted down by inspectors with .22 rifles and pistols–not as part of the job, but for sport–possibly the most unusual hunting on earth, a veritable sewer safari.

… I, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, will begin my search for the surviving sewergators.  Please join me on this journey beneath the city of New York.