Stories from DEP is a collection of feature articles
published in DEP's internal newsletter, Weekly Pipeline.
This article was originally published February 16, 2010.
It’s Official – the Legend Lives...
The Story that Started it All Celebrates 75 Years and Counting
One of New York City’s most popular urban myths – that alligators live in New York City’s sewers – celebrated a milestone last week when Deputy Commissioner for Wastewater Treatment Vinny Sapienza joined Brian Andersson, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Records and Information, Manhattan Borough Historian Mike Miscione, and a representative from Borough President Scott Stringer to mark the 75th anniversary of the day in February 1935 when a group of young men in East Harlem came across a live alligator while shoveling the remnants of a heavy snowfall into a manhole near East 123rd Street. According to the story that ran in the New York Times (and gave it instant and enduring credibility) the men “discovered a live alligator weighing 125 pounds measuring eight feet long.” Staring down into the manhole, the group saw the frightened creature wiggle around, as it looked for a way to escape. In an attempt to remove the alligator from the sewer, the group went to a local store, got their hands on clothes-line, formed a slip knot, lowered it into the manhole, and successfully pulled the reptile out to the surface. You can read the entire account here or watch it on Youtube.
Since then, the Times has occasionally revisited the story, most recently in November 2009 Deputy Commissioner Sapienza attempted to discredit the legend with facts: the City’s sewers are not alligator-friendly and it is unlikely that alligators would choose to live in NYC sewers, and the likelihood of a similar incident recurring (if it ever happened in the first place) is slim to none. But don’t expect this to be the end of the (sewer) line for one of the most enduring bits of Gotham lore; we’ll make sure to send an agency-wide invite to the 80th anniversary. In the meantime, for those who remain steadfast believers, there are two sites maintained by Sewer Gators. One has over 20 stories nationwide of alligators in the sewers and the other has links to sewer sites on the web.