Throughout the world are countless cases of unidentified, out of place, or just plain weird mystery creatures, commonly called cryptids. Ranging from lake monsters like Nessie to the likes of Bigfoot, they are the denizens of the wilds beyond our understanding, evading classification. Among these mystery monsters are the various strange creatures that seem to be very much crocodilian in nature, and which may be undiscovered species or even something more mysterious altogether.
One of the most enduring and well-known cases of mysterious alligator cryptids are the stories of alligators roaming New York City’s sewer systems. Accounts of alligators lurking under New York’s streets date back to the 1930s, when it is said to have been popular for families to buy baby alligators as pets. The story typically goes that when the alligators got too big to be properly cared for, they were flushed down the toilet or otherwise released into the sewer system, where they survived on a diet of rats, garbage, or anything else they could get their teeth into. Over the years various frightening reports surfaced of sewer workers coming across alligators lurking in the city’s sewers. Sometimes the reports were embellished with details such as albino alligators or alligators that had somehow reached freakish sizes larger than normal. There were even stories of alleged mutant alligators that had developed abnormal coloring or other physical anomalies.
In 1959, a curious account was reported in the book The World Beneath the City, by Robert Daley, which is a history of the development of utilities in New York City. One chapter of the book is entitled “Alligators in the Sewers,” and stems from a series of interviews conducted with long time Commissioner of Sewers in New York, Teddy May. In the account, May explained that alligators had been sighted in the sewers since 1935 by sewer workers, but no one took such reports seriously at first. When the sightings continued and started truly spooking utilities workers, May personally ventured into the sewers. It was there that May was startled to come across alligators with an average length of 2 feet. Seeing that the stories were indeed true, a campaign was launched to eradicate the animals with poisoning, as well as flushing the alligators out to be shot by gun toting hunters. In the account, May claimed that all of the sewer alligators had been wiped out by 1937.
Cryptozoologist Loren Coleman, who has done extensive research on the history of alligators in New York’s sewers, has uncovered many historical articles outlining actual alligators being found, captured, or killed in the sewers of New York, particularly during the 1930s. The results of his findings have the historical significance of establishing a link with the supposed urban legend of alligators in the sewers and real historical cases of alligators being killed and even officially hunted down there. The results of Coleman’s findings were published as Alligators-in-the-Sewers: A Journalistic Vehicle, in the Journal of American Folklore, September-October 1979.
One intriguing article that Coleman uncovered was a story that originally appeared in The New York Times on Feb. 10, 1935. The article describes how several youths who were shoveling snow into a manhole cover near Harlem River came across an alligator measuring 7 to 8 feet long thrashing about in the icy water below. The teens, led by a Salvatore Condoluci, proceeded to capture and kill the animal. Many years later when interviewed about the incident, Conduluci insisted that the event was true and factual. Articles such as these uncovered by Loren Coleman, as well as the accounts outlined in Daley’s book, clearly are at odds with the current official stance that alligators in the sewers of New York have always been pure urban legend. It seems through these accounts that the knee jerk response of alligators in New York’s sewers being merely a myth are glossing over some of the history of alligators in fact being found there.
Many modern day reports seem to further point to the reality of alligators in the sewers. On July 22, 2013, a live 8-foot-long alligator was pulled from a sewer near Central Park. The alligator had allegedly long been preying on dogs, which prompted a hunt for it culminating in its capture. The alligator was killed, and an analysis of its stomach contents revealed the remains of at least two dogs, some rats, and a wristwatch fortunately with no hand still attached to it. In 2010, an alligator measuring 2 feet long was found under a car near a sewer opening at Newton Avenue and 29th Street, in the heart of Queens, New York. Surrounded by startled onlookers, an Emergency Service Unit used a long pole and a noose to corral the creature into a cage and capture it. The animal was handed over to City Animal Care & Control officers, who sent it to a wildlife sanctuary. In a perhaps ominous addition to the story, in the wake of the baby alligator’s capture, Animal Care and Control spokesman Richard Gentles stated that between two to four alligators or crocodiles are rescued in the city by his agency every year. It is not known how many of those statistical alligators were recovered from sewers. It seems clear that regardless of whether dramatic reports of giant, mutant albino alligators existing under the streets are true or not, there certainly seems to be some truth to the idea that at least regular alligators can indeed be found in New York City’s sewers.
Moving along we come to other enigmatic alligator-like monsters. Deep in the dense, stagnant swamps along the border between Alabama and Florida a curious story began circulating among the locals in around the 1920s, and was first officially recorded by the University of Alabama professor Carl Carmer when he visited the area in order to write his 1934 travelogue Stars Fell on Alabama. During his visit, locals told Carmer of a vicious alligator measuring 4.5 meters (nearly 15 feet) long, which had emerged from the swamps to wreak havoc on the community, and while alligators were a fact of life in this area, nothing was like the enormous beast that allegedly appeared out of the muddy murk to begin terrorizing the area from seemingly nowhere. Contrary to normal alligators, which are shy and mostly avoid humans, the lore is that this particular massive alligator had begun to aggressively haunt the swamps near Florala, Alabama, actively and fearlessly attacking dogs, cattle, mules, horses, and even people, but it seemed that in addition to its unusual size this was no ordinary alligator. It was said that the creature possessed fiery red glowing eyes and was immensely powerful, able to easily rend large prey to pieces with its jaws, and its tail was claimed to be able to flip over a full grown horse with one lash. One of the beastly alligator’s feet had allegedly been partially shorn off by a steel trap at some point, giving it a distinctive two-toed track and leading to its nickname “Two-Toed Tom.”
As attacks spread to other areas and became more frequent, rumors began to spread that the alligator was not an ordinary animal at all, but rather a malevolent demon from Hell, and his allegedly sinister exploits grew from attacking livestock and humans to hunting down and raping women it found out in the swamp by themselves. As such stories spread, so did the terror they invoked, and those who wandered into the wilderness or near the water were very wary of the telltale two-toed footprints in the muck, and red eyes glowing in the evening gloom. Locals in the areas where the monster was said to lurk were said to have begun to take matters into their own hands, waging a war against the demon gator. A hefty bounty was supposedly offered for Two-Toed Tom, and hunters scouring the swamp supposedly often shot the beast but it was unfazed, laid steel traps which it managed to mostly avoid, and it proved to be very good at eluding those who would kill it while at the same time continuing its bloody rampage. For nearly 20 years it was said that the mysterious gator was actively hunted, even as it mercilessly stalked the swamps for more victims, yet it always managed to get away or shrug off all efforts to harm it.
Perhaps the most well-known incident during this raging battle against the monstrous Two-Toed Tom is the account of a farmer named Pap Haines, who raised livestock on 40 acres of land he had purchased from a lumber company. Although he had been assured that the tales of the monster alligator were just scary folklore, Haines allegedly one day found one of his mules ripped apart and two-toed tracks trailing blood and viscera down to a nearby pond. Speculating that the beast was probably still wallowing in the pond digesting its meal, the infuriated Haines then set about destroying it once and for all. With the help of his sons, Haines filled up 15 syrup buckets with sticks of dynamite and began tossing them into the pond 3 at a time, perhaps not overkill considering the creature’s legendary toughness. The loads of dynamite resulted in a spectacular explosion that sent plumes of water, mud, vegetation, and shattered trees high into the air, completely devastating the pond and leaving very little chance for anything to have survived.
Satisfied that Two-Toed Tom would soon be “floating belly up,” everyone present got quite a shock when, just moments after the massive eruption of water and flying debris, there were screams accompanied by a riotous thrashing of water coming from another nearby pond. Knowing what this undoubtedly meant, a grim Haines went to go finish what he’d started, along with his sons and a posse of 8 armed local men. When the men arrived, they were greeted by the glinting red eyes of Two-Toed Tom sinking under bloodied water still frothing from all of the splashing about. It soon became apparent where all of the blood had come from, as the badly mauled, ripped apart corpse of Haines’ 12-year-old granddaughter was reportedly laying nearby. It was later surmised that she had been on her way to the other pond to see what all of the explosions were about when she had come across the vengeful demon alligator, perhaps none too happy about the explosive efforts to exterminate it. The heartbroken, furious Haines would allegedly spend the rest of his days caught up in an obsessive quest to kill the beast, and it is said that even when hard times hit the community and his friends and family were moving away to make a living, Haines refused to budge, instead intent on remaining where he was in order to complete his vendetta to slay Two-Toed Tom. He would die a lonely old man without ever having gained the vengeance he sought.
One of the reasons that Haines may not have been able to ultimately kill the enormous alligator could be because it is said that shortly after the dynamite attack, Two-Toed Tom apparently went on the move, crossing the state line into Florida to continue his marauding slaughter of cattle and people. Two-Toed Tom began to actively prowl the waterways of Choctawhatchee River and Holmes Creek swamps of Holmes, Walton and Washington Counties, as well as Sand Hammock Lake in the town of Esto, in Holmes County, where he was often seen wallowing about or basking on shore, and it was said that his groaning bellows could often be heard reverberating through the night. The alligator was often said to let out a terrifying grunting roar in response to the whistle signaling shift changes at the Alabama-Florida Lumber Co., and his shining red eyes and two-toed tracks became a common sight in these areas. It was reported that Tom drove out all of the other alligators in the areas he frequented, and that the corpses of slaughtered cattle, as well as dogs, missing chickens, and other farm animals were common. Interestingly, sightings of Tom at this time tended to make him out to be much larger than he had ever been depicted before, and one group of boys who spied him basking on a sandy shore described the beastly gator as being from 5.5 to 7.3 meters (18 to 24 feet) long. Again, efforts to shoot Tom proved futile, and it was reported that the creature was impervious to bullets.
One particularly dramatic encounter that occurred during this period happened when a young girl was walking with her mother along a sandy path near Sand Hammock Lake. The girl went ahead to play and was surprised to hear her mother let out a sharp, panicked scream. When the girl turned to see what was going on, she was met with the sight of the monstrous alligator lunging out from the brush onto the path they were on. Two-Toed Tom then allegedly reared up on its hind legs and let loose with a bloodcurdling roar which, along with the screams of the girl and her mother, attracted the attention of some nearby local men. The men reportedly came running to the scene, with one of them armed with a high-powered rifle. A few rounds were fired at the beast and it fell still, seemingly dead, yet when the men gathered around it to inspect the corpse, Tom jumped to life and allegedly swept them all off their feet with a mighty lash of its tail before scurrying off into the swamp.
After years of terrorizing the swamps, rivers, and lakes of the region, Two-Toed Tom started to be seen less and less, until he apparently just sort of disappeared. The tales of the giant alligator were very much still alive, though, and he became a prominent legend in the area. Then, in the 1980s, a giant alligator path was found scrawled across a muddy sandbar on Boynton Island on the Choctawahtchee, which suggested a specimen of enormous size. When the tracks of the alligator were examined, it was found that one of the feet had only two toes, once again propelling Tom into the limelight and igniting talk that the killer gator was still alive and well. Despite the fact that Tom would have been coming along in years by that time, sightings reports of the legendary beast started coming in again, and several hunts were organized to try and track the creature down without success. There was much speculation about what had happened to Tom in the previous years, with talk that he had merely gone into hiding in the remote areas of the swamp. To this day there are those who claim Two-Toed Tom is still out there prowling the swamps of Northwest Florida and Southeast Alabama, with the occasional sighting still made, and the alligator is a major fixture of local folklore. There is even a Two-Toed Tom Festival held every summer in the town of Esto, Florida.
Was Two-Toed Tom ever real, or is this all pure folklore and eerie campfire stories? If it is based in factual events, how much of the tale has been exaggerated and how much is true? We may never know for sure the answers to these questions, but it seems to be an interesting case that illuminates how legends of strange creatures can take off, weaving around themselves ever expanding tales that make the line between reality and fantasy blurred and uncertain, as well as the possibility that such tales potentially have their roots in real animals. Where does myth end and reality begin? More than just being considered flights of fancy, perhaps such stories are worth further analysis, maybe offering insights that can be revealed if we just dig deep enough and make the line between the real and fantastical clearer and more defined. Who knows? Maybe Two-Toed Tom is lurking out there after all, more than just a dark tale, coiled in the gloom ready to pounce, his malevolent gaze piercing the swamp night.
Another cryptid gator with ties strongly to myth and folklore is a giant amphibious creature long reported particularly from around Lake Okeechobee, Florida. Called the Snoligoster, it is said to be an enormous alligator-like creature with a thickly muscled tail with propeller-like blades on the end, a long bony spine on its back, and is often described as having scraggly hair up and down its body and as lacking any legs. They are said to lie in wait in shallow water of cypress swamps for unsuspecting prey, which they will then either stun with their tail, throw onto their back spike, or just clamp down upon with their formidable jaws. It is known to store uneaten carcasses upon its spike in a grisly display, and tends to prefer clubbing the bodies into a bloody pulp before eating them.
Woodsmen and travelers throughout the ages have long come back with spectacular tales of coming across the Snoligoster in the swamps, insisting that it is a real creature. One curious historical account involves a man named Inman F. Eldredge, of De Funiak Springs, Flordia, who was on the hunt for a slave who had escaped into the swamp. He apparently came across the body of the slave lying face down, which he at first took to be impaled upon a branch of a toppled tree in the water. It was only when the massive “tree” began to swim off into the murk that he realized that this was some sort of gargantuan crocodilian monster with the slave skewered upon a single, wicked looking back spine.
Other crocodilian cryptids seem to be more along the lines of a classic lake monster. One of the more well known strange beasts of Utah is what has come to be called the Bear Lake Monster. Bear Lake itself is located on the Utah-Idaho border just northeast of Salt Lake City, and is a popular destination for people looking to enjoy the lake’s many outdoor activities such as boating, fishing, and the taking in the rather breathtaking azure, turquoise coloration of its waters, which have earned it the nickname “The Caribbean of the Rockies.” It is a locale of stunning natural vistas to be sure, but it is also purportedly the home of a large, mysterious water monster very much like some sort of prehistoric dinosaur.
Tales of a monster in Bear Lake go back to at least the early 1800s, and the creature was apparently often seen by early Mormon colonists cavorting about in the water near shore, which has most commonly been reported as being a cream-colored serpentine creature around 30 feet in length, with a wide, alligator-like head, short, squat legs, and a powerful tail. At times the creature was said to come ashore for brief periods to roam about, and it was also occasionally reported as spewing water as if through an air hole. The creature was also known to the Native Shoshone people of the region, who called it the “water devil” and regarded it as a malicious, evil entity to be avoided at all costs. The monster was said to not be shy about dining on unwary animals or even humans that came to close to the shore or went swimming in the lake’s inviting waters, and was mostly reported as quite aggressive indeed. The Shoshone often claimed that the beast’s favorite thing to eat was the various bison of the area at the time.
Sightings were supposedly made of the creature well into the late 1800s, with some notable reports by early pioneers to the region. The creature was seen in 1860 by the sons of a Marion Thomas and Phineas Cook, as they were out on their boat fishing. The massive creature in this case came dangerously close to the small boat and the two witnesses were terrified that it might actually capsize them. In 1871, two men named Milando Pratt and Thomas Rich saw the bizarre creature and claimed to have hit it with shots fired from their rifles, but that the bullets had had no noticeable effect. A few years later, in 1874, a wagon train captain named William Budge saw the monster around 20 yards from shore and would describe the encounter thus:
Its face and part of its head were distinctly seen, covered with fur, or short hair of a light snuff color. It was flat-faced, with very full large eyes, prominent ears, and a neck of about four to five feet in length.
This particular sighting gained a lot of publicity at the time, as it had been related personally to none other than Brigham Young himself, who many may know as one of the early Mormon pioneers and leaders of the Latter Day Saint Movement, as well as the 2nd President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Indeed, after the sighting Young himself supposedly made arrangements to catch the creature by linking a 300 foot long length of rope to the shore and topping it with thick cable and a massive barbed hook baited with mutton, which was then suspended in the water with a buoy. Although on every attempt the bait was stripped away by something, the creature was not caught. Around this time, a local rancher claimed that something had taken 20 of his sheep from their grazing grounds near the shore of the lake.
The creature would become a sensation in the media, appearing in a variety of newspapers such as the Deseret News and The Salt Lake Tribune, among others, but the furor faded somewhat when one of the first journalists to report on the creature, a Joseph C. Rich, claimed that his original story in an 1868 article had been an elaborate hoax. Nevertheless, sightings continued on into the 1900s. In 1907, two men rather dramatically claimed to have seen the monster come crashing into their camp to kill and drag away one of their horses, and there were other sightings as well this year. It was seen again in 1946 by a Boy Scout Scoutmaster and was seen as recently as 2002 by local business owner Brian Hirschi. Whether it ever really existed or not, The Bear Lake Monster has certainly become part of the area’s lore and legends, and has interestingly become a sort of tourist attraction.
Similarly there is a lake monster in Nebraska’s Alkali Lake, now popularly called Walgren Lake, that is said to more or less look like an oversized, 40-foot-long horned crocodile of some sort. Reports of the monster began coming in from 1921, and perhaps the most famous sighting was made in 1923, when witness J.A. Johnson was with two friends at the lake shore when they spotted a large creature with rough grayish skin that looked very much like an alligator with a rhinoceros horn atop its head. After a moment of observing the odd creature it apparently thrashed its mighty tail and disappeared under the waves. Considering that sightings quickly petered out and it has not been seen again in modern times, despite all of the recreation seekers at the area, it is thought that the Alkali Lake monster is either gone or was a complete hoax from the beginning.
Here we have looked at a mere selection of some of the very odd crocodilian monsters and demon gators said to prowl the waters of North America, and which could fall into a whole range of categories. Are these just myths and folklore? Are they mysterious undiscovered species? Are they something more demonic or supernatural in nature? Or are they merely hoaxes and trickery? It is hard to lean into any one answer too heavily considering the variety of cases we have seen here, but no matter what one may think they are all intriguing accounts nevertheless, and a category of strange creatures all their own.