08 October 2021

Alligator in the Sewer!

Composite image showing an alligator at the
Salt Lake Hot Springs Sanitarium.
Image of Sanitarium from UDSH.
Alligator stock image from Adobe.
About 1900 a rumor emerged of an alligator living in the SLC sewers.

The Salt Lake Hot Spring Sanitarium was a bathhouse, swimming pool, and spa that used hot spring water piped from Beck’s Hot Spring. 

The building is now demolished but it was located at 52 W 300 South, which is now the site of the Broadway Media building.

(Read my previous posts about the history of the Sanitarium building and the post about a racial discrimination lawsuit involving the Sanitarium). 

In April 1902, a young man from the telephone company was sent to fix the phone lines in the basement of the Sanitarium. He was deep the back of the dimly lit basement near a long tunnel that encased the water lines connecting the Sanitarium with Beck’s Hot Spring, about 2 miles away.

He suddenly heard a curious sound and caught a glimpse of a monstrous animal scurrying back into the tunnel. The man’s hair stood up in affright and he immediately scrambled out of the basement.

The animal turned out to be an alligator named Jim that had been living in the Sanitarium’s basement and water system for the past 2 years. Jim was originally part of an exhibition of 3 juvenile alligators in the front window of the Sanitarium in 1899.

Once the alligators became too large (and no longer cute) they were disposed of; one was killed, and another was sold to the University of Utah's Biology Dept (this one died 4 months later; supposedly its brain and skin were preserved).

The story told to reporters was that Jim was found to be listless and supposedly dead, so he was thrown into the basement of the Sanitarium. The management denied any knowledge that Jim was alive and blamed its employees who left lunch scraps in the basement and who must have unknowingly kept the gator alive.

A more plausible explanation is that the Sanitarium employees knew all about Jim and kept him as their secret pet until exposed by the unsuspecting telephone employee.

Regardless of how Jim became a resident of the basement and water systems of the Sanitarium, it is unknown what happened to him after he was found out. Supposedly the management of the Sanitarium organized a posse to search out the alligator and finally dispose of him.

Of Note:
As it turns out, finding alligators in Utah is not as rare as I thought. Juvenile alligators were found in SLC in 1955 and 1956. A 2 ft long alligator was found in the Jordan River in 2003. A 3ft alligator was found in Grandpa’s Pond just outside of Hurricane in 2008. All of these were likely pets that were released by their owners. It is now illegal for a private individual to process an alligator in Utah.

Ogden Standard Examiner 1895-08-27; SL Herald Republican 1900-03-12; SL Trib 1902-04-19; Des News 1955-08-20; KSL.com 2003-07-17; Daily Herald 2008-07-28

Officer W.A. Stround and Ronald Parry
with a baby alligator, 1955 (From UDSH).

No comments:

Post a Comment