The Tales Of Two Gators

With his L.A. Zoo debut yesterday getting coverage all over the world, the spotlight is blazing on “Reggie,” the American alligator who made the best of being illegally dumped in Harbor City’s Lake Machado by spending the better part of two years being elusive to any and all who attempted to wrangle the reported recluse.

Personally being a boundlessly optimistic conspiracy theorist I think the gator on display at the zoo is a substitute for the real Reggie who long ago got the hell out of Lake Machado by negotiating surface streets and storm drains first to the Dominguez Channel and then around the harbor’s back basins where he’s now about 17 feet long and living large and in charge at the mouth of the L.A. River inside Queensway Bay. It so could happen.

But regardless of who I delusionally think this newest addition to the zoo might or might not be he isn’t the only gator in the place and certainly the events leading to the arrival of the zoo’s first male Alligator mississippiensis almost 40 years ago — reportedly involving a presidential candidate and a showdown with police surrounding the beast at at South Los Angeles intersection* — makes Reggie’s hiding and hibernating pale in comparison.

*As published in the Spring 2000 issue
of the Zoo’s member magazine “Zoo View.”

It all began in 1957 when a Florence woman named Aida McCormick received a young alligator as a gift. Naming it Oscar she tasked her grandson Joseph with the creature’s caring and feeding and as he grew he was given free range over the backyard where there was a pond, and allowed to hibernate beneath the house.

There had been occasions over the years when Oscar had gotten out, but none more fateful than the day in 1968 when the six-foot-long reptile exited the backyard through a gate that had been accidentally left open, moving east along 75th Street to Compton Avenue where it just so happened that Bobby Kennedy was nearby giving a speech during his run for the Democratic presidential nomination. After an LAPD officer was notified the large creature’s approach it was only a few moments before Oscar was circled by gun-wielding police officers and Secret Service agents.

In the subsequent edgy stand-off some children ran to McCormick’s house, alerting her that Oscar was about to be shot and she responded by jumping into her car and driving to the corner where, according to her grandson, she scolded Oscar for being a bad boy and told him to go home, which he turned around and did.

methu.jpgA happy ending? Maybe, but If McCormick had already begun having doubts about continuing to keep an alligator on her property, that incident sealed the deal and near the end of that year she and Joseph packed Oscar into her 1958 Chevy station wagon and brought him to the zoo where he was accepted with none of the fanfare that greeted Reggie and ultimately renamed “Methuselah.”

I’m pretty sure that Methuselah, who’s 50 this year, doesn’t qive a quail’s behind about all the attention the young gator’s getting. But should you happen to venture to the L.A. Zoo because of that shinybright spotlight, be sure to stop by and say hey to the grand old guy, pictured above. Even if the glare and gun barrels are long off him he’s still a worthy sight to behold.

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