Monday, August 20, 2012

Ghost Zoo--Alligator Pool El Paso, Texas

 Trish Long
Tales From The Morgue

There are many accounts of how alligators came to El Paso's San Jacinto Plaza, also known to generations of El Pasoans as Plaza de los Lagartos.
One tale credits J. Fisher Satterthwaite with bringing them from New Orleans in 1883. Another story says A. Munsenberger, El Paso mining man, received some alligators in a cigar box as a gag from a friend in the summer of 1888. According to another, Ferdinand Gemoets, who opened the Belgian Bakery in 1885, went to New Orleans on vacation and sent some alligators back to his daughter.
All the stories have one thing in common - the alligators were donated to the city for San Jacinto Plaza pool.
The plaza pool was completed in 1887 so the story that seemed most plausible to me was that A. Musenberger donated them to the city in the summer of 1888.
According to the Times archives, there was a lot of activity in the plaza during the summer of 1888. Sam Ecker was named Park Commissioner, a lawnmower and benches were purchased, street lights and a fountain were added and Bermuda grass was planted. There was no mention of alligators.
The March 9, 1889, edition reported Ecker's progress in preparing the plaza for the spring: "The fountain reservoir is filled with clear, limpid water, into which Mr. Ecker is intending to place a quantity of young fish; also to give further appearance of the tropics, a friend expects to send him a young live alligator to slash around and occasionally take in a bad boy." ) 'Folks now object to snakes being given live prey such as rats and rabbits.  Times sure change.' )

Then four months later, July 31, 1889, there was this mention of Thomas Ennis, superintendent of the Street Car Company: "Quite a crowd gathered around the plaza pool yesterday to watch Superintendent Ennis' young alligator disport himself in foreign waters."
After the arrival of that first alligator, the city was the recipient of other donations throughout the years to include Jack and Jill, a pair of alligators who did arrive in a cigar box, according to a
Sept. 1, 1953, article: "Mrs.
Myrtle Price, who bought the alligators a few days after they were hatched seven year ago, finally admitted that her pets were more than she could handle.
"When her four alligators were sent from Louisiana by mail, in 1946, they arrived in a cigar box. Two died before Mrs. Price could learn that you had to force-feed them until they learned how to help themselves - jam food in their mouths and then hold them under water until they swallow.

A Sept. 24, 1965, Times article told of some of the mistreatment of the gators: "Many passerby have halted to look at a lounging alligator. Seeing it so peaceful, these citizens have thrown small rocks, mud clumps, coins and even lighted cigarettes to get a reaction from the animal."
There was also a 1953 incident in which pranksters took an alligator named Oscar out of the plaza pool and put him in a professor's office at Texas Western College. Four months later, Oscar was again snatched from the pool, but he was thrown back in before police arrived. Oscar was found dead in the pool soon after.
In 1965, two soldiers were arrested for throwing rocks at the alligators.
An alligator named Chama died immediately, and another, Zal, died a short time later.
The alligators were moved to Washington Park Zoo in late 1965.
They were brought back to the plaza in 1972 and were surrounded by clear plastic shielding. They went back to the zoo in 1974. Humpy, the last of the plaza alligators, died at the zoo in the mid-1990s.
"Los Lagartos," a fiberglass sculpture by artist Luis Jimenez, was installed in the plaza in 1995 to commemorate the alligators that once lived there.

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