Later, Gator

A reptilian stowaway from Florida gets a very harsh welcome

100 years ago

The alligators that for the first half of the 20th century lolled exotically in the marble pools in Richmond’s Jefferson Hotel are animals of legend, but it was a free-range reptile that panicked them on the city’s South Side one morning a century ago.

B.E. Dalton, who resided at Fifth and Hull streets (near today’s Art Space in the Manchester district) awoke in the early morning with a feeling that something was just not quite right. He got up and went outdoors for a look-see, spying what he believed to be a snake making for the house’s crawl space, reported the Hampton Monitor. Dalton rushed back indoors, grabbed his gun and, in the time-honored anti-snake tradition, declared war. He “got a bead on the thing,” fired, and dragged the animal out by the tail “dead as Hector.” But the man was shocked to see that it was not a snake that he had put out of his misery, but an alligator.

Not exactly of Tarzan-wrestling size, “Mr. (or Miss) Alligator” was a scant 15 inches long. Despite the picayune dimensions of the critter, the Monitor had a ball with the encounter: “Shooting alligators is one of the sports in South Richmond in the early morning hours, that being the hours when the saurians most do abound,” it read.

This particular saurian wound up in Richmond, it was surmised, after a tourist from further south cast it from the Seaboard Air Line Railroad train under the cover of night. The immigration path of Dalton’s varmint is easily divined, evidently a one-way trip on the main Seaboard line, which connected Richmond with Jacksonville, Florida—prime gator country. Not in my backyard, thought Dalton.

“There have been numerous sightings or captures of the alligator in Virginia, but nearly all are thought to be releases, intentional or not,” says Chris Hobson, a zoologist with the Division of Natural Heritage of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. One of only two alligator species on the planet, the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensisA. sinensis) has never numbered among Virginia’s fauna, “not even in the fossil record,” Hobson says. Cold weather limits the alligator’s northern extent, though a natural population has been documented for Albemarle Sound in North Carolina, he says.

But as the world warms, the species could conceivably become established above its current range. “There’s no way to tell what the future holds,” Hobson says, “but we won’t have to deal with them in Virginia unless our climate changes significantly and they can survive through the winter for years on end. Only then could they maintain populations where they have been unable to do so for millennia.” Still, keep your eyes peeled.

201 years ago

Fauquier County resident Samuel Claggett grudgingly gives his consent to minor son Ferdinand to marry a Miss Sanford, even though it is “truly grating to my feelings,” the father wrote in his 1809 marriage bond, required by Virginia law. Charlottesville’s Daily Progress reports the story in 1935 when the bond surfaces among old records being copied. Claggett says his son seems “resolutely bent on his ruin by an early, rash and inconsiderate marriage” but feels “under disagreeable necessity” of giving his approval and says, “I do.”

50 years ago

Representatives of the safety units of seven Northern Virginia counties gather in Culpeper to plan their upcoming accident-prevention campaign. When roll is called, Louise Colley, safety chairwoman for Spotsylvania County, does not answer. And she doesn’t have a lame excuse either, or, she does, actually: she is nursing a broken leg, the result of an accident, reports the Greene County Record. Suggested campaign slogan: Safety Begins at Home.

25 years ago

A new West Wing, devoted to modern and Impressionist art, is dedicated at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond and is expected to propel the museum from regional excellence into national prominence, reports the Associated Press. Jack Cowart, curator of 20th century art at Washington’s National Gallery of Art, calls it “a place where serious scholars will return again and again.” The wing will take flight in a major addition that will open in 2010.

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