If you’ve ever been to a restaurant, gallery, store or brewery in Seminole Heights, you’ve probably seen his face. Sorry, faces. The two-headed gator has been a symbol of Seminole Heights since 2014. But the story of this infamous gator is based on has a much longer history.
Hoax or history?
In 2014, a man and his wife were walking their dog in Seminole Heights when they noticed a group of people standing on the riverbank. According to the couple, they saw a two-headed alligator calmly spread out on the river bank. He snapped a picture and sent it to The Tampa Bay Times, where they published it on the front page. Shortly after the picture was released to the public… the public had some questions.
After further investigation and many readers writing in to say this looked like a hoax, the website ran a retraction.
But the picture of the two-headed alligator was out and published in many Florida papers. With readers, scientists and reporters debating whether the monstrous creature was fiction or fantasy.
However, local Seminole Heights restaurant Ella’s Americana Folk Art Cafe embraced the controversy. Soon after the story ran, and the debate died down, a taxidermied gator with two heads popped up in the restaurant. They claim it’s the actual gator mentioned in the debated story.
Community organization Seminole Heights Urban Art Attack, also welcomed the two-headed reptile and created a six-foot two-headed gator sculpture and placed it in front of Southern Brewing and Winemaking where it still stands to this day.
Bite and Smite
There is also some evidence that a two-headed gator has been a fixture of Florida folklore for years. Back in the late 1920s and 1930s, R. Lopez and A.L. Perez were two historians that collected stories for the WPA’s Federal Writers’ Project. During their explorations through Florida, and specifically Tampa history, they came across the story of Bite and Smite–a two-headed gator.
In the story, a rabbit is throwing stones at the back of a nearby gator, floating in the Hillsborough River. The rabbit is warned by an old turtle, “Stay away from that gator, rabbit. By bite or smite, it’ll get you.” The rabbit ignores the turtle and continues to throw stones. Eventually rolling a huge rock on the gator’s head, knocking it out. The rabbit laughed and splashed around in the water, only to find that the gator had two heads. The rabbit was promptly eaten by the other head of the gator, eliciting this response out of the turtle:
“I told that rabbit, by bite or smite, it’ll get him and, by the looks of it, smite got to do the eating today.”
Finding a home in the heights
Now you can see the two-headed gator all over The Heights. From flags to graffiti to koozies and clothing. It is emblematic of both the long and funky history of Seminole Heights.
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