Postcards from the Alligator Farm
I had long suspected that these images were merely imaginative artwork, similar to tall tale postcards. Today I learnt that, in fact, they’re halftone photographs with applied colour depicting fun for all the family at the Los Angeles Alligator Farm in the early 20th century:
Originally located in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Joseph ‘Alligator Joe’ Campbell’s Alligator Farm was relocated to tourist hotspot Lincoln Heights, California in 1907. The animals were loaded onto a train and a banner was hung from the side advertising the advent of the attraction.
After paying their 25 cents admission fee, visitors could enjoy the hundreds of alligators, of various sizes and ages, that lived in the back garden - and, as the postcards show, there were opportunities to ride the reptiles. In time, the farm began to supply alligators for the movie industry and feature in such films as ‘King Solomon’s Mines,’ ‘The Adventures of Kathleen,’ Walt Disney’s ‘The Happiest Millionaire’, and numerous Tarzan films.
Most famous was an alligator called Billy. Visitors to the farm would witness Billy sliding down chutes and wrestling underwater with famed alligator wrestler George Link, and, until the 1960s, most of the alligator jaws seen in films belonged to Billy, as he would automatically open his mouth when a piece of meat was dangled above him, just out of view of the camera. Billy was one of the alligators so domesticated that his owners could put a saddle on him and give their visitors a ride. Another highlight was 250lb Galapagos tortoise, Humpy. The owners’ children would put a saddle on Humpy and Billy each and race them around the garden. Humpy would regularly stray off the path but was invariably the winner.
In it’s hey day the farm was the most complete reptile collection in the world, as various other species of snake and lizard were introduced over time, and would entertain 130,000 visitors a year.
[Mice Chat | Iconic Muse | Image Archeology | Image Sources: 1 : 2 : 3 : 4 : 5 : 6 : 7 | More black and White photographs]