HUMBOLDT PARK — After more than two days without a sighting of the rogue alligator living in the Humboldt Park Lagoon, it’s been spotted alive — and apparently doing well.
The gator, dubbed Chance the Snapper, hadn’t been seen since 2 a.m. Thursday, leaving some of the gator’s fans worried about his health. The reptile expert searching for him known as Alligator Bob warned there might be a sad ending to the story that has captivated Chicago.
Enter Matt Good.
The operational manager of a staffing agency took his dogs and his Nikon out for a walk Saturday afternoon and spotted the gator swimming in the lagoon.
He wasn’t positive it was Chance from a distance, but when he zoomed into the photo he took, he recognized what he captured.
“It was pretty awesome, seeing those eyeballs,” he said. “We’re all rooting for him.”
Good, a Humboldt Park resident, said he tracked down Alligator Bob and showed him his photo. Bob had been elsewhere in the lagoon, checking traps and looking for the gator all morning.
Good got tipped off to the possible location of the gator by some others who thought they saw some suspicious shadows. So Good trained his camera on some lily pads on that area — far from the Humboldt Park boathouse — and started taking pictures, he said.
Good hadn’t been worried about Chance’s possible demise, he said.
“No, it’s a big lagoon,” Good said. “It’s an ideal habitat.”
Saturday was the first weekend day since the alligator was spotted Tuesday and crowds continued to turn out to Humboldt Park to see the spectacle that has become the topic of conversation in every corner of the city and made national news.
Sisters Mikenna, 7 and Mikayla Madden, 8, came from the Dunning neighborhood with their grandfather Jose Barrera, a 65-year-old retired school principal. Decked out in alligator t-shirts and carrying nets, the girls were hoping to spot the gator. Their grandfather said “I thought it would be a nice adventure.”
Being part of the excitement also brought out Bill Broderick, a 48-year-old construction worker from Highland Park and his 13-year-old daughter Kate, who was using a mini GeoSafari telescope to scan the surface of the lagoon.
“We had no plans so we thought we’d come see if we could find it,” the elder Broderick said.
Elliot Pontius, a 57-year-old social worker from Berwyn was near the Humboldt Park boathouse, scanning the lagoon with binoculars that he brought.
“I hope he shows up, I came to spot him,” Pontius said..
The now-famous Alligator Bob, the volunteer from the Chicago Herpetological Society who has been leading the efforts to trap Chance, conceded Friday that he may be looking for a carcass.
“He could’ve been sick or injured when they threw him in here,” Bob said Friday. “We might be looking for a carcass. The water temperature is 74 degrees, just like any other body, it’ll come floating to the surface. But I’m not saying he’s dead. He’s just missing.”
Friday afternoon, more than 32 hours after a sighting, Bob and state conservation officers installed a fence to try and trap the gator on one side of the lagoon. They also played noises of baby alligators Friday night hoping the adult gator would come to investigate, but as of Saturday, Bob’s traps remained empty.
Jim Nesci, a reptile expert from south suburban Homer Glen who worked with late crocodile expert Steve Irwin, said Alligator Bob is a buddy of his who taking the correct approach.
Nesci, who has a Illinois state permit for his a 22-foot gator named Bubba (they’re now illegal to own as pets in the state) that lives in his basement, said some “knucklehead” likely put his pet into the lagoon and said if it’s not captured, it would be hard for it to survive the Chicago winter.
“You don’t take an animal that’s not indigenous to our area and put it into a lagoon or pond. We get some very tough winters and if you look at their geographical range, they live in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, eastern Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, so it would be very hard for it to survive a winter here,” Nesci said.
He also said that alligators like the one in the Humboldt Park lagoon are usually fearful of humans — which could explain why Chance the Snapper hadn’t been seen in awhile.
“They are fearful of humans. When I’m down in Florida, I walk up to gators all the time and I’m talkin’ some big ones, and they try to get away from you. They don’t want any part of you.”
There was some talk of closing the park to onlookers, but a park district employee said Saturday that probably won’t happen.
“How are you going to close it, fence it off like Lollapaooza? That’s not going to happen,” the worker said.
Alligator Bob added Saturday that visibility into the lagoon is only 4-5 inches, which is slowing things down. “It’s the worst case of submarining that I’ve ever seen.”
For now, the search goes on for the gator and whether it is caught or develops into a legend akin to “Resurrection Mary,” the ghost of a female hitchhiker killed along Archer Avenue in the 1930s, remains to be seen.
Gator Fever Is ‘A Good Thing,’ Fans Say
Onlookers on Friday said not only is gator watch is exciting and fun, but it’s also shining a light on beautiful and sprawling Humboldt Park.
“I feel like a kid. I’m excited,” nearby resident Mari Rodriguez said clutching a giant alligator pool float she bought at a stand by the park.
Gator watch has also become the neighborhood’s hottest family-friendly attraction. Jim Water of Frankfurt, brought his three-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter, Penny, to the lagoon to see the gator on Friday.
Penny, who had been begging to see the reptile since the news broke, made binoculars out of toilet paper rolls and string for the occasion.
“I think it’s a fun excitement thing. It brings all of the people out,” Water said.
Pete Tsoukas, 35, brought a group of his friends to the lagoon on Friday — the day before his wedding — to try and get a glimpse of it.
“My fiance was kind of surprised that this is what I’m doing right now, but I figure we’ve gotta blow off some steam, relax a little bit before all of the family time,” Tsoukas said.
Tsoukas, a resident of Ukrainian Village, said he couldn’t miss a chance to see Chance The Snapper.
“We’re here to enjoy the beautiful park, of course, but mainly to try and spot the gator, Chance The Snapper. We’re all big fans. I think it’s kind of like he’s an inspiration to me because he was kept in captivity most likely and now he’s a free gator and hopefully they rescue him,” he said.
Some said they had to stop by to make sure the gator is real.
They’re skeptical of the photos and videos.
“I want to see with my own eyes if it is even in there,” 36-year-old Humboldt Park resident Marcelina Rodriguez said.
Luz Gonzalez, 51, agreed. Gonzalez, who was enjoying some shaved ice with her friend Elena Toro at the lagoon on Friday, suspects the whole thing is a “hoax.” She said she was out at the park earlier in the week and never saw the animal.
The skeptics turned up Saturday, too.
“When I was a kid, my uncles used to scare me with a fake gator on the west side of the lagoon,” Martice Jefferson said.
Jefferson, 23, was at the lagoon in the neighborhood where he grew up on Saturday, driving from Albany Park with his fiancé and 3-year-old daughter. “I believe it’s real, but who knows, anything can be faked these days with technology.”
Indeed, a search on YouTube for “alligator pranks” turns up dozens of videos of remote control alligators scaring people, which would indicate the City may want to search for a person in a nearby tree with a remote in addition to looking for the alligator in the lagoon.
The gator has been good for business as well. Aside from park vendors, there have been t-shirts, buttons, cocktails and even songs dedicated to the elusive Chicago gator.
Samatha Nieto, a 26-year-old CPS school counselor from Logan Square, was selling t-shirts near the boathouse for $22 Saturday. Logan Square’s Lonesome Rose is serving a cocktail called Gator Raid with prickly pear, tequila, rum, pepper tincture, agave and a little lime gator floating around inside.
While crowds have dwindled since Wednesday and Thursday, the gator fanfare has stuck around.
“This is good publicity for Humboldt Park and I think it’s bringing revenue and it’s bringing people from other places to come and visit Humboldt Park,” resident Mari Rodriguez said. “It’s a good thing.”
Do stories like this matter to you? Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.
GATOR WATCH 2019 COVERAGE
GATOR WATCH SWAG
Yes, we made shirts to commemorate this very Chicago news story. Designed by local artist Ryan Duggan, get your limited-edition tote and t-shirt here while supplies last.
All proceeds will benefit Block Club Chicago, an independent, nonprofit neighborhood newsroom.