Episode 3: El Chupacabra, Jake the Alligator Man, and Phyllis
Updated: Feb 20, 2022
Part 1 ~ Stacie: El Chupacabra
The term “El Chupacabra,” meaning goat sucker, was coined by Silverio Pérez. Despite the name, Chupacabras actually eat more than just goats. Chickens, rabbits, and other livestock are among the Chupacabras' favorite meals. However, it’s not the meat that’s on the menu--it’s the blood. You know a Chupacabra has attacked when the victim has two perfectly circular puncture wounds in its neck and is completely drained of blood. Some animals also have their liver and reproductive organs removed. While the attacks of the Chupacabra are, for the most part, widely agreed upon, the features of El Chupacabra are not.
Even though the original Chupacabra was spotted in Puerto Rico, I’m going to first talk about the Chupacabra as known by Texans. This creature mostly resembles a hairless dog. Farmer Phylis Canion discovered multiple animals on her property had two puncture wounds in their necks. The animals were all without blood, but they were not eaten. Canion was puzzled by the scene as most of the time, predators would take their prey away to eat, or at least...eat them. From time to time, Canion would see a strange animal running across her vast farmland. According to Canion, some of her neighbors suggested that the bizarre beast she was dealing with was a Chupacabra. One day, a fellow farmer called Canion to tell her that someone had hit the creature she had described. Canion rushed to the scene and obtained and preserved the remains. Finally, the Chupacabra had been caught--or at least, this ONE Chupacabra was caught.
After many more reports of seeing similar creatures to the critter in Canion’s freezer, this sighting became famous. News crews and documentarians flocked to Canion’s farm to learn more about the Chupacabra. Descriptions given by Canion are confirmed by her taxidermied beast she keeps in the house. As illustrated by Canion, the beast has piercing blue eyes, shorter front legs than the back two, four long canine teeth (two on top, two on the bottom), nodules on its hind legs, dark, leathery skin, and two nipples. Now, I mention the nipples because most canines (dogs, wolves, and coyotes) have anywhere from 8-12 nipples. Mammals tend to have twice as many nipples as they do offspring. We all know that dogs have about 5-6 puppies per litter, and we all know that humans usually have one child per pregnancy. So for this animal to be classified as a canine, that would be a highly unusual feature.
As I mentioned before, the media had caught wind of Canion’s story, and it was picked up by networks like The History Channel and Shiver, both of which had conducted DNA tests on the creature Canion kept. In both shows, you would see that the critter in question was actually a breed of animal that has not seemed to exist before, but it did come from two known species. The mom was a coyote, and the dad was a Mexican wolf. So, in a way, one could argue that the Chupacabra is 100% real as long as it’s the name we assign to all coyote-Mexican-wolf cross breeds. That being said, it’s still strange that the animal didn’t have an ounce of fur on it despite descending from two animals with fur coats.
Some speculate the animal had mange, a mite that infects canines and makes them so itchy that they scratch out their fur and damage their own skin; but the results were inconclusive. Others said that perhaps this animal never had any fur, but that was also not confirmed. There are still a lot of mysteries surrounding the legend of the Texan Chupacabra, but none are quite as alarming as the Chupacabra that dwells--or dwelled--in Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rican Chupacabra
What can I say? The original is almost always the best. Whereas the Texan Chupacabra has reasonable explanations, the Puerto Rican Chupacabra is something out of this world! The beast showed up around 1995, causing panic across Puerto Rico. Vastly different from its counterpart in Texas, the Puerto Rican Chupacabra is described as a bipedal creature that’s about 3-4 feet tall, with a large head that holds its glowing red eyes, with leathery gray or green skin, and, of course, spikes protruding from its head to its back. The popularity of the monster was fostered on the Internet and by the Puerto Rican mayor’s interest in catching the beast. The folklore grew to be a cultural phenomenon before making its way to the mainland. But was this creature even real?
There are those who claim that the beast is simply some diseased monkey that is an invasive species to Puerto Rico. Others think it’s just a genetically modified vampire bat that is taking the whole “vampire” aspect quite literally. However, the answer could be explained with just one word: aliens.
It’s plain to see that this Chupacabra is not exhibiting behavior that is normal to our planet. Even the description of this beast resembles that of certain alien sightings! Another telling piece of evidence that this creature is extraterrestrial is that many people have reported the smell of sulfur when the Chupacabra is near. That substance is often found when celestial debris like comets and asteroids impact with the Earth. Could it be possible that the being we know of today as the Chupacabra was an alien that crash landed on our planet, terrorizing the people of Puerto Rico? Well, that seems to be the only logical explanation. It could also explain why the sightings of the Puerto Rican Chupacabra have gone down lately. The alien either couldn’t survive on this planet, was taken by the government, or it was beamed back up to its spaceship or whatever.
Some would even like to take it a step further and blame the US government for experimenting on terrestrial and extraterrestrial beings. Perhaps the incident at Roswell, New Mexico (which you will hear about in another episode) put pressure on the US government to remove the aliens they were hiding to somewhere else--like Puerto Rico, which is an American territory. Maybe while they were experimenting on the creature, it had finally broken free and caused chaos amongst wildlife. There’s no way to know for sure, as the body of the beast has never been recovered. Or, at least, it was never recovered by a civilian who was not working for the US government and trying to keep this alien a secret.
Whether or not you are on board with the idea of an alien or crossbred hybrid, there is a lot to say about what the Chupacabra has done for modern cryptozoologists. Is this something that will soon be known in biology, or is this something that NASA will have to come clean about? Regardless of its origins or even its future, the legend of El Chupacabra is one that is ingrained in most of our memories.
Part 2 ~ Rachel: Jake the Alligator Man
I’m gonna tell you about Jake the Alligator Man. He’s special to me for a couple of reasons. First, he’s the first time I realized what a ‘tabloid’ is. In 1993, Weekly World News ran a picture of him, and I distinctly remember my 14-year-old mind being blown at the Alpha Beta. Like, what? How is this possible? It was a picture of a creature with a human torso and head, and an alligator body. The front ‘legs’ are human arms, and the hind legs are alligator legs. I hadn’t known anything about cryptids or sensationalism, and at that point I honestly thought that if something were printed in a magazine, it legally had to be true. So for a brief time, I didn’t fake believe, I real believed.
In 1997, I moved to the northwest, and I saw this guy on tons of bumper stickers. Portland is so weird that this didn’t really stand out much. Plus, there he’s got Sasquatch to contend with, and Sasquatch still makes regular appearances so clearly has the better publicist.
It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I actually got to see Jake. I visited Marsh’s Free Museum in Long Beach, Washington. It’s a cool place—a curio, a souvenir shop, arcade, etc. So there’s stuff like a shrunken head, a taxidermied two-headed calf, one of those mechanical fortune-tellers, and Jake. Jake’s in a fish-tank looking thing. He was smaller than I imagined he’d be.
I came to learn that the Weekly World News story was built on a lie! The headline claimed: “Half-alligator, half-human found in Florida swamp,” and the story insisted it had been captured alive. But the photo was taken directly from a Marsh’s Free Museum post-card. By the time Weekly World News had published their expose, Jake was already mummified and hanging out in his glass cage of emotions. Weekly World News also claimed that Jake had (conveniently) escaped captivity, killed a man in Miami, and also gave birth. So either they just used the picture of our Jake because they couldn’t find a picture of their Jake, or they’re full of crap, and maybe now we can’t even believe in Bat Boy.
But how often do we have the actual corpses of cryptids where people can go see them like I did? Surely the people who have Jake on display know his origins. According to them, however, it’s as big a mystery to them as it is to anyone else. Junior Marsh, the founder of Marsh’s Free Museum, says he bought Jake for $750 in 1967 from a San Francisco antiques dealer, but that the dealer gave him no information as to Jake’s origin.
I was able to find three documented eye-witness reports of seeing Jake while he was alive:
Jake was seen regularly in a New Orleans brothel, smoking cigars
He performed in drag in San Francisco under the name Minnie the Mermaid
He was spotted in a sideshow in Texas
None of these sightings say when they saw Jake, but given that he was dead by 1967, and the brothels in Louisiana were closed in 1917, I was able to start my research with a loose timeline. So I’m going to share evidence I found for each sighting, then I’ll put together my own theory of his life before Marsh’s.
Spotted in New Orleans Brothels
The “Red Light District” of New Orleans was called “Storyville” and also “Tenderloin,” both exquisitely apropos. It was a 16-square block area with a city ordinance that kept the brothels running from 1897-1917. It was a huge tourist destination, so to help visitors out, savvy business owners published Blue Books, which could be purchased for .25 at places like saloons, train stations, or on the streets within the district. These books had advertisements for booze, cigars, lawyers, etc., as well as the names of each of the sex workers, where they worked, and a descriptions of each Madame and her business. I found a fantastic Website called “The Historic New Orleans Collection,” which has digital archives of the Storyville district, including Blue Books. They are FASCINATING! Here’s an example of a description of one of the Madames:
Miss Olga Lodi
Olga hails from Florence, Italy, “The Land of the Flowers,” and if all the flowers that grow there are as pretty as the Olga Lodi, the place must be one of natural beauty or a dream—as Olga is really such. Nowhere will you find a more complete and better conducted “Palace of Sport” than her “Mansion.” Olga has let nothing pass her that goes to make life worth living; so while out, you want to give her place a call if it be only to form her acquaintance, which, I’ll assure you, will please you in your meanest moods. Aside from the magnificence of her home, she has a score of most handsome ladies, who are a “jolly” crowd to be among. Remember the name: OLGA, THE ITALIAN QUEEN
I scoured the documents and photos of New Orleans brothels in search of any mention or sign of Jake the Alligator Man. While I couldn’t find any concrete evidence of him being there, if I had to guess where he did hang out, it would be at Madame Emma Johnson’s brothel. Her write-up in the Blue Book says, “Emma’s “Home of all Nations,” as it is commonly called, is one place of amusement you can’t very well afford to miss while in the Tenderloin District. Everything goes here. Fun is the watchword.”
Emma was also famous for what was dubbed “sex circuses” (and a cursory search of this brought up too much porn for me to sift through to give you any more information on that), but I did find a caricature of her, but with her lower half as the body of an octopus, “luring” men (and one woman) into her mansion by grabbing them with her tentacles. This could be homage to Jake—half human and half water creature. Regardless, if there were anywhere that an alligator-man would feel at home, it would be Emma Johnson’s Brothel.
Doing Drag in San Francisco
Brothels in New Orleans closed in 1917 as the United States entered WWI. This was due to a push for morality to make sure the soldiers were in peak condition, physically and morally. This attitude also influenced the passage of Prohibition, which had been a topic of debate since the ending of the Civil War, but which opponents basically gave up fighting as we entered the first world war.
Everyone knows how Prohibition panned out—bootlegging and organized crime flourished as people took their fun underground, figuratively and literally. An interesting side effect of this in San Francisco is that drag flourished, too! Something about being secretive and embracing taboos laid the foundation for the so called “Pansy Craze,” when gay performers and clubs became all the rage.
The San Francisco “Anything Goes” mindset would have been the perfect environment for a half-man/half-alligator to don a blonde wig and dance the Charleston. Apparently, he did just that, performing under the name Minnie the Mermaid.
There is a song called Minnie the Mermaid by Phil Harris, who is an American songwriter and voice actor. You might know him as the voice of Baloo in The Jungle Book. I wondered if there was any connection between his song “Minnie the Mermaid” and Jake the Alligator Man Drag Queen Minnie the Mermaid, and found out some interesting tidbits.
Harris grew up in Nashville, Tennessee (not too far from Louisiana), and his parents were CIRCUS PERFORMERS. And guess where Mr. Harris moved to begin a career in the 1920s? San Francisco. It’s possible that Jake the Alligator knew Phil’s parents through the Circus scene, then traveled with him to San Francisco.
Texas Sideshow Sighting
The final eye-witness reports seeing Jake at a sideshow in Texas. His act was to answer questions with a simple nod or shake of his head. (I mean, I could do that.) His connection here is, again, mostly speculation, but there is a connection. There’s another famous “alligator man” from Elmendorf, Texas, just outside of San Antonio, named Joe Ball. Unfortunately, he’s not famous for anything fun like smoking cigars in brothels or doing drag. He’s famous for being a murderer and suspected serial killer, who fed his victims to his alligators. So they got the Alligator Man nickname for two completely different reasons. There’s nothing that suggests that Jake was ever violent.
Bootlegger and eventual tavern owner, Joe Ball was the son of the wealthiest person in Elmendorf. After prohibition ended, he built a pond behind his tavern and kept alligators in the back. Now, there are discrepancies in the reported number of alligators he kept: some say there were 5, some say there were 6. Could Jake have been the sixth? In 1937, Alligator Man’s first victim disappeared.
Her name was Minnie, but she went by “Big Minnie.” My question is, why would someone have to go by “Big Minnie” unless there was another, smaller, perhaps reptilian Minnie at the same bar? Maybe there was a “Big Minnie” and an “Small Alligator in Drag Minnie” that people had to be clear who they were referencing in their gossip.
So there’s evidence to suggest that Jake spent time in Texas. But why would he go back to the south? Just to shake his head ‘yes’ or ‘no’ at a sideshow? Well, the San Francisco drag scene had started to wane at the end of Prohibition. Once drinking and partying became above ground and accepted norms, people’s weird sense of propriety returned and the “Pansy Craze” died down.
But not in San Antonio. In the 1930s, it had actually become a nationally renowned drag scene. Famous performers came from all over the country, including Harvey Lee, Francis Blair, and Francis Lee…the last of whom danced under the name Minnie Meyers. This could just be coincidence. But could it be that Jake had seen and admired Minnie Meyers, named his own drag persona after her, then came to find her as Prohibition had ended? Or could they be in the same drag family? Today, drag family’s share the same last names, but maybe back then it was different. Could they both be from the House Minnie? I don’t know. Lots of reasons he could be heading back to the south.
It Makes Too Much Sense - Jake's Timeline
Now that we've broken down the three sightings, let me give you my suggested timeline of the history of Jake the Alligator Man.
Near as I can tell, his origin is simply that he is the last of his species that was an earlier part of the evolution chain that remained unchanged. In the late 1800s, he was probably found in the southern swamplands, and put into a circus as a sideshow performer, where he met and worked with Phil Harris’s parents. For the first two decades of the 1900s, while touring with the circus, he would have spent many vacations in New Orleans, where he admired the women’s beauty, fashion, and the raucous festivities of the brothels. According to the Blue Books, there were two women named “Minnie” who worked on the same street as Madame Emma Johnson’s brothel. He likely named his drag persona after one of them, adding “the mermaid” as a cheeky acknowledgment of his scaly lower half.
When the government shut down his favorite form of escape, he began hearing about men performing burlesque shows dressed as women. And what good luck that a member of his circus family was headed out west? So in 1920, Jake joined Phil Harris and ended up in San Francisco where he enjoyed such a successful career in its underground drag scene, that in 1923/24, Phil’s friend Budd de Sylva, noted record executive, wrote the song “Minnie the Mermaid” in Jake’s honor. Phil Harris would record it about ten years later.
By 1934, Jake was no longer finding the acceptance or the community that Prohibition had afforded him in San Francisco, but learned that the San Antonio drag scene was actually blossoming. Jake likely joined another circus that was traveling to Texas, and this is where he was witnessed by the person giving the report. However, by the 1930s, sideshows were dwindling, so when he found a cozy pond behind a former bootlegger’s saloon, he made that his home. Whether or not he actually performed in drag in San Antonio is undetermined, but clearly he still used his drag persona, thus making it necessary to differentiate the other Minnie in the bar, the poor murder victim, as “Big Minnie.”
Jake lived for three years with the five other alligators in Joe Ball’s pond. However, Joe’s temper and womanizing would have been very frustrating for Jake, who given his history was certainly a feminist. So when Big Minnie disappeared, Jake would no longer want to stick around. And neither would Joe Ball’s wife, Dolores Goodwin, to whom the murderous Ball had confessed his crime.
In 1938, Dolores and Jake decided to leave together, returning to California where Dolores had family. (Sidenote, this only added to Joe Ball’s mystery, as she was the third woman he’d been romantically involved with to have disappeared. However, she was later found to be living in Southern California, thus solving one mystery around the fully human Alligator Man, Joe Ball.) This would explain why, upon the attempted arrest of Joe Ball (he died by suicide during the attempt), only five alligators were found. The sixth had run off with Joe Ball’s wife, Dolores.
Jake, Where is He Now?
By 1940, the trail of Jake the Alligator Man runs cold. He likely ended up back in San Francisco, as that’s where Junior Marsh purchased his remains in 1967.
Today, there is a yearly celebration in his honor in Long Beach, Washington. The party features burlesque dancers, likely as a nod to Jake’s life as a performer, and vintage cars, which is probably to acknowledge his life of travel.
Tell Us Your Story!
Have you ever caught a chupacabra digging through your trash or stalking your cows? Have you been to any of the same places Jake has been? Let us know in the comments or at firstname.lastname@example.org.