PETE THE PYTHON

#1318

FEBRUARY 6, 2014

 

     Recently one cold, blustery morning, Jean and I sat by the fire while watching a National Geographic program about the Everglades and they told of the python infestation problem. It showed several of the big snakes over ten feet long and Jean got the shakes and hollered, “Wooooooo.” Said it reminded her of eighteen foot long Pete the Python escaping from the Fort Worth Zoo in 1954. This monster wasn’t something to play with as it weighed from 150 to 300 pounds depending on which source you believe and was as big around as a power pole. No one knew how far or which direction Old Pete went. For twenty three days Pete was loose and ten year old Jean was a nervous wreck. Her two brothers made it worse by saying they thought they saw it crawling across the street or heard it under the house and such. She would stand at the door peeping out to check for the snake then take off in a sprint for her destination which probably was Ellen Leslie’s house or Enon Cates’ Grocery.

     Pete the Python sounded like some fodder you readers might enjoy munching on so I cranked up the trusty internet and here we go. On the morning of September 18, 1954 the world was sailing fairly smooth. Ike was president, Marilyn Monroe was married to Joe DiMaggio, and Bill Haley had just recorded “Rock Around the Clock.” But then a shock wave circled the globe with news of Pete the Python’s escape. Four thousand zoo visitors were escorted outside and the zoo closed for days. Kids and pets were kept inside at home. Amon Carter offered a five hundred dollar reward to the person that could locate the snake. By today’s standards that would be more like five thousand dollars. In 1954 you could buy a new Chevy for $1600. Fort Worth came alive with snake searchers. Newspapers in Tokyo, London, and England headlines told of the missing snake. One television newscaster in London signed off each night with “Good night, Pete the Python, wherever you are.”

 

 

 

     Sightings of Pete were reported in Dallas, Houston, and several Louisiana towns. A woman in Monroe, Louisiana used her Ouija board to determine Pete was hiding out at Jack’s Bar on Fort Worth’s southwest side. Pranksters had a great time. Phony pythons were made and placed all over Fort Worth on porches, in parks, and crossing roads. Truck inner tubes were cut, tied at both ends, filled with air, and set adrift on the Trinity River. Entrepreneur’s sold Pete the Python tee shirts. A local restaurant advertised Pete Burgers. Twenty five members of Dallas’ SMU’s Kappa Sigma Fraternity and their girlfriends traveled to Fort Worth armed with BB guns, tennis rackets, potato sacks, and butterfly nets in search of Pete. On the twenty third day of Pete’s freedom, he was slinking around the monkey exhibit at 4:00 in the morning and Al the Chimp sounded the alarm. Monkeys and birds helped spread the word and soon eight men carried Pete back to a repaired and stronger enclosure.

 

 

 

     How does Pete’s story rank in Texas History? In the Associated Press’ Top Ten Stories of 1954 we can find out. Number 1 was the crooked politics in Duvall County. 2, Shivers-Yarborough. 3, Rio Grande Flood. 4, Drought. 5, Hagler Murder Case. 6, Desegretation. 7, Insurance. 8 was a tie between Pete the Python and the court marshal of Kermit’s Claude Batchelor. 10, Thurman Priest murder case. Maybe the most surprising and ironic twist to Pete the Python story is that on December 31, 1957, “Pete” laid 50-75 eggs and was renamed Patricia the Python.

     On Saturday, January 25, Dan and John Peters came from the Dallas area to hunt hogs with Casey Williams, Clayton Harrington, Clinton Harrington, Clinton’s girlfriend Kate, and me. After meeting at the East Delta Community Center at 9:00 a.m. we drove to Kensing and checked three normally productive places but had no luck. At 3:00 we gave up on Kensing and drove to the northwest part of the county. When almost dark, Clayton’s Blackie found a group of hogs that were just coming out of the woods to root up the pasture for the night. The chase was on and the hogs ran two miles east where a hundred fifty pound boar was caught in a deep ditch. By then it was after dark and really cold. Back at the pickups we said our goodbyes and yall come again.

 

 

     Somehow we survived another Super Bowl and Groundhog Day. That’s almost too much excitement for one day. The Ground Hog Day tradition came from Europe with our ancestors and the first celebration was in Pennsylvania in 1841.  The general idea is that if a groundhog comes out of his burrow and sees his shadow it scares him and he goes back in hiding for six more weeks. The largest festival is in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania where as many as 40,000 people wait to see whether groundhog Phil sees his shadow or not. In Nova Scotia, a groundhog named Shubenacadie Sam is the star of the show. At the Pennsylvania celebrations only the German language is permitted. Fines from five to twenty five cents per word are assessed to those speaking English. The movie, Groundhog Day, did much to add to the popularity of the annual celebration.

 

 

     A man was in the hospital in Dallas and not expected to live much longer. Around his bed stood his nurse, his wife and their two kids. He told his wife that he wanted her to have the houses in Highland Park. One of his kids was to take the apartments in Oak Cliff. The other kid was to take the houses on Lemmon Avenue. As they went out in the hall the nurse commented that the man must be very wealthy to give them all those houses. The wife looked at the nurse and said, “Heck no. He was talking about his paper route.” 

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