Jumper was among sixteen Florida alligators that Dean Gallant snared for Naughty Nico’s back in the late ‘90s for Rutledge Silloway.
Gallant, a raging alcoholic and rumored kiddie-diddler, could slither like a moccasin through even the most seemingly unnavigable patches of Cypress Swamp.
He caught Jumper and the rest in a rather tangly area known as the Wetbriar for a show that Silloway billed as Leapin’ Lizards.
Business rebounded in a big way for several months after the show opened.
The way it worked: A cable stretched between two steel poles on either side of the watery pit, suspended about ten feet above the murky green surface. In front of an audience, a worker climbed a stepladder on the south side and put a whole uncooked chicken on a twist of rope wrapped onto a pulley that carried the bait over the pond. A hungry gator then would leap from the depths of the pond to gnash its powerful jaws on the chicken.
Unfortunately, the handlers got in the habit of swaddling the chickens in cheap disposable diapers. This kept previously frozen blood in the carcass from grossing out the customers as the chicken thawed.
“Ah,” Rutledge Silloway said at the time. “Like a tampon.”
His wife hadn’t been amused.
Nor had the Wilcox family of Albany, New York been amused when, in May 2002, they received the honor of becoming the first audience feeders. Bob Wilcox and his wife Cindy carried their eight-month-old baby, Lucas, up the steps to the platform where a park worker waited to help Bob attach a chicken to the pulley.
Sadly, Cindy was cradling the infant in her left arm near the edge overlooking the pit. A gator named Moe erupted from the water, apparently enticed by the sight of the diaper, and took the baby along with the woman’s arm from just above the elbow down.
That was Moe’s last performance. He would ultimately be served as gator bites in The Clock downtown.
It was also the end of the Leapin’ Lizards show. The ensuing lawsuit settlement nearly shuttered the entire complex too.
All of Jumper’s siblings either had died or were sold off since 2002. Jumper himself seemed content over the years to lurk in the pond or sun himself on the gravel shore while waiting for the sweet release of death.
But he still had a taste for chicken-in-a-diaper.
Shreds of Dollar General diapers and bits of chicken flesh and bone littered State Road 38 beneath a white and blue banner that read CYPRESS KNEE CELEBRATES FOUNDER’S DAY – NOV. 7-9.
No one noticed a little extra litter among the scattered beer cans, KFC bags, and sun-bleached pages torn from skin mags.