Alligator in tunnels likely fiction

Monday, December 6, 2004

If you have a question, e-mail factorfiction@semissourian.com or call Speak Out (334-5111) and identify your call as a question for "Fact or fiction?"

Q: In a previous column, you talked about the tunnels running beneath the older buildings at the university. Is it true that an alligator owned by Dr. Dan Cotner was lost in the tunnels there on College Hill?

-- Steve Mosley, Cape Girardeau

A: At Friday's downtown holiday open house, I ran into the local dentist, and the question brought a concerned look to his face (along with a lengthy story). What happened, said Dr. Cotner, is that he had received a baby alligator in the mail from a friend. Mailing alligators without proper clearance was illegal, he said, thus foreshadowing potential future trouble.

He named the alligator Carl and proceeded to raise him as a pet.

When the Army called him away in 1942, he left the alligator to be watched over by Dr. Bolen in the university's old science building. For at least three years, the alligator lived there -- "being at the university almost long enough to get his own degree," said Cotner -- and grew to more than three feet.

"It was the Navy V12 boys who took the alligator out of its cage to scare the girls," Cotner said. These Navy ROTC students would let the alligator run loose on the basement floor, not far from one of the entrances to the tunnels that linked the campus.

One day while still in the service, Cotner said he received a communication from Dr. Bolen, asking if it would be OK for the alligator to be sent away and its skeleton used for scientific study. Cotner gave the OK, and he assumed that is what happened to Carl. But he isn't sure, since he never did see the skeleton.

So is the story of an alligator lurking in the university tunnels in the 1940s and 1950s fact or fiction? Unless someone has more information, it appears to be fiction.

"I don't think the alligator ever got into the tunnels," Cotner said with a smile.

Q: Is it true that there are going to be basketball teams from the St. Louis area in the Cape Central High School Tiger Shootout in January?

A: "One team from St. Louis County and one from Jefferson County are in the event," said Missourian sports editor Toby Carrig. The tournament begins Jan. 8.

Q: What is the status of the air-conditioning work at the new high school? Who ended up paying the repair bills for the system?

A: "It's still in the hands of our attorneys," said Cape Girardeau School District superintendent Mark Bowles.

According to Bowles, the architects contend that the system was working as designed and that modifications recently made so the system would work better had been in the original design, but removed by the school district. The district contends that the system did not perform to specs, which necessitated the modifications.

"If the architects are right, the school system will absorb the expense for modifications," Bowles said. That cost is approximately $245,000.

However, Bowles said that the district has applied for and received a Department of Natural Resources loan to pay for the modifications, which are contractually guaranteed by the company doing them to generate energy savings equal to or exceeding the amount of the loan payments.

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian.

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