Flamboyant William “Alligator Man” Carpenter was an early leader in the City’s business community and helped create the St. Petersburg Board of Realtors, but it was his passion for the American alligator that brought him fame.
Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford appeared on the silver screen when Carpenter opened the Royal Palm Theater – St. Petersburg’s first movie theater – on Central Avenue, but the main attraction was the live penned alligators at the entrance. Later, Carpenter opened the Royal Palm Gift Shop next to the theater, where he had as many as 1,000 alligators on site. Carpenter would sell and ship alligators throughout the country (Carpenter is second from right in the photo).
In 1916 Carpenter decided to feed America’s fascination with the alligator by taking his troubles on the road. Actually, it was only one Trouble – a six-foot-long gator that Carpenter fastened to his Hudson touring car and began a cross-country journey that ended in Seattle. Along the way Carpenter would stop show off Trouble to the amazement of Americans who had never seen an alligator. He also handed out brochures promoting the most perfect place on earth – St. Petersburg, Florida.
In the tradition of Williiam “Alligator Man” Carpenter, the St. Petersburg Museum of History currently has on display in the Main Gallery – Alligators & Oddities – stories of Florida’s favorite reptile, along with a collection of rare oddities including St. Pete’s own Two- Headed Calf.
The St Petersburg Museum of History is located at 335 2nd Ave NE, St. Petersburg, FL 33701. For more information about exhibits, hours, and ticket pricing visit SPMOH.com or call (727) 894-1052.