Like the Rougarou, it had become a bit of New Orleans legend.
For years, rumors have swirled about The Great American Alligator Museum, on Magazine Street in the Lower Garden District. While the sign on the front of the building promises that within these walls is “A 70-million-year-old tale waiting to be told,” there was no sign that it was open.
There was never a sign of life in the building; the door was locked and no hours were posted. I figured any hope of the Alligator Museum ever opening had sunk like an alligator into a mossy bayou.
However, I can now say that I have been inside The Great American Alligator Museum.
I know it’s hard to believe, and I can barely believe it myself. I’ve always been intrigued by the promise of an alligator museum on Magazine Street. I love alligators — what good Louisianian doesn’t have a fondness for that charming swamp beast? — but I had all but given up on seeing the inside of this mysterious 150-year-old building for myself.
Recently, I heard that the alligator museum was open on select days; I began to get excited.
I dialed the museum’s number back in July, and Elizabeth Chinn McDade, who owns The Great American Alligator Museum with her husband, Robert McDade, answered. She explained that the museum’s hours were limited but that the couple would be happy to welcome me in when they were ready for regular visitors.
It took three months, but I finally got the nod to see the Alligator Museum for myself.
At The Great American Alligator Museum, you enter through the gift shop with displays of all things gator-related for sale, from stuffed toy gators to jewelry in the shape of alligators.
Walk past the curtain into the museum, and you’re greeted by Fideaux, a 13-foot, 8-inch-long taxidermied alligator from Florida. Fideaux acts as the museum’s mascot.
From there, the space is packed with every type of alligator curiosity. On display is McDades’ collection of alligator salt and pepper shakers, alligator figurines, alligator bags and shoes, alligator cups, alligator bells, alligator souvenirs marked “Florida” (the other state that holds alligators dear), alligator photos of all kinds and … well, you get the point.
If it has ever existed in alligator form, you can bet it’s in the McDades’ collection.
There’s an educational aspect to The Great American Alligator Museum, too. You can find gator fossils and information about the anatomy of alligators, their habitat, and what makes them unique. There are walls of photos of people’s encounters with the beloved reptile and a baby alligator in a tank, watching the museum’s patrons with interest.
The McDades have been collecting all-things-gator for over 30 years. It has become a passion, Elizabeth said. The couple has spent the past few years organizing their collection into glass display cases, readying them for their public debut.
“We had the idea for an alligator museum, because there’s no other alligator museum in the world,” Robert said. “We were worried that someone else was going open one before we had a chance to open.”
“There have been alligator displays here and there, but no museum dedicated solely to alligators,” Elizabeth added. “I think the zoo has a novelty display with cookbooks and things like that.”
Part of the McDade’s inspiration for The Great American Alligator Museum was the Rattlesnake Museum in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The couple thought they would succeed with an alligator museum because Louisianians love alligators and, as Elizabeth said, “they are cuddlier than rattlesnakes.”
Delay in the opening wasn’t because of a lack of interest, the couple said. “People would bang on the door asking if we were open,” Robert said. “There was always an interest.”
As for the timing of the opening, Elizabeth said it finally felt right to welcome customers more consistently.
“We would open here and there over the years, but not with any set schedule,” she said. “It wasn’t a matter of being ready for the museum to be open; we’re finally open because the collection is finished. We see this place as more than just a museum — it’s an art project.”
Hours: Thursday through Saturday, 3 to 5:30 p.m.
Admission to The Great American Alligator Museum is donation-based.
Reporter Marielle Songy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.