Serpentarium

Nothing says old Florida like the snake shows at the Serpentarium on South Dixie Highway. The building was part of the attraction, with its 35-foot-high hooded concrete-and-stucco cobra with a forked tongue that towered over the building. And presiding over the green mambas, king cobras and palm vipers was the memorable Bill Haast, snake handler and scientist, who opened the place in 1947 and charmed up to 50,000 visitors a year until he closed the doors in 1984. He used to grab venomous snakes barehanded – his hands became gnarled from bites and he lost parts of several fingers – and hold their open fangs over vials while venom dripped inside. Visitors were allowed to get very close to the snakes. Unfortunately, in 1977 a six-year-old boy fell into the crocodile pit at Miami Serpentarium and was killed by “Cookie”, a 12-ft-long crocodile. Haast killed the croc the next day. For years, Haast tried to prove that venom could treat multiple sclerosis, lupus, arthritis and Parkinson’s disease. Every week, he injected himself with a cocktail of venom from five snakes. He lived to be 100 and proclaimed himself the poster boy for venom.

Buy photos in the Herald store

Buy photos in the Herald store

Comments

comments