Gatorama was started in 1957 by an old colorful character named Cecil Clemons. Rumor has it that he had 14 wives, chain-smoked and lived in a swamp. Two out of the three might be true and we'll let you decide which ones. Some people would say he was somewhat of an outlaw. Stories about Cecil and Gatorama are just too numerous to document but beware - 9 out of 10 "old-timers" around here have some tie to Cecil or the construction of Gatorama.
When Gatorama began, US 27 was a two lane road. Cecil believed that when most Yankee's came to Florida they wanted to see three things: the beach, an orange grove and an alligator. He was going to show them alligators! Cecil was quite the scallywag and Gatorama used to have quite a different reputation than it does now. Since 1989 we have worked very hard to build a reputation as an upright hard working law abiding farm and family attraction. Gatorama is one of 17 remaining of the original 72 attractions operating in the heyday of roadside tourist attractions in the 50s and 60s before the big mouse moved to Florida.
Alligators were naturally found in this area.Cecil bought the land and fenced the alligators in. The large alligators in the front pond are some of the original stock and the biggest are probably over 60 or 70 years old.
The crocodiles were brought into Gatorama in 1968 before they were an endangered species. Crocs natural range is from Sanibel Island south. They are now mostly found in the Florida Keys.
Gatorama has the only productive breeding colony of American Crocs in the US and we are one of the few facilities permitted to accept nuisance crocs from the wild. Nuisance crocs must be relocated….they cannot be harvested the same as nuisance alligators are.
David Thielen, Patty's father was raised in Lakeport and for a time lived near Cecil. After a career as an army officer he retired and wanted to come back to his childhood home. His wife Marietta, a Yankee, did not! But she soon relented. At about the same time it became legal to farm alligators in the state of Florida.
Pioneers and Leaders
Allen and Patty are pioneers in the alligator industry. They hold two of the original 30 permits. David Thielen's interest was in developing the alligator farm, though he intended to keep his promise to Cecil and keep the attraction open and not sell off the valuable alligator and crocodile stock. As of 2007 those original golden thirty permits have been consolidated and are now held by about 10 families' who farm alligators commercially.
Allen and Patty moved to the farm in 1989 and began managing it for her parents Marietta and David Thielen. Marietta passed on in 1996 and David is pursuing his lifetime dream of golfing as many days a week as possible. He lives in LaBelle and visits often. Always a welcome treat! Allen and Patty purchased the farm in 2006.
Patty's family has been in Glades County since 1920. Allen's family settled in North Florida around 1850. Allen is a proud fifth generation Floridian, which makes Ben a sixth.
Benjamin and Erica grew up in the fishbowl we call the farm. Skated and rode a bicycle on the walkways when we were closed. Our Easter egg hunts occurred during croc nesting time. Benjamin came of age during the days he ran the farm as a young man just out of high school while Allen was recovering in an Orlando hospital from a nasty croc bite. Erica is a schoolteacher and is Gatorama's education/and field trip coordinator and writes our curriculum for school groups. Benjamin is a certified fire fighter, EMT and is our head trainer/entertainer.
Patty and Allen's dream was to enhance the entertainment and educational opportunities offered to guests and to begin special events at the park. In 1998 we began offering two shows a day (previously one a week on Sunday at 4:30 had been offered for 42 years) and offered every guest the opportunity to hold a live gator at no extra charge. In 2004 we began offering Gator Night Shining's and in 2006 we held our first ever Hatching Festival. Allen's hope is to create a model "green alligator farm". One component of this is to go from propane heating to solar heating. This solar project was completed in 2008.
Florida Crackers - A Proud Tradition
"A Florida Cracker" is a native Floridian, one who can trace his or her roots back to the early white settlers, eats grits for breakfast and addresses one or a group of people as "y'all." The origins of the name are debatable. Some say it was 17th-century English for a storyteller; others that it came from cracking corn for grits. Around here we believe it refers back to the cowboys who cracked long whips driving cattle across Florida and is exclusive to those living in the interior of the state.