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Tampa, Florida

Two-Headed Gator of Seminole Heights

"Bite or Smite" became the unlikely mascot of a Tampa suburb. 

A uniquely weird, perfectly Florida creature serves as the emblem for Tampa’s Seminole Heights neighborhood.

When the suburb was first developed in 1911, its founder used a two-headed alligator, both mouths open, as the neighborhood’s emblem in advertising materials. The bizarre image came from old Florida folklore.

In a story collected by historians R. Lopez and A. L. Perez for the WPA’s Federal Writers’ Project in 1929, a rabbit teases an alligator in the Hillsborough River. An old turtle warns, “Stay away from that gator, rabbit. By bite or smite, it’ll get you.” The rabbit ignores the turtle, taunts the alligator by dangling his feet in front of its mouth, and is surprised to find that the gator has not one head, but two, complete with its own set of sharp teeth.

The second head gobbles up the rabbit, to which the turtle remarks, “I told that rabbit, by bite or smite, it’ll get him and, by the looks of it, smite got to do the eating today.”

For years, the two-headed gator symbol continued to pop up all over Seminole Heights, bolstered by later stories. In 2014 Tampa resident Justin Arnold was walking among mangroves in a local park when he allegedly came upon an alligator with dual heads laying on the shore. His photo of the creature ran in the next day’s Tampa Bay Times. The authenticity of the photo was immediately brought into question, but a Seminole Heights restaurant, Ella’s Americana Folkart Cafe, now displays a taxidermied gator with two heads. The establishment claims it was this very specimen that appeared in the paper.

Two years later the symbol reared its twin heads again, just down the road from the Folkart Cafe at Southern Brewing and Winemaking. Arnold, with the help of community program Urban Arts Attack, installed a six-foot-tall two-headed gator sculpture standing upright in front of the brewery. Its arms are akimbo and both its mouths are tiled into crooked smiles, beckoning visitors to come try the Southern Brewing’s “Bite or Smite” beers.