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Frank Meier kept alligator, snake

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By Linda Hanabarger

The news headline from The Vandalia Union read: “Sleepy Citizen Shot and Killed in Vandalia.”
I’m too young to remember Frank H. Meier’s alligator, but many of our readers may recall this "pet" that, along with an ancient black snake, inhabited the Meier greenhouse.
The Union newspaper reporter wrote that E. F. Steffen, the new owner of the F.H. Meier Greenhouses, fired the fatal shot, and then went on to fire a few of his own.
He wrote, “After residing in Vandalia for the past 25 years, a sleepy citizen was shot and killed here because he appeared to be of no particular further use or value.”
For those who have had an opportunity to see the 1938 Lions Club movie, the alligator, named “Ambrose,” according to Panzi Blackwell, is featured as part of the scenes from Meier Greenhouses. This was my first introduction to Frank Meier’s pet.
Ambrose was 7 feet long and was brought to Vandalia when he was half that size. His home was a concrete pool in a corner of the Meier greenhouses.
“In the wintertime, he slept – hibernated – and took no nourishment. In the summer,  he more than made up for it by consuming large amounts of meat and foodstuffs,” the newspaper article said.
Ambrose was a main attraction, and many people came to see the alligator. After years of being poked, prodded and gawked at, it is no wonder Ambrose became bad-tempered.  
The alligator generally uses only his tail for fighting purposes. But as the old fellow approached his dotage, his temper became nasty and he would rear up as if to use his powerful jaws on people coming near him.
“Men handling him with a rope were usually wary of his tail, with which he could knock a man head over heels,” the article continued
F.H. Meier hated to see his old pet exterminated, and contact was made with the St. Louis Zoo. But officials there said he was too large for their purposes.
A second news article, found in an August 1945 issue of The Union, told of Frank Meier’s black snake.
“A giant patriarch, who left a trail four to five inches wide when he crossed the dust of a hog lot and side street," the article said.
"Once he was seen majestically wriggling his way along the roadway that runs along the west side of the greenhouse, his head carried a foot high in the air."
My family pets are more of the dog and cat variety, ones we can wrestle with and not end up as dinner.