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Town gator.

Ole Hardhide: Town Gator (Gone)

Field review by the editors.

Ponchatoula, Louisiana

Ponchatoula likes to be known as the Strawberry Capital of the World, and claims to fly the World's Largest American Flag from a Pole. But it's best known to tourists as the home of Ole Hardhide, the community's mascot alligator, who lives in the heart of downtown.

Town gator cage.

Ole Hardhide debuted as an attraction in 1972, when he lived in a fenced pool outside the Ponchatoula Dairy Treat. Alligators at the time were an uncommon sight (they were added to the Endangered Species List in 1973), and Ole Hardhide's popularity prompted Ponchatoula's mayor to adopt the toothy ambassador, then move him to the center of town, where he lived in a custom-built enclosure. He quickly became Ponchatoula's civic celebrity, and when he "went to the eternal swamp" in 1985, according to a bronze plaque on the enclosure, Ole Hardhide was given a funeral attended by several thousand people. "His coffin was carried on a horse-drawn wagon to his resting place south of the city as a Louisiana jazz band played appropriate tunes."

Ole Hardhide's death did not end the gator's role as the mascot of Ponchatoula. An unbroken succession of replacement "Ole Hardhides" have lived in the gator enclosure ever since.

The city's commitment to Ole Hardhide was manifest in 2012, when it completely refurbished the gator's living quarters and added local Louisiana plants, a shaded roof, and a sprinkler system. Coins tossed into Ole Hardhide's enclosure are collected and deposited in a bank account in the gator's name, and Ole Hardhide is kept fat and happy on a regular diet of chicken meat.

Despite the gator's role as city ambassador, and the minimal demands placed on Ole Hardhide by adoring fans, the gator does need a break every now and then, and may be out of sight at the bottom of the swamp pool if you if you visit on a hot summer afternoon.

In February 2023 it was announced that the current Ole Hardhide, a 65-year-old female, would be retiring. The town insisted that "this is not the end of the Hardhide era" and announced plans to build a new, improved home for the new Ole Hardhide, although by 2024 there was still no new home or alligator.

Ole Hardhide: Town Gator

I-55 exit 26. Drive east on Hwy 22 into downtown. On the left (north) side of Hwy 22/Pine St., at the train tracks, between NE and NW Railroad Aves.

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