Alligator Joe Campbell Article
This Article appeared March 27, 1960 in the Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville, Florida.
(The clipping was found among a group of newspaper clippings in the possesion of Jo Anne Lee Cornick)
by Cynthia Parks
Times - Union Staff Writer
Ostrich Riding Little Lady
Talks Alligators to Shore
Ladies who like to fish, but don't like to bait their own hooks, need to shoulder a cane pole and go fishing sometime with Mrs. W. D. Godfrey, 2235 Redfern Road.
Dropping a line in the creek one day with her sister, Mrs. Bertha Roohan, Mrs. Godfrey spied something in the water that looked familiar. Getting down on her hands and knees, on the bank of the river she made a low gutteral sound that she had imitated often in wild Florida swamps. The object in the water began to rise, and soon a big alligator came drifting to the shore, lured by the call of the wild.
Mrs. Godfrey has had a good deal of experience in dealing with the 'gators. Long-time residents of Jacksonville, may recall the Florida Alligator and Ostrich Farm which stood where the Prudential building is now.
Mrs. Godfrey was then Mrs. H. Ian Campbell, wife of the famed "Alligator Joe," Mrs. Godfrey loved the life on the trail as much as her husband, and generally went with him on tracking expeditions.
Intrepid Huntress Went With Husband to Stock Alligator Farm
"Do you know how to catch mocassins from a boat? "
Acknowledging that most people don't, Mrs. Godfrey can tell you that the snakes hang motionless as they see a boat approach.
"You carry a big can, like a garbage can, with a little trap door on it. Then, with a can with a looped rope on it, you slip the loop over the snake's head. Then you give a quick jerk. ("Be sure its a quick jerk, " cautions the little lady.) "He'll struggle, but you just drop him in the little trap door and cut the rope. That's all there is to it."
Boa is a Cool Companion
"Any accident is carelessness"
Mrs. Godrey's interest in reptile hunting probably dates to her meeting with Alligator Joe when he exhibited his scaly menagerie in Saratoga, N. Y. Ian Campbell was born in India, his father a British officer, and he came to this country for his health when he was 18.
One of the quickest ways to either improve your health or lose it altogether is to take up the training of wild horses.
Ian Campbell accepted the challenge, and soon became a roper and rider in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.
It was a trip to Florida that lured him away from the balky broncs to the slippery saurians. His farm was more than a mere exhibition. Painstakingly had assembled an authentic graphic display of the complete lifespan of 'gators, including a hatching incubator.
With a shrewd knowledge of every angle of business, Mrs. Godfrey was often found in the sales shop while "Alligator Joe" gave his colorful interpretation of the local wild life. Are resident of Jacksonville for many years and a lifelong friend of Mrs. Godfrey, Jennie Lou (Mrs. Harry) Wilbert can recall going to the farm as a little girl, following the tourists around as they gaped at the great sluggish animals.
"Once I was standing in front of the ostrich pen. 'Alligator Joe' appeared not to even see me. Then, in the middle of his spiel, he said, 'and this scrawny, red-necked old ostrich is named 'Jennie Lou.'" With a twinkle in his eye, he glanced at the little girl. "I was hopping mad," laughs Mrs. Wilbert, "although not a soul there shared the joke but 'Alligator Joe' and me. He was full of pranks."
Dainty in size, Mrs. Godfrey's taste in the prehistoric leftovers that inhabit Florida's creeks, may seem strange to some. But she enjoyed every part of her exhistence, often touring with her husband to exhibit the collection.
Mrs. Godfrey recalls her first ostrich ride before a large Canadian audience. She boarded the little sulkey, and the plan was for the ostrich to compete around the track with a race horse.
"Over a short distance an ostrich can always beat a race horse." One problem: the ostrich can't beat a race horse when it won't go. An ascending baloon frightened the great bird, and it immediately sat down.
"The only way we could coax it to its feet was to hood it. Finally we got it up and going, and then we really did go," laughs Mrs. Godfrey.
Plus handling and ostrich, tearing madly around the track with the sound of hoof beats goading him on, she had to cope with an unruly corduroy skirt. Careening wildy past the grandstands Mrs. Godfrey chuckles as she recalls her husband's agitation. "But I did it that time, and many times afterward."
When the alligator farm was tranferred from Phoenix park to Southside in 1916, the Campbells lived on a houseboat near where the ferry used to dock. Tenderly fond of animals, they had a pet otter who usually trailed them on a leash.
One morning the otter escaped from his pen in the farm, and afraid he'd make for the St. Johns and disappear, Mrs. Godrey called him.
"Jo-Jo came up the gangplank and into the houseboat. But he was awfully nervous. He ran 'round and 'round, nearly tripping me." Suddenly the otter, still half-wild, attacked Mrs. Godfrey biting her severely. "Alligator Joe" tried to find something to strike him with, and the otter bit him . "We sent him to the zoo," she concludes, but without bitterness.
This was the only really dangerous incident out of a life full of toothy saurians and squirming reptiles, she says.
"Of course, I was bitten by both 'gators and snakes several times, in boxing them, you know. But there was no accident at the farm that was not caused by carelessness."
One of the grimmest episodes was when a guide lost his arm. Just as the 'gator with its great crushing jaws, opened his mouth to grab the man's head, bystanders tore him loose, but the arm couldn'b be saved.
It was about this time that Campbell wrote to England for W. D Godfrey to come to be his helper. Douglas Godfrey learned the business, but turned back to banking. However, at Campbell's death in 1926, Godfrey turned from banking to alligator farming, and he and Sadie Campbell were married. Many visitors were brought to the farm by the Clyde Lines, among them the famous Scotch balladeer, Harry Lauder, who hummed as he strolled along the saurian trails.
Occasionally preparing a very special treat for visitors, Mrs. Godfrey scrambled a great ostrich egg. Making a sizeable omlette for at least eight people, many skeptics didn't believe the egg's origin.
"I had one man tell me he'd never touch and ostrich egg. He asked for a second helping before he found out what he was eating. My husband nearly choked with laughter. It takes a good three hours to boil one," she adds.
Mrs. W. D. Godfrey
And now the husky voiced little alligator charmer doesn't live alone on memories, rich as they were. Her hobbies are without number. Her nimber fingers are always wielding a paint brush on a ceramic lady, a wooden tray, a piece of china, an antique doll, or perhaps hammering an aluminum tray.
She also makes crosses sparkling with stones from old costume jewelry.
Her luminous cone painting on satin has won a blue ribbon at the state fair, and still this doesn't include the many collections shelved around her house. Reflecting the busy activity of many years, her home is a miniature museum of memories and manual arts.
Perhaps it is well that Mrs. Godfrey has all these hobbies. Since civilization has closed in on us, you just don't find mocassins draped on trees and 'gators in the creek the way you used to.