Who was 11 feet long, with one eye, three legs, and an appetite for popcorn and marshmallows? If you said Blinky the alligator, Lakeland’s unofficial mascot during the 1970s, you’re correct. The iconic beast was re-memorialized as a jungle gym at Florida Children’s Museum — but more on that later.
Blinky, or as some locals liked to call him, “One-eyed Joe,” freely roamed downtown Lakeland as a beloved communal pet. With frequent pats on the head and treats delivered right to him, Blinky was considered a relatively harmless member of the greater Lakeland family. He was, after all, as much of Lakeland’s mascot at that time as our ever-beloved swans are today. Children frequently visited him at his Lake Mirror home to feed him table scraps, but his favorites were reported to be marshmallows and popcorn.
Like all good things, Blinky’s downtown occupancy had to end. The cause? One local’s decision to give Blinky a kiss right on his snout. While the kisser came out unharmed, a photo of the moment garnered attention from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (then called The Florida Fish and Game Commission), who ultimately called for Blinky’s removal.
In 1979, Blinky was moved to Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Enter: Our story’s antagonist. At 1,000 lbs, Homosassa Springs’ resident crocodile, Jake, was a feisty and territorial personality who didn’t care for 400-lb Blinky’s imposition into his kingdom. The two scuffled on multiple occasions, and it was one such event on March 3, 1979, that the rivalry proved fatal for Blinky.
A metal structure commemorated Blinky beside Lake Mirror. In 2022, a newer and much larger tribute to our dearly departed went up at the Florida Children’s Museum, the new and highly anticipated expansion of Explorations V Children’s Museum located at Bonnet Springs Park. Children can climb the 100-ft. jungle gym, which features swings, a slide down Blinky’s tail, and plenty of spots to explore.