Who was 11-feet long, with 1 eye, 3 legs, and an appetite for popcorn and marshmallows? If you said Blinky the alligator, Lakeland’s unofficial mascot during the 70s, you’re correct. The iconic beast will be re-memorialized as a 100-ft. jungle gym at Bonnet Springs Park — but more on that later.
Blinky, or as some locals liked to call him, “One-eyed Joe,” used to freely roam downtown Lakeland as a beloved communal pet. While you might be hard pressed to find such a friendly alligator these days, the 70s in Lakeland were, well, a different time (one that these 90’s babies editors are a little scared of, but overall bummed we didn’t get to experience).
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 + popcorn.
Like all good things, Blinky’s downtown residence + closeness with Lakeland’s youngins did come to an end. The cause? One local’s daring decision to give Blinky a kiss right on his toothy snout. While the kisser came out unharmed (although we might argue, a little less desirable as a valentine), 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 his new home in Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Enter: our story’s antagonist. At 1,000 lbs, Homosassa Springs’ resident crocodile, Jake, was a feisty + territorial personality who didn’t much 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.
For a time, a metal structure commemorated Blinky beside Lake Mirror. Although that sculpture has since been removed, a newer + much larger tribute to our dearly departed is coming to Lakeland next year. Florida Children’s Museum, the new + highly anticipated expansion of Explorations V Children’s Museum, will feature a 100-ft. long Blinky jungle-gym on the grounds of its Bonnet Springs Park location.
While an exact unveiling date for the structure has yet to be disclosed, children + Blinky fans alike can expect to visit the museum sometime in May 2022.