Mini Lights: Folklore as a way to deal with trauma

MiniLights

BY JABAAR EDMOND, Contributor

ST. PETERSBURG – The local Mini Lights urban legend of little green creatures snatching and eating children near Booker Creek or Lake Maggiore has been around for decades. The tale varies and even the neighborhoods, but one thing they all have in common is the town—St. Petersburg.

Looking back, some adults may think the Mini Lights was just a tool used by parents to make sure they got in the house before dark. Even I was told the story of little kids being eaten and how on some quiet nights you could actually hear them along Booker Creek.

This local legend has even inspired a movie by the Vitale Brothers, two independent filmmakers and muralist. They’ve collected stories from around south St. Pete and are making them into a film.

Most urban legends are rooted in truth, and this one is no different.

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MapWhat many people aren’t aware of is that St. Petersburg was one of the largest alligator farming cities in America. Alligator farming was so popular here that people came from all over the world to view the adult reptiles and even purchase the babies.

This practice also spawned the urban legend of tourists bringing home baby alligators back to New York City and letting them loose in the sewers and now gigantic gators terrorize citizens in the five boroughs. We all know that these creatures wouldn’t survive one winter in the cold sewers of New York.

But I digress.

The practice of alligator farming boosted tourism and brought much-needed dollars to the area. Tourist traps sprung up all over Florida. You could buy gator meat, gator hide and all the gator souvenirs you wanted.

But there was a more sinister side to this bygone era. To lure tourist to these “farms” and roadside attractions, the gators had to be lured out of their enclosures. How you may ask? Old newspaper articles from around the country show that these creatures were coaxed out by using black children as bait.

Postcards, fans and flyers advertised the murders of beautiful babies for the enjoyment of white spectators. There are newspaper and magazine articles dating back to the 19th century documenting these heinous crimes all over Florida.

So was the blood of black children used to feed gators in St. Petersburg? One could make that argument.

Florida_St_Petersburg_Fan_view2 bigI can remember one of my community elders always telling me that there’s no such thing as Mini Lights and the missing black children were kidnapped by white folks and fed to alligators. I would also hear that the gators in Lake Maggiore and other surrounding waterways were from the farms or at least descendants of those gators.

As the story goes, this murderous breed, with a propensity for black children, would travel through the sewer system with some ending up in Booker Creek in the Roser Park neighborhood.  They would wait alongside the creek for unsuspecting children and pull them into the water, never to be seen again.

In some of the Mini Lights accounts, the monsters are described as green creatures that move really fast and snatch up their victims. Could all this be attributed to the practice of luring gators with black babies?

Folklore, at times, is the way for a community to deal with the trauma they’ve experienced. So the stories parents told their children to keep them safe could be based on the practice of kidnapping black children and using them as bait for gators.

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