20 November 2010

Don't Drink The Water!

compiled by Teresa Martin Klaiber
November 2010

My email has been flooded since writing "Vomiting Lizards." Many told of family tales of other unusual items eaten. One suggested that Uncle Billy Taylor may have eaten lizard eggs swallowing them whole and then they hatched.

I must confess I have had a history with the lizards of Eastern Kentucky. Most of Kentucky has skinks and blue tailed fence lizards. They scamper unharmed, in the warmth of the sun, along our log home porch and flower beds.

Friends and family enjoy telling of the day I disrobed in front of my son because something was in my pants. Once I got over the panic and found out it was an innocent lizard I calmed enough to let him get back to nature. I am sure he was not happy either having traveled up my leg in unfamiliar terrain. For several years I received gifts of shirts and even socks with lizard motif.

None the less the story of Uncle Billy Taylor seemed very unusual to me. Then along with the other emails I heard from Archivist Steve Green. Steve and I have corresponded for several years on matters involving Eastern Kentucky history and genealogy. He has intrigued and stimulated me about more than one subject. So it should come as no surprise that he was able to supply me with pages of similar stories involving illness and even death by lizard.

With so many available historical newspapers online the task of coordinating articles has become much easier for researchers. Steve submitted seventeen articles between 1884 and 1910 with incidences from Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania and of course Kentucky.

Several of the articles indicated that drinking spring water was the cause of lizards in their stomachs. In that case the articles should have referenced salamanders also found in Eastern Kentucky. Salamanders are a joy to catch when you go "creekin" here in my beloved homeland.

The Stanford Semi-Weekly Interior Journal out of Central Kentucky reported, 20 November 1896, that Julia Parsons, a young girl of Union County, swallowed a lizard while drinking water from a spring. She died in horrible agony the following day.

The Richmond Climax reported August 15, 1900 from an article in the Mt. Sterling Gazette that Willie Farley, of Moreland, [Lincoln County] Kentucky, age six, coughed up a full grown lizard about seven inches in length. The boy was reported to have swallowed the lizard while drinking water and had been in his stomach for some time.

Salamanders are known to rejuvenate body parts after accidents -super regeneration- and scientists have been doing cell studies for years. Answers.com says they have poisonous enzymes in their fangs that can "eat away your insides. Nothing to crazy though." As urban legends go even Snoops.com has a link about eating salamanders.

The water in the well on our farm in Eastern Kentucky is crystal clear and icy cold. The well has served generations of family and friends. While we now have another pumped well and even utilize city water, there is nothing like plunging that stainless bucket down and pulling the water up link by link and drinking from the dipper.

Appalachian genealogy and history is unlike any other in our country and the area is flooded with folklore and old beliefs. The family swears that when Jesse James and his gang robbed the Bank of Huntington, Jesse stopped at our farm and drank from the well commenting that it was the "best water I ever tasted." Some family members declare it was "written up" in a Huntington paper. I have followed the supposed path of the gang members and can't envision they were even close to our farm let alone the well behind the mansion house. I have searched the Huntington [W.VA.] news articles without success. But it is a good story. And wouldn't it been most beneficial for the posse if Jesse had drank a lizard!


  1. Very interesting! We have lots of lizards and skinks here in Florida. My son was paid (peer bets) to swallow live geckos when he went to Vietnam on a mission trip as a teen. He never got sick at all. With the money he made he bought gifts for everyone in the family, mine was a silver necklace! Poor geckos!

  2. Teresa, what does this mean:

    Salamanders are a joy to catch when you go "creekin" here in my beloved homeland

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. On my recent trip to Webbvlle I thought I saw a lizard on a tree, glad to have this confirmed!