The manager of the place--now GM of The Iron Horse Restaraunt in Glendale--Wine Sevant Jeff Menke--always joked that the little lizards would be used in soup or as part of the special. It was corny, which I hate, but it brings back warm memorys. Good times.
So this was appropriate...
What's Weird in Cincinnati by Dan Woellert (from CinAd's The Wire) In these cold Winter days, I find my imagination running off to the hot lazy summer. In a recent post lunch daydream, I was reminded of the weird creature I run into in Cincinnati during the summer. If you have ever made it to one of the fantastic parks on the east side of Cincinnati, you may have run across lizards scampering in the sun. In fact, if you have been to Mt, Lookout, Hyde Park, Eden Park, or even as far out as Mariemont, you may have seen these strange lizards scampering among the rocks. I have made pets of them myself temporarily, as I occasionally find them running through my east side home in the warmer months.
The occurrence of these lizards is not an urban myth, but does have a strange history attached to it. Cincinnatians have heard these lizards referred to as the ‘Lazarus Lizards’. There have been numerous articles over the past two decades in the popular local press and in scientific journals, increasing this crazy ‘Lizard Lore.’
What is interesting is that these lizards are not native to Cincinnati – in fact, they are not even native to North America. They are a variety of the European Wall Lizard, or more scientifically, Podarcis Muralis. The story is that a young member of the Lazarus department store family, George Rau, obtained about 10 specimens of these lizards on a 1952 summer vacation in Lake Garda near Milan, Italy. He brought them to Cincinnati and let them free in the woods near his parental home in Torrence Court in Mt Lookout. This lore is verified by a letter from George Rau, held at the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History, that is a response to all the articles in local papers.
It is estimated by herpetologists at the Cincinnati Zoo, that these lizards occupy an ecosystem of about 6 square kilometers on the east side and are expanding out at an increasing rate each year. Contributing to this expansion are people catching and releasing them in other areas of Ohio and Kentucky in home gardens. They are known to be an aggressive species, often causing the migration of other less aggressive lizard species who compete for food and sunbathing space. They apparently love the hilly and rocky terrain of the east side, and are able to burrow in the many unmortared stone walls to survive the winters. Milan, Italy, has an almost identical annual temperature and precipitation pattern to Cincinnati.
These Lazarus Lizards can reach up to about six inches in length and are a greenish gray color, and some have a blue belly or blue spots, as well as other variations of red, orange, and even dull yellow. Apparently, another smaller shipment of these lizards, this time from another Lazarus family vacation to Ibiza, Spain, was orchestrated by the same George Rau in the late 50s. This species has been confirmed as Podarcis Pityusenis vedrea, a subspecies of the Ibizan Wall Lizard. According to the herpetology authorities, it is unlikely that this second species either survived, and if they did, interbred with the first group. No funded study has been engaged to collect mitochondrial DNA from the local specimens to verify an interbreeding.
The legality of George Rau’s lizard abduction of the 1950s is certainly under question. However, the result of his action certainly makes for a great local story and even a local mascot to compete with the flying pig. Who knows we might all be running the Lazarus Lizard Marathon in a few years…. Probably unlikely!