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Gateway to the Mountains

George Wireman

Chapter 31: Jungleland Snake Farm

Located approximately two miles south of Thurmont on US Route 15, Jungleland Snake Farm takes its place as one of the finest tourist attractions of its kind in this area. This year marks the 34th season in exhibiting some of the world's largest and deadliest creatures of the reptile family. This unusual business was started by the late Gordon P. Gaver and is presently owned by Richard Hahn and Dr. Wayne Drda. The history of Jungleland dates back to 1910 when Gaver was a young lad only six years old.

Born on February 22, 1904, the son of the late Dr. William E. and Laura E. Gaver of Mt. Airy, Maryland, young Gaver became interested in reptiles when he was very young and collected all kinds of snakes and frogs which he kept in his father's stable where he would display them to his many friends. His father died when he was only six years old and the family then moved to Frederick, where young Gaver completed his schooling.

In 1924 he accepted his first job as a technician's helper in the experimental laboratory of the Gulf Refining Company at Port Authur, Texas. Two years later Mr. Gaver went to New York City where he landed a job with the Munson Steamship Lines as a claim agent, a job which he held for almost five years. During the last few months with Munson he was given an assignment aboard a passenger ship and made a trip to South America.

In 1930 he entered the real estate business in Elizabeth, New Jersey, a job which he enjoyed very much. All the while his interest in reptiles never ceased for he collected them whenever and wherever possible. Finally this interest became so great that he decided to do something about it. He tried to seek employment at the Washington Zoo and even made a trip to the Museum of Natural History in New York City, but met with no success.

After serious consideration he decided to go into business for him-self. In 1933 he rented an old frame school building, located about one quarter of a mile south of what is now Bostion's Garage on US Route 15, and opened his exhibition of reptiles to the public on March 15, 1933.

The public was attracted to this unusual exhibit and it soon became very popular with the passing tourists.

In the fall of 1936 he purchased a ten-acre tract of land about two miles south of Thurmont and constructed a large exhibition building to house his ever-increasing collection of reptiles. In the spring of the following year he opened the season at this new location under the name of "Jungleland Snake Farm" a name which Gaver himself originated.

Business was very good during the next three years, but, as usual, all good things must come to an end. By the fall of 1939 the war clouds were gathering over Europe and business began to drop off considerably. With the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, business grew worse as gasoline was rationed. In the spring of 1942 Mr. Gaver closed the farm and accepted a job with Fairchild Aircraft Division as an inspector. He remained with Fairchild until the close of the war and in the spring of 1946 he re-opened Jungleland, adding many new features.

Home of Jungleland Snake Farm 1933

A large outside snake pit, 18' by 36', was constructed which added much to the displaying of his still rapidly growing collection of rep-tiles. He purchased a few Rhesus monkeys and housed them in a large wire cage which always attracted the many visitors to the farm. Business during the post-war years was good and soon Gaver's plans called for the construction of several more pits to house the lizards and alligators which had arrived from Florida.

In 1953 a baby chimpanzee was purchased and a special house was built for the chimp. Another pit was added to display the large collection of rattlesnakes. It was in this pit that one of Jungleland's employees, Author D. Gernand, performed the dangerous task of milking the venom from the rattlesnakes and other poisonous rep-tiles. This feature, usually performed on week-ends, drew many large crowds.

Jungleland soon added its own concession stand, where visitors could purchase soft drinks to quench their thirst, biscuits for the monkeys, and peanuts for the chimp.

During the height of the season, Mr. Gaver employed five regular workers and several part-time employees.

In the winter months when Jungleland was closed, Mr. Gaver planned for the coming season, making repairs and building new cages. He also traveled extensively, visiting such countries as France, England, Germany, Holland, Belgium and Africa. He visited zoos in these countries, obtaining ideas for further attractions at Jungleland. Through the years he built one of the finest collections of reptile books in the country.

As an authority on snakes, Mr. Gaver had this to say when any-one asked him what to do if bitten by a snake: "Remain calm, sit down; remember that hardly anyone dies of snake bite in the United States; less than six in every hundred cases.

"Take a handkerchief, a tie, a piece of rope, or anything that could be used to make a tourniquet, and tie it near the bite, between the bite and the heart. Tighten it with a pencil or a piece of wood. Try to make incisions into the fang punctures; use a razor blade or sharp penknife. You want free bleeding. Then apply suction by mouth. Snake poison is harmless in the mouth, or even if swallowed. It only acts when injected into the skin tissue.

Circus Fans Hold Python and Pose for picture during State Convention in 1949

"It is important to make sure it was a poisonous snake that bit you. A harmless bite shows rows of punctures like pin-pricks that bleed very freely. The bites of most of our American poisonous snakes such as Rattlesnakes, Copperheads and Cottonmouth Moccasins are painful, swell and discolor, but do not bleed freely.

"Snakes are shy retiring creatures and wish to escape being molested. No matter how much you fear snakes, they are more afraid of you than you are of them. Usually they will get away as fast as they can to some hiding place; at most they will remain lying where you happen to come upon them. They will not come after you. Like every rule, this one is generally true, but it has its exceptions."

Mr. Gaver loved to talk about reptiles and often spoke of the Mambas in Africa; the King Cobra of the Orient; the Giant Brown Snake of Australia. These, he said, have been known to attack seemingly without a cause. All of these are deadly poisonous. In the United States, oddly enough, some of the harmless forms, like the Black Racer and the Coachwhip, will occasionally get up enough courage to actually "attack."

In 1962 Mr. Gaver was bitten by a King Cobra, a very poisonous snake, and rushed to the hospital for medical treatment. A special serum was rushed from the Washington Zoo by the Maryland State Police, and arrived in time to save Gaver's life. It was his own action, by remaining calm, that was largely responsible for his quick recovery. When asked if the experience had changed his love for reptiles, he was quick to reply, "No indeed."

At the height of the 1963 season, Jungleland featured one of the largest and finest displays of snakes and reptiles in this section of the country. Visiting Jungleland, the visitor beheld the following: Indian Hooded Cobras, a 14-foot King Cobra, Russell's Vipers, Banded Krait, Gaboon Vipers, Ball Pythons, Regal Pythons, Diamondback Rattlers, Cottonmouth Water Moccasins, Coral Snakes, Copperheads, Merian Beaded Lizards, Gila Monsters, Black Snakes, Florida Alligators and Crocodiles, Sooty Mangley Monkeys from Africa, Rhesus Monkeys from India, Spider Monkeys from South America, a Chimpanzee, and a 125-pound Galapogos Tortoise.

On occasions, Jungleland was the scene of picnics, family outings and in 1949 was host to the State Convention of the Circus Fans Association of America.

Wrestling alligators is all in a day's work for Richard Hahn at Jungleland

Mr. Gaver was always making plans for the future and often dreamed of building a monkey mountain, such as the one featured zoo and a miniature railroad which he often thought of naming "Jungleland Express." These and many other plans, however, never materialized, for Mr. Gaver died in the summer of 1964.

On August 1st following a busy day at Jungleland, Gaver was stricken with an apparent heart attack and died moments later. As a result of his death, Jungleland was closed and his prize collection of animals and reptiles was given to the Washington Zoo. This was Gaver's own wish, for he always provided for them, even in his will.

In the spring of 1966, the property was sold to Richard Hahn and Dr. Wayne Drda, who planned to continue the business. After several months of cleaning and repairing, Jungleland re-opened under the new management and today does a thriving business on the passing tourists.

With the skill of surgeons and the flair of showmen, Hahn and Drda perform weekly milkings of the highly poisonous rattlesnakes and on occasions, the deadly poisonous "King Cobra." This snake, at the St. Louis Zoo. His plans for the future included a children's one of the most valuable varieties of reptiles at Jungleland, is milked every five weeks. The venom is sold to a Baltimore research lab-oratory.

Hahn and Drda, shod in heavy boots and armed with poles, climb into the snake pit and select a likely serpent. Hahn then throws the snake's tail under his arm so that it can't slither out of his grasp and, holding the head in one hand, gently applies pressure to the venom glands with his index finger. One drop at a time enough to kill a small child the clear poison trickles into a vile below, until may-be a half ounce enough to kill 15 adults glistens in the glass container. Watching Hahn, the tourist notes beads of perspiration glistening on his brow. Should the snake bite him, Mr. Hahn, who has no immunity to the poison, would die instantly. Hahn, like Mr. Gaver, became interested in snakes when a child, but has never been bitten by one of his poisonous pets.

Jungleland today features many attractions including a modern gift shop, snake milking, alligator wrestling, a concession stand, and a children's zoo. The zoo, often considered in Gaver's future plans, is becoming very popular with the young children for it gives them the opportunity to pet many of their favorite animals. Over 500 animals including colorful exotic birds, performing monkeys, tame and baby farm animals, big cats, bear and deer are attractively caged throughout the grounds.

In the fall of 1967, twenty-four American crocodiles arrived from Columbia, South America, making a most entertaining display.

What the future holds for Jungleland is anybody's guess, but plans are in the making to add more attractions and to further expand the present facilities. A new front has been planned and 12 additional acres have been added to the rear of the present site for large natural enclosures of hoofed animals like buffalo and moose. A picnic area as well as an arena for wild animal acts is also included in the plans for the future.

A visit to Jungleland will prove to be both educational and entertaining, and the visitor can learn first-hand, the true facts and better understand the many animals and reptiles that roam the earth.

Mr. Hahn's interest in promoting the many worthwhile attractions in the Thurmont area, has won for him, the respect and admiration of the entire community. The recent Visitor's Guide, published by the Thurmont Jaycees, was one of Mr. Hahn's ideas, designed to provide the visitor with helpful information and to make his visit to Thurmont an enjoyable and long-remembered one.

Chapter Index | Chapter 32:  Clubs and Organizations

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