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Bill Haast and the Miami Serpentarium - recent news articles
1984 Miami Herald Photo

Bill Haast and the Miami Serpentarium - recent news articles

SW 128th Street and South Dixie Highway, Dade County

From The Miami Herald, August 3, 2006

FLASHBACK | THE MIAMI SERPENTARIUM
'Miami snakeman' is 95 and still injects himself with venom

BY LUISA YANEZ
lyanez@MiamiHerald.com

IN PUNTA GORDA: Bill Hasst sold his Miami Serpentarium site in Pinecrest in 1984, and settled in southwest Florida. 'There is no reason to visit Miami. I've outlived all my friends down there.'
FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

King cobras. Green mambas. Palm vipers. Name a deadly snake and Bill Haast has either tamed it or been bitten by it.

For almost four decades, Haast charmed curious tourists who flocked to his South Dixie Highway attraction, the Miami Serpentarium, to watch his snake show.

Haast's death-defying act didn't disappoint. In his trademark white lab coat, he would approach a venomous reptile, lure it with one hand and grab its head with the other. He would shove the snake's fangs into the top of a vial and watch the venom trickle down.

Jaws dropped. Children shrieked in horrified glee.

''It was the best snake show there ever will be,'' said George Van Horn, a frequent visitor who now runs a similar attraction in Central Florida.

Haast, the world-renowned ''Miami snakeman,'' is now 95 and living on a sprawling Punta Gorda ranch with his third wife, Nancy -- and 400 snakes that supply his venom-selling Miami Serpentarium Laboratories.

''I know a lot of people in Miami still remember the Serpentarium and wonder what became of me, that's why I'm talking to you,'' said Haast, who would only be interviewed by telephone.

''At 95, he doesn't like to do anything that takes time away from his lab work,'' added his wife.

Haast is still trying to prove a point: He'll go to his grave believing venom can heal.

VENOM `POSTER BOY'

The medical establishment -- and the Food and Drug Administration -- never bought into Haast's enthusiasm for the lethal snake juice as treatment for multiple sclerosis, lupus, arthritis and Parkinson's disease.

In his case, he claims the venom has helped him live a long and healthy life -- with the exception of his snakebitten hands.

''I could become a poster boy for the benefits of venom,'' Haast jokes. ``If I live to be 100 I'll really make the point.''

Every week, Haast still injects his arm with a cocktail of venom from five snakes -- cobras, mambas, kraits, cottonmouths and rattlesnakes.

The injections are a routine he began in 1948 -- the year he opened the Serpentarium -- and continued after he closed it in 1984. Originally, the shots immunized Haast against snake bites, an occupational hazard.

Now, he believes, the long-term benefits of the shots have spared him from many of the maladies of old age. ``I feel like a man in his 60s.''

But Haast no longer can handle the forked-tongued killers that made him famous. He said his last snakebite, Number 173 suffered in 2003 -- courtesy of a Malaysian pit viper -- was the final blow to his hands, already mangled from years of enduring the nerve- and tissue-destroying poison that snakes spew when biting.

His hands are gnarled and deadened, some fingers hang immobile, some look stunted in growth, and a pinky and index finger have been amputated at the knuckle, photographs taken by his wife reveal.

''I can no longer open my hands wide or make a fist,'' Haast explained. ``I can't complain. My hands served me well.''

RESEARCH WAS GOAL

For Haast, the bites, the snakes and the Serpentarium were only a means to an end.

''I always meant for the attraction to support the venom research, but it just kept growing and growing. It became bigger than I expected,'' he said.

Haast really wanted to find the cure or treatment for polio and feels he came close.

In the late 1940s, it occurred to Haast that the symptoms of polio mirrored the nerve and muscle disruption caused by a cobra bite. He gathered 400 cobras and took his findings to a University of Miami researcher. At the UM, Haast led in the testing of the serum on monkeys. The findings were very encouraging, Haast said. But Jonas Salk produced a polio vaccine in April 1955, ending Haast's first effort to turn venom into a miracle drug.

In the 1970s, along with his friend, respected Miami physician Ben Sheppard, Haast distributed PROven, a venom-based serum. Sheppard gave injections to patients with MS. His clinic became famous and was featured on CBS's 60 Minutes.

But the FDA shut it down and banned the drug, saying PROven had not been properly tested for humans. ''Failing at this is one of my biggest regrets,'' Haast said.

THRIVING BUSINESS

Despite the medical debacles, the Serpentarium continued to flourish. During its heyday, it attracted about 50,000 Florida visitors a year.

The Serpentarium's landmark 35-foot-high, hooded, concrete-and-stucco cobra stuck out its forked tongue at motorists and arriving patrons on South Dixie Highway and Southwest 126th Street.

Inside, the snake shows were pure drama with no frills, no fanfare, no drum roll, no silence please, no ladies and gentleman. Haast's second wife, Clarita, simply narrated, setting the mood for the audience.

Sometimes a snake would upstage Haast, biting him in front of spectators. He suffered 17 bites that nearly killed him, one put him in an iron lung for three days, his system paralyzed. The attackers included cobras, a krait, green mambas, a pygmy rattlesnake, a European asp and a palm viper.

National television shows hosted by Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas and Johnny Carson invited him or featured him during visits to Miami.

In 1965, Cobras in his Garden, a book about Haast's exploits, was published. Today, out of print, it's coveted by collectors and sells on eBay for more than $100, a testament to Haast's popularity.

Television, a book, big crowds, all helped to build up Haast's image and popularity. But Haast had detractors. They considered him a glorified snake-handler, a showman, a medicine man.

''I know some people have said that about Bill, but he is one of the hardest-working, most diligent, focused individuals you'll ever meet,'' said Van Horn, 62, who worked at the Serpentarium as a young man.

Today, Van Horn owns Reptile World Serpentarium near St. Cloud, a venom business where the public can pay to watch workers extract venom from snakes.

''From the first day I walked into the Miami Serpentarium, I knew that was for me,'' he said. Ditto for Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Lt. Jeffrey Fobb, who frequented shows as a boy. Now 39, he is a member of the rescue department's anti-venin unit that rushes to inject those bitten by a poisonous snake.

''Haast was an iconic figure in the snake world and innovator in the field of venom collecting,'' said Fobb, who keeps a photo of Haast and a king cobra in his office.

EARLY START

The story of how Haast made his way to Florida has a certain Huck Finn appeal. He was born in 1910 in Paterson, N.J., to German-American parents -- his father was a mechanic, his mom a housewife. Haast caught his first snake at 7; his first serious bite was at 12.

He purchased his first exotic snake, a diamondback rattler, from a catalog. The seller's address: Eureka, Fla. Haast knew he had to head south, to a warmer climate favored by snakes.

At 19, he got a job with a roadside snake attraction. When the show headed to Florida, Haast convinced his parents to let him go. It was 1929. The Depression killed the snake attraction, so Haast went to work for a bootlegger based in the Florida Everglades, until revenue agents busted their still.

Haast eventually returned home, married and enrolled in airplane-mechanic school, but Florida called. He landed a job with Miami-based Pan American Airways. His dream of creating a snake sanctuary grew nearer.

During World War II, he was aboard flights that delivered food and medicine to Africa and Asia. While the rest of the crew was out having fun in the exotic locales, he bought exotic snakes.

How did he get them through Customs? ''I would hide them in my tool box,'' he said.

Haast eventually sold his family home to buy the land on South Dixie Highway where the Serpentarium would rise. Haast and his teenage son, Bill Jr., began constructing snake pits, the beginning of the Serpentarium. Opening day was Jan. 1, 1948.

BOY KILLED

The attraction prospered until a tragedy in 1977. A 6-year-old boy fell into a crocodile pit and was killed.

Haast still grows somber when retelling the story: It was a Sunday. People were lining up for a show. Suddenly, he heard screaming and ran toward the commotion.

Haast saw that a boy had fallen into the crocodile pit. Haast jumped down into the pit. By then Cookie, the 12-foot, 2,000-pound crocodile, had the boy in its mouth. ''I hit him over the head, trying to get him to let go.'' Others joined Haast. Cookie broke free and took the boy underwater. ''I knew it was over then.'' Haast calls it one of the lowest points in his life. The night of the accident, he took his Luger, walked out to the pit and shot Cookie in the head. It was buried on the grounds. The boy's family never sued, accepting only the maximum insurance payment, Haast said.

LIVES SAVED

But if a life was lost at the Serpentarium, Haast wants it known that transfusions from his immunized blood to snake victims helped save 21 lives. Among them a zoo director from Des Moines, a local construction worker and a Venezuelan father.

By 1984, interest in such roadside attractions like the Serpentarium had waned. Haast finally sold the 5.2-acre lot, now in Pinecrest, for $3.2 million and headed to Utah for more snake research.

Today, a McDonald's and a shopping center sit where the Serpentarium once thrilled. The giant concrete-and-stucco cobra was donated to South Miami Senior High but fell apart during its move to the school.

''I miss the excitement of the Serpentarium,'' Haast said. ``Funny, the very place I wanted to get away from, I now miss. But there is no reason to visit Miami. I've outlived all my friends down there.''

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Snake man is master of poison and cure
Bill Haast, 97, is lauded for pioneering work with snake venom
By Kate Spinner
Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Published: Friday, July 11, 2008 at 4:30 a.m.

CHARLOTTE COUNTY - Bill Haast's 97-year-old fingers, withered by scores of snake bites, are too weak to handle cobras and pit vipers anymore. But he still wakes up each morning to turn snake venom from across the globe into freeze-dried powder for medical laboratories.

STAFF PHOTO / ED PFUELLER Order photo
Bill Haast, center, is recognized by members of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Venom Response Unit for his work helping snake-bite victims. He received the key to the city.Those same hands that for decades eased venom from the world's most poisonous snakes held the key to the city of Miami on Thursday.

The honor, bestowed by Miami's mayor, was delivered to Haast at his home east of Punta Gorda by members of the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Venom Response Unit. With 43 types of antivenin, a diverse enough supply to treat 90 percent of all bites, the unit's antivenin bank supplies the U.S. military and hospitals around the nation -- sometimes the world.

"Our unit wouldn't be around if it wasn't for him; he's the inspiration," said Al Cruz, the unit's founder, standing beneath the tall branches of a live oak that Haast had allowed to grow through his screened pool patio. "We're the only fire-based response team in the world."

The emergency services unit celebrated its 10th year recently at the Metro Zoo in Miami. Haast could not make the ceremony, so part of the ceremony came to him.

Haast maintained a similar bank in Miami when he ran the Serpentarium theme park, which closed in 1984. He briefly lived in Utah and returned to Florida to live in Charlotte County 18 years ago.

His contribution to antivenin science is unparalleled and earned him recognition throughout his life.

Early in Haast's career, he slogged the wilds of the Everglades collecting cottonmouths and rattlers. When he had enough, he opened the Serpentarium in Miami in 1946.

Soon, his quest for exotic snakes stretched around the world. He made special trips, bringing back such perilous species as cobras and saw-scaled vipers.

"Any time I saw an unusual snake I brought it back," Haast said, sitting on cushioned patio furniture. Behind him rose an 8-foot concrete cobra statue that once decorated the serpentarium.

Eventually, his collection became one of the most diverse venomous snakes on the planet. Crowds cheered as he collected venom from the snakes in dramatic displays.

Haast routinely injected himself with venom to build up resistance to the ill effects of the inevitable bites. It was an experiment, but having received his first venomous snake bite as a teenager, Haast was used to risks.

"I just have a curious nature," he said.

Horses had developed resistance to the poisons through the same process, and the blood of those horses was used to create life-saving antivenin.

For Haast, the weekly shots paid off, helping him to survive 172 venomous snake bites. His powerful blood also rescued 21 snake-bite victims.

In his heyday, he was flown around the world to hospitals where people bitten by rare snakes would have died without his blood.

His unique contribution to medicine earned him widespread recognition. In 1964, a book was written about him. He later received commendations from President Gerald Ford and Miami Mayor Stephen Clark.

Still recognized as a top authority on venomous snakes, Haast, who moved his snakes to a lab on his sprawling Charlotte County complex in 1990 (he no longer has snakes there), said he answers questions from callers every day.

Some questions, like the one a decade ago from Cruz, the venom unit founder, mean the difference between life and death.

Cruz called Haast after a man was bitten by a Black Mamba, one of the most poisonous snakes of Africa.

Although Haast did not have antivenin for that snake, he knew a collector who did and who provided the 15 vials of antivenin that saved the victim's life.

It was a close call, one that underscored the county's need for an antivenin bank, Cruz said. For inspiration and advice, he leaned on Haast.

"When he closed his doors there was a lapse and there were some fatalities related to exotic snake bites," said Chuck Seigert, of the Miami unit.

Miami is a hotbed for venomous snake bites because it is the entry point for almost any exotic snake, whether it is bound for a collector or a zoo in another state.

Since the county revived the antivenin bank in 1998, it has saved 1,000 snake-bite victims, Seigert said.

On Thursday, members of the rescue unit came to shake Haast's hand. Besides the mayor's key, they gave him a firefighter's helmet bearing the unit's name: Venom 1.

"He's like an icon to people that know him," Cruz said.


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Stefanie 16-Feb-2014 18:16
I grew up in North Miami Beach and remember going to the Serpentarium many times, but my favorites were Sundays when the King Cobra came out. We had an African Ball Python that had stopped eating, and I remember bringing it with my father to have it fed. I was fascinated watching them put Mr Haast's feeding tube down and feed the snake. How lucky were we that we had this place?
Armando del Portillo 18-Dec-2013 22:44
My father used to deliver popcorn to the Miami Serpentarium in the late 60's early 70's and I used to love to watch Mr. Haast handle the King Cobras. I remember one time that one got the better of him and bit him in the neck. All he did was yell ouch and that concludes the show for today. He was back at it next week when we came again to fill the popcorn machines.
robert 27-Aug-2013 06:35
Even though this article is of the Snakeman as we called him I want to comment a special person. Dr. Ben Sheppard mentioned in the article helped me with my drug addiction in 1974. He had a clinic called St. Jude Clinic on SW 8 Street. I would see him periodically. We considered him the Patron Saint of Junkies in those days. I will forever carry fond memories of "Doc" and how he turned my life around. RIP kind soul.
Don Boyd15-Jan-2013 15:42
Thank you Diana, and all the other folks who have posted, for posting your personal memories of Bill Haast and your insights that the general public would never know about if you hadn't written in. I, and many other people, really enjoy reading the comments that are left under the photos.

Don
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Diana 15-Jan-2013 12:14
I worked at the Serpentarium for roughly a year, about two years before it closed. It was an incredible place. Bill was an outstanding dedicated man. But I must say he had a good sense of humor too. I'll never forget April Fools day there! As a joke on him, a staff member placed a rubber snake into one of the boxes that normally held a venomous snake for the show. When he reached in to get it with his hook, he realized he had been had, then chose to play along and scare the audience who had already watched him take out a few deadly snakes from other boxes. He suddenly dropped his hook and reached in with his hand, and grabbed it then swung it over the heads of the audience. They all screamed, then everyone had a good laughed together! Later that day, boy did he get back at the girl that had done this. He placed a live, non-venomous snake into one of the supposedly empty boxes to be cleaned. When she reached into the box and found movement inside she shrieked so loudly we could hear her from far across the large garden, and we chuckled "I guess she found it" Someone said. We looked out and could see both Bill and Nancy peeking out from their office with a big grin!

As for his research, all I can say is this. When I first started working there, there was an elderly man in a wheelchair that would come each week to pickup "bottled water" from Hoss in the back lab. We all knew it wasn't water he was coming for, but we didn't ask. As the months rolled by I noticed something very interesting about the visiting man. Within less then a year this man went from a wheelchair, to a walker, to a cane. Knowing his research, you can fill in the blanks as well as I can!
Guest 24-Jul-2012 18:44
THE BAND FROM SOUTH MIAMI HIGH RODE WITH THE COBRA TO THE SCHOOL ON A FLAT BED TRUCK WITH THE BAND HAPPILY PLAYING AND BEATING THEIR DRUMS--SUDDENLY--SEVERAL CARS AHEAD OF ME THE SNAKE --WHICH WAS PLANTED STRAIGHT UP--SUDDENLY FELL APART ON THE TRUCK --JUST SORT OF DISENTAGRATED --AND THE BOTTOM WAS RUINED--BUT A SMALL PART INCLUDING THE HEAD REMAINED-AND APPEARED UNDAMAGED---AND I PRESUME--MADE IT SAFELY TO THE SCHOOL--J. MUDD
Mark Goddard 28-Nov-2011 05:37
As a young Canadian boy back in the 1960`s. I would vacation with my parents in Florida in the summer months. We visited the Serpentarium and it was an amazing experience that I remember vividly to this day. Mr. Hasst brought out a huge 16 foot long King Cobra and kept it controlled on the lawn in front of us. It was not that far from us and yet we were not fearful. I remember him extracting cobra venom too as that was part of a demonstration. I read here about the boy who was killed after falling into the crocidile pit. There was a croc that had lost its tail because it had bit at it after thinking it was another croc coming to steal its food. Apparently the damaged tail had to be amputated afterwards. But I remember leaning over the small wall to look closer at that croc when my feet slipped and I pitched forward towards the pit. Luckily I caught myself in time to stop myself from falling in. I am wondering if that was the same pit the young boy had fallen into. It was a very low wall. The Serpentarium was a magical place and Mr. Haast was a very interesting fellow. I also remember hearing a story about him saving the lives of GI`s in Vietnam who had jumped from a helicopter into some poisonous snakes. I believe he gave them some of his blood with the anti-bodies and that saved their lives.
Kathy Fleming 26-Aug-2011 20:13
In the summer of 1972 I was bitten by a pygmy rattle snake in the middle of a subdivision in south Miami. I was 16 yrs.old and going outside at night with no shoes on and stepped on the snake in the dark. I remember it sliding around my leg and shaking my leg till it feel off. Looking back I'm glad it was in the dark because I never saw the snake Approximately an hour later my foot started aching and my parents looked all over my legs and feet for a bite mark. We finally found them on the bottom of my feet. Dr. Haast met my pediatrician at Baptist Hospital in Miami. He was able to identify the type of snake that bit me by the bite marks. I couldn't take the anti-venom so Dr. Haast instructed the hospital on how to treat me. The last time I saw him he told me never to get bit again and offered me a job. I regretfully declined.
G. L. White 12-Apr-2011 01:43
I first heard of Bill Haast around 1955, when reading a "man's magazine" (as they were called back then, probably Argosy. It was the story of Bill's adventure with the blue krait bite. I was about 9 yrs old, and always remembered the story vividly. At the time I envisioned growing up and working for Bill, learning to snatch & milk snakes. However, sometime in my teens I developed a real fear of snakes, somewhat unusual since there were no poisonous varieties in my area. As time went on, I read about Bill now and then, such as when he was bitten by the Gaboon viper in the 1970s, and a few other dangerous ones.

Eventually I overcame my fear of snakes and began keeping boas and a few other nonpoisonous ones, and I always wanted to meet Bill. Around 1975 I drove from Virginia to Miami and spent an entire day at the Serpentarium -- fortunately a Sunday, since Bill only snatched the King Cobra once a week at that point. I visited with him and he seemed surprised that I remembered that old magazine article and followed his career. He was a real gentleman -- kind, interested in everyone and loved to talk about snakes. I told him then that my secret ambition had always been to work for him and eventually replace him as the "next generation," but after seeing him snatch the King I realized I just didn't have the nerves of steel, so I was better off with my Army career instead. Having people shoot at you seemed like a much safer way to make a living. The idea of snatching and milking snakes is one thing, but when you actually see it in person .... it's a whole different thing. Bill laughed and autographed a copy of his book for me, one of my treasured possessions.

Anyway, with cable TV and the internet, it's been much easier checking on Bill, and I'm truly glad he stopped directly snatching snakes. I always worried that one day the combination of age and a particularly potent bite was going to prove too much. He's a great man, and I suspect that someday science will validate his theories about venom being medically useful for things like MS and arthritis. Born in 1910, he's past the century mark now, and I look forward to seeing him enjoying life for a lot, lot longer.
John Crowder 08-Apr-2011 20:37
In the early 1970s, I was carrying out a survey to document the status of certain native reptiles and amphibians of a seven-county area iof siytgh Florida. I came upon a reference to a varieth of the black racer that bears the name Coluber constrictor haasti. This subspecies, restricted to the Florida Keys, obviously was named for Bill Haast. I called Haast to see what he could tell me about it. Most people working in the biological field take some pride in having a species or subspecies named for them, but Haast seemed to have none of that. His take on the matter was generally to the effect that the placement of this variant of the common black racer into a separate subspecies status seemed dubious. C.C. haasti is different from the parent species only by virtue of an unusual configuration of white coloration on the head and chin. I gathered from what he said that it would not bother him in the least were this variety of snake removed from its separate classification and returned to the larger taxon from which someone had extracted it. That might have occurred, since some recent field guides I have examined do not include haasti.

Long live Bill Haast, to 105 and beyond!
Tom Clanin 21-Feb-2011 08:22
It was in 1960, I was in my junior year at San fernando Valley State college at Northridge ,California. My friend Jim Danaaldson who procured and trained animals for the film industry had set up a Reptile Exposition at Devonshire downs and I was an exhibiter . I also supplied 40 desert sidewinder rattlesnakes for Jim to exhibit in a large glass fronted cage filled with sea sand. Bill and Nanvy were the guest attraction and Bill has with them a 12' hamadrayad, (King Cobra) which was un a 4x4x8 gkass fronted cage identical to that in which the sidewinders were displayed. bill was to capture this cobra and milk it for the crowd. As people gathered close Bill unlatched the door on the end of the cage. Senseing this the king made an immediate move toward the door to challenge. I wish you could have seen that crowd move as that snake reared itself and advanced toward Bill as it poured itself onto the concrete floor. It stood almost eye level with Bill and lunged repeatedly as it advanced across the floor toward him. His wife Nancy and I had been pleasantly talking an she was so fearful that she held my arm and squeezed hard, all the while telling me that a bite from that king cobra would likely kill Bill , because up to that point he had been bitten some 23 times , but never by a king cobra one drop of which can kill 5 men. Needless to say I was quite nervous also, thinking of what might happen if that snake went through the crowd. Eventually Bill charmed that snake and on one of its downstrikes quicker than the snake could react Bill had it behind the head and then as a finale milked a big load of venom. What amemorable time, nobody was dissapointed and we all calmed down and talked quietly afterwaeds. Thanks Bill for the show and GOD bless.
Trey 24-Jan-2011 03:58
When I was young I was always interested in snakes. Living In Ms. we had plenty of cotton mouths copperheads and assorted others. I remember reading Bill Haast book Cobras in My Garden, one of the most interesting books I have ever read. While on my honeymmon in Orlando we rode down to Miami to the Serpentarium and watched Bill milk some snakes. As the snakes slithered and slide across the table he was working on the crowd jumped back gasping except me I think I eased even closer. I've tried to keep up with him from time to time. He is truely an extraordinary man.
Linda 13-Jan-2011 02:09
When I was a little girl, we lived in Kendall. Across the street, a Haast lived in a nice house. My brother was always over there buying, trading snakes. We also used to go to his show at the Serpentarium, and it fascinated my brother. One time, he bought a black snake from Mr. Haast, named it "Rodney" and promptly wrapped it around my neck when my mom wasn't looking. I never forgot Mr. Haast and his snakes, and, to this day, I am not scared of snakes or any other animals.
Guest 04-Nov-2010 00:31
This will be of interest to some out there. When I was a small boy of 8-9 years old in the mid sixties, a distinguished gentleman would walk by our house in the early morning like clockwork. His grey pleated linen trowsers were pressed and as spotless as his egyptian cotton White shirt, topped with a most stunning Pith Helment. His cane was an exotic mixture of ebony and ivory. I asked him one evening if I could walk with him... he said yes in the baritone of gentle command. He introduced himself as Col. Spencer, I introduced myself as "I'm Mark and could my brother Dick come too?" The gentle smile said yes as I ran in the house saying " He' a Colonel Dick a real live Colonel!!!" Great stories were told on our nightly walks, stories of Africa in the "War" , Safaries, snakes... hey we like snakes , Dick gets in troule all the time with his snakes. "Well my dear lad, if you should like I will write to my old friend from the war, Bill Hasst. He has written a book called 'The World of Snakes. ' I will ask him to sign a copy and send it to you and your brother." To this day it is one of our most treasured possesions. Now if I can find out more about The Colonel?
Dixie Youmans 20-May-2010 19:10
I am transferring my old pictures to new albums and came across our photos at The Serpentarium in 1973 when we were there with our family while on vacatin. We watched Mr. Haast with fascination as he milked the snakes. Another interesting attraction there were the large Galopagas turtles he had. Thanks for the wonderful memories and great work you have done.
Bill Bloomquist 20-Apr-2010 06:16
I visited the Serpentarium in the late 70s on a trip down to Key West. I saw the "catch and milk" demos and was fascinated. While there, a gentleman drove in with a huge python he caught on his property and had in a wire basket. I helped the staff along with about 6-8 other visitors in straightening out the snake (as much as he would let us), to be measured. I don't remember how long he was but I DO remember how strong he was. I am a big guy and I thought we could easily hold him still. Funny thing is, he had different ideas about that. What a rush.

Bill appeared at a show later in DC where my dad met him as a projectionist for a show Bill was a guest on. He got an autographed copy of the book" Cobras in His garden". Fascinating man with a great calling. Thank you for your efforts and research Mr Haast.
Michael Lyon 16-Apr-2010 02:55
Oh my gosh..I worked on Bill and Nancy's house in P.G 15-20 years ago...mold issues...humidity problems..put an air exchanger in their snake area to control odor...but had strict guidelines to maintain high humidity. Still remember running a service call on a friday night for a NO COOL...to be met by a Llama (male) at the entry gate who put his massive head through my truck window and pinned me against my seat..Nancy told me he liked me but to come back because she was delivering a Llama "cria". Very cool regular people with a very irregular life and lifestyle....loved them.....they enriched my life...would love to see how big the oaktree is now that grew up through their pool screen enclosure. Also wonder if that huge Cobra statue is still on the property.....and still scary as hell!!!!!!!!!
bob 10-Apr-2010 14:41
In my Junior high days, I was a snake enthusiast. On two trips to Florida in the late 60s, my parents took me to The Serpentarium. On the 2nd trip, an entire day was planned for me there. We got a motel room across the road from the Serpentarium. My parents stayed at the motel pool, while I was the first one thru the door at the Serpentarium that day. I was the only customer there that early. A small alligator, maybe 5 foot with tail had gotten loose and was wandering. I notified the person at the gate and soon Mr. Haast himself came out, grabbed the gator, and put him back in the pit. I then got a "thank you". As a kid, it was a thrill to see the man himself up close. I remember those two huge crocs, one Nile and one American. They gave me nightmares. I don't remember which one was the infamous "Cookie".
Guest 10-Apr-2010 11:51
Regarding Bill Haast's killing of Cookie the crocodile, bothe Bill Guest and jesse are wrong. As he announced at the time, Bill killed the croc because he did not want her to become the inevitable freak show instead of a crocodile.Neither revenge nor stress induced fuzzy thinking was involved.
Bob Hustead
Melissa McKinney 09-Apr-2010 02:34
When I was in high school I worked at the Serpentarium and even helped out with the King Cobra Shows on the weekend. I saw so many people face their phobias of snakes and actually touch one for the first time. I could see their fears fade as they got the nerve to touch a real snake and realize that is wasn't slimy. It taught me an important life lessons about fear...to just face fears because most of the time our anxiety really isn't worth it. I have such respect for Mr. Haast and for all of his work. I still miss the animals. Nice to see the photos again.
Melissa McKinney 09-Apr-2010 02:26
Elizabeth Pfeiffer 08-Apr-2010 19:07
My first visit to the Serpentarium was in the summer of '56 when I visited family friends who lived on Key Biscayne. On that trip, I held the very long Indigo snake, and my friend, Ann, took a picture of me. When we got the photos back, the film was sun damaged, so the next year I went back to hold the Indigo again and friend, Dave took the picture. This time it came out! I'm 5'2 from s city in north Jersey myself, and the snake was about my size! That photo is one of my favorite collectables. I remember Cookie on the lawn, too! On one trip, Dr. Haast was there, but not in his office or outside on the lawn as usual. He was in a special hospital room on site with feet and hands swollen into black balls and other life threatening injuries incurred from what I recall as being a diamondback rattler bite. He had so much venom in him that we were told even a bee sting could kill him. Sometime later when I visited again, I bought Cobras In His Garden, and Dr. Haast, recovering from that or another bite on his hand, left a blood smudge on my book while signing it . It remains in my library to this day. I recall Carlita as being a very exotic woman with her eyes made up just like snake's eyes! I stood, many times, on the grass in the little circle just feet from the Cobra at milking time. On another visit I was told that the big lump in the python I was looking at was the suckling pig it had swallowed whole and was digesting, I, was surprised to find myself on the ground with ammonia being waved under my nose! I'd fainted at the realization of a whole baby pig inside that snake! Thank you, Dr. Haast, for all your good works and trailblazing in this still to be fully recognized work....and for the fascinating memories. I'm recommending this site to my grandson, Piers and now that I'm a snowbird residing in Ft. Myers part time, I'll keep watching for news of your 100th birthday party!
Sonny Yokum 05-Apr-2010 22:18
It was July, 1972, and my family was making our first visit to the Serpentarium. After many years of being a Bill Haast fan, I was thrilled to be there. When walking down a hallway, I passed an open door. There, sitting at a desk was Bill Haast. I believe that it was one of the great thrills of my life. I knocked and went in. Bill was sort of surprised but actually seemed happy to see me. I introduced myself and got my wife and kids to meet him too. He could not have been nicer to us and spent some time talking to us. When we said goodby, I knew this was a moment I would remember for the rest of my life. And I still do as if it happened yesterday. Thanks again Bill..
Georgia 23-Feb-2010 09:06
In the late 40's and early 50's I lived in Marathon on the Keys. I used to take the snakes I would find to a lady named Alma Bishop, who had a little shop in the Flamingo Bar. She would take some of her snakes to Bill Haast. Once I found an albino snake and she paid me for it, and then took it to Bill Haast. Then years later I lived in Punta Gorda on Washington Loop, when Bill Haast moved there. Small world.
Chris Ivins 15-Feb-2010 01:39
Bill was like a super hero to me as a kid. My Grandfather was a construction worker and used to drop me off there every day over the summer, and weekends when he would work. He inspired a life long love of reptiles for me and now my two children..
kevin rodriguez 22-Jan-2010 01:28
I lived on Homestead AFB 1960-66 and as a kid visited the Serpentarium many times. I
remember Mr. Hass as being exceptionally cordial and would take time to answer questions
and make sure everybody enjoyed his show. I think he donated blood or anti-venom
to a kid at my Junior High School(Redlands) who was bit by a coral snake.
Guest, John 17-Dec-2009 00:57
Woww! Lots of people like me. Yep, I was a snake kid, read all the books in my library, found "Cobras In His Garden" and was as surprised as my parents when Bill Haast wrote back to me a few times. I was 11 in 1972 when my folks agreed to stop at the Serpentarium when our family of seven drove down from Massachusetts to Key West for February school vacation. Most of the family agreed it was better than any other stops we made, including the newly opened Disney World. Mr Haast came out at my parents request after thrilling us with a great show. I still have his autograph and some great snapshots of that meet & greet. Knowing me from my letters, he seemed genuinely interested in the details I told him about my own small collection. Finding this site reminds me what saints my parents were! Glad to see many others share great memories of the Serpentarium.
jesse 13-Dec-2009 06:40
Addressed to Guest: How dare you ever get on a site, and reproach a man for his dispair over the loss of an innocent 6 year old boy. Furthermore, you shouldn't speak about how a parent should have kept a better eye on their dead son. I'm sure they still carry around enough guilt, even after all this time, without you adding to it. Not to mention, people do not operate properly during tragic events. God bless Mr. Haas, and all the good he has done, on top of the lives he has saved through his bravery and research. Sincerely, an understanding and appreciative person!
Ms. Birdy 14-Nov-2009 20:02
I recently saw Mr. Hasst on wild kingdon with Jack Hanna (aired 1997 maybe). At the time of the TV airing Mr. Haast was 87 years old and quite handsome he looked no older that early 50s. He said at that time if he lived to be 100 it would possibly prove that snake venom is anti aging. Well I then came to his web site to find out how old Mr. Haast is today or if he is still alive. Well he is alive and well at the age of 97or 98 and still apparently working with snakes; he said he felt there would come a time when he would not be able work with them but I guest he still is. Keep it up Mr. Haast. But I still think he should not have shot that alligator.
Guest 14-Nov-2009 19:47
I read the part of this article where Mr. Haas had to shoot an allegator because a boy fell into the pit and the alligator ate him (is'nt that what allegators do eat anything including yu?) . I think its horrible that he killed that animal. It was'nt the aninmal's fault that boy fell into the pit (the alligator was where he was suppose to be. In an enclosure) his parents should have supervised him much better. But none the less just because Mr. Hass felt bad about what happened he, Haas, shot the alligator for no reason. The animal was of no harm to anyone other than the fool who would allow his self to fall in. Shame on Hass and the parents this poor animal was slaughtered. Having said all that, thank you Mr. Haas for all your wonderful work with snakes. I hope you live to 100 to prove snake venon is an anti aging wonder.
Lucius L. Wilcox Jr. 19-Oct-2009 20:18
Dear Bill,
My mother, Edna, used to serve you and your wife Clarita as a waitress at the "Far East Restaurant" in Coral Gables. You welcomed me and my mother and son on two occasions at the Serpentarium and were most gracious, showing my son around the lab. He caught the herp bug and as collected for years. At the age of 12 he was bitten by one of his pets, a pigmy rattler. I can still see the look on the face of the ER nurse at Hialeah, Hospital when my son told her to contact Bill Haast, tell him Lamar had been bitten, and he would tell them what to do. When I verified that my son knew you the impressed nurse made the call. You remembered my son and advised what action to take. He survived , no worse for wear, and made a career of your old outfit the Air Force. He still handles snakes and remains a fan as do I. Sadly my mother passed away some years ago. You were always kind to my family and for that I am grateful. Hope you reach whatever goals you might still entertain. My best to you and your wife.
Sue Toney 14-Oct-2009 16:46
Hi Bill and Nancy,
Just wanted to say 'Thank you' again for your help and generosity all those years ago when you donated PROven to help Suzanne with her eye disease. Without it, I shutter to think what kind of life she would be living. Today, Suzanne has a full and productive life. And her eyesight is great!
We feel forever indebted to you, Bill. You are truly one of a kind!
Fondly,
Sue Toney
Cookie Breitenbach 14-Sep-2009 19:37
I sure do remember Mr. Haast as I bought the 1969 GT500 Shelby that he once owned. It had been bit my Cookie while trying to stop Cookie from getting out on US1.Also their pet lion jumped across the roof of the Shelby and the chain scratched the roof. I contacted him while the car was in shop and $2200.00 later it was mine. That was in 1971 and I kept that car until 3 years ago when I sold it for 35000.00 in pieces. Wow the good old days... and funny thing is my name is Cookie!!!
Carolyn (Morris) Merriman 10-Sep-2009 01:57
I lived across South Dixie Highway from the Miami Serpentarium. My girlfiends and I would catch 7 - 8 foot Indio snakes and we would beg my mother to drive us over to the Serpentarium so we could sell the snakes to Dr. Haas. My mother was deathly afraid of snakes but she was a real trooper driving us to Dr. Haas, all the while saying, you better not let that snake go in this car!
Dr. Haas paid us $1.00 a foot for each snake we brought in. I'm sure he didn't really need them but he seemed very pleased when he saw us coming!
Joe Paden 13-May-2009 17:59
I was a child in Florida in the 60's and I saw many, many of Dr. Hasst's shows and remember being concerned the snakes might get away and come towards me... of course they never did.. I gave Dr. Hasst an iguana that got too large for me to keep and from then on he let me come in for free.. I remember him as a very genuine, nice man. I was inspired by him because as kids we used to go all through the Evergaldes looking for snakes to catch. I always had one or more in my bedroom and it drove my mom nuts.. The last snake I had was a 12' burmese python that I owned a few years ago. My interest of reptiles was clearly fromed by Dr. Hasst and I have passed on some of it to my kids who now have a Bearded Dragon... Dr. Hasst is a true legend.. I will be forever grateful to him for my education about reptiles and as a role model ...
Tom Reilly 03-Mar-2009 16:53
Does anybody on this herpetology board know either the author or title of a novel, published roughly 20 years ago. Set in the American South in the 20th century. In the first chapter a bunch of young boys are headed to a swimming hole; one boy races ahead and dives in. Is bitten by dozens of water moccasins and dies.
Tom Reilly
treilly3@twcny.rr.com
flashoblue 10-Feb-2009 20:08
I was a nurse in the ICU at Variety Children's Hospital on at least three of Haast's admissions after snake bites. I remember his orange-colored hands--a sign of a vegitarian who drank carrot juice....
Each admission was a fiasco, with his wife on the phone to local newspapers and TV and radio stations.
Bill was a local hero and I admired him greatly for trying to cure polio and helping other snake-bit victims by donating his serum, sometimes he flew to South America to help save a life!.
Bob Thorbahn 20-Jan-2009 01:08
I grew up living close to the Haast's in the 60's. I was a good friend with Bill Haast's grandson Willie, He and I would catch snakes and bring them to the Surpentarium, I also would go camping in the everglades with Willie and his sister pinkie and their mom and dad, we would swim in the water around gaters and catch snakes. Those were great times and i'll never forget them! I live in Sarasota now and totally enjoy the water, I think those times are responceable.
Michael Gottlieb 26-Dec-2008 23:56
I visited the Serpentarium November 22, 1965 while on my Honeymoon with my wife Lynne. on. On the way from the Fontainebleau Hotel we heard that President Kennedy had been shot. We entered the Serpentarium and a fellow (Haas) walked out of the back office to greet the tourists and said" he's dead" referring to John F. Kennedy, President of the USA. I have returned to see his show at thye Serpentarium and have watched him with his wife on the Merv Griffith show & others ( I think also the Jonny Carson Show) many years later. Today Dec26, 2008 I am looking at his picture some 45 years later and hooks the same. Except for the grey hair and receding hairline I would have said 'hasn't changed a bit".

Tomorrow (Dec27, 2008) our sons and their families will arrive at our Lake Worth Fl home. I came across this web site while looking for a great experience to share with our 5 grandchildren. 45 years after meeting Mr. Haas I am both happy that he is alive and well and sorry my grandchildren won't get to meet him.
PS. The only time in my life that I ever touched a snake was a 6- 7 foot long black snake at his Serpentarium.

Thanks you for being here.
Sincerely

Mike Gottlieb
Cherry Hill, NJ, & Temporaily Lake Worth, Fl


Mike & Lynne Gottlieb Gottlieb
Steve 14-Oct-2008 02:40
As a young teenager in the mid 1960's I was very interested in all types of reptiles. We lived in Southern California. My oldest brother had met a girl who, I believe, had worked at the Miami Serpentarium. She had given me some information on the Serpentarium and I got interested in Indigo Snakes. I told my mother how I'd really like to get an Indigo and she kind of shrugged it off. Well, my mother went on a vacation to the Miami area. I recall going with my brother to the airport to pick her up upon her arrival. When she got in the car she said she had a suprise for me. I got excited thinking it was a new toy. When we got home, she handed me a small travel bag that she had carried with her on board the airplane. Inside the bag was a cardboard box with holes in it. When I opened the box I saw my new pet, a 6 foot beautiful Indigo Snake. I'll never forget this experience. No. 1, my mother carrying a large snake onboard an airplane, and no. 2, my first Indigo. She was quite a Mom.
I still have the brochure for the Miami Serpentarium, a price list from them, and a letter from Mr. Haast. Thanks.
ginny blamire 16-Aug-2008 21:14
In 1980 we took my late husband who had ALS (Lou Gerhig's Disease) to the Miama Clinic where
snake venom injections were being given in hopes to cure or put in remission MS, ALS etc;
this venom furnished by Dr Bill Haast. His ALS had progressed to the point that he was losing use of his hands, and being able to walk and talk. After three injections, there was improvement; brought venom home; enough for 3 more injections, husband said stop can't afford. He died in 1981; we will never know what the outcome would have been had we kept giving them; this I wanted to do. even if it would not have cured or put him in remission; doesn't mean it wouldn't help someone else.
(Previously posted..with words in error..resubmitting..Sorry)




mike sommerfield 15-Aug-2008 09:09
I grew up in Hialeah,snake hunting was one of the cool things we did back in the day.We'd ride our stingrays out to milam elementary w 16 ave and catch decays ,ring necks ,yellow rats ,red rats,garter snakes,blue racers.We'd ride are bikes accross the palmetto expressway and go into the woods behind the church caught an indigo there once ,it was laying accross a tree stump that was lucky back 1971.I was 12.It was 6ft long I feed it eggs ,raw chicken breast,a big toad once .It had bright red under the chin.Mr haast told me how to get the lice off it at his snake show.I called the serpentarium every so often to ask various questions on snakes.The guy on the phone was cool and calm he'd answer your questions politely it had to be Bill to us kids he was like superman.Saw his show 5 times.Man !that indigo Mrs haast had was really pretty ,my mom was talking about that snake at big family get together in wis. last new years.We sure are lucky we grew up their!
Steve Ludwin 13-Aug-2008 21:28
I visited The Serpentarium in '78. I was probably the first Bill Haast copycat and started self-immunizing with various snake venoms over here in London since the age of twenty. I am now 42 years with a very youthful appearance and in excellent health! Bill is a true forward thinker and an inspiration to all herpetologists.
Guest 08-Aug-2008 13:56
Jim Schoene
I was in graduate school at University of Miami in 1972-73, and I visited the Serpentarium several times with my daughter Jennifer. It was amazing when, at the end of the show, he brought out the king cobra. I'm glad he's had such a fulfilling life and helped so many people.
Rob 06-Aug-2008 02:40
This is greatl so good to know that Doc is still alive and doing at least some of what he loves best. We visited the Serp many times as a family visiting from Illinois and I have an autographed copy of Cobras In His Garden along with several movies that I gotta get moved over to DVD's.. Doc always took time to shake hands or pose for a picture...time that in retrospect I know he didn't really have to give, but he always did. In 1978, one of my first acts as a new husband on my honeymoon was to bring my new bride to the Serp (30 years later and she hasn't forgotten that one) so she could witness what I'd described so many times. Not sure she had quite the same fascination that I did but it's still very memorable. Great job on the article!

Rob
Carolyn Gable 05-Jul-2008 18:12
As a girl in the early 60's, I lived down the block from Dr Haast and his family. His daughter Nya, my sister and I used to play together. They had the best house! More animals than anyone I ever knew, and of every variety. Dogs, birds, skunks (if I remember correctly) and of course reptiles. Nya used to take us after hours to the Serpentariumm to watch her Dad and his workers feed the animals. He was a great neighborhhod Dad, and I will always remember the fun we had with he, his wife and his children. He loved his animals and was deeply committed to bringing them to the world in an educated, and respectful manner. When you left his exhibit, you loved the snakes, and I hasve never been afraid of them for the rest of my life.
Guest 24-May-2008 12:31
Thanks for the update on Bill Haast! I got my love of snakes (I'm a girl) growing up in Miami going repeatedly to the Serpentarium. I well remember Bill Haast and his snake "milking" shows. Every so often the evening news would announce "Bill Haast had been bitten by a poisonous snake AGAIN." He always survived and promoted his anti-snake venom that saved many other lives.

I also sadly recall when the little boy fell into the croc pit and was killed. It was tragic for the boy and his family and onlookers but also Mr. Haast who had a heart of gold. It didn't seem long after that incident that the Serpentarium closed. Sad! Another piece of vintage Miami lost forever.
kathykundtz13-Apr-2008 06:33
Hi, my uncle Ted Kundtz just passed away a few months ago and he told me that he had helped out Mr. Haast when he was younger. My granddaddy was Robert Kundtz, horticulurist. My uncle made a point to tell me to look up this site. He respected him very much. I'm very glad I did. I wish I could have taken my girls there! Luckily though, I see from visiting one of the links that there is an attraction to view snake milking in St. Cloud, Florida and it just so happens that my dad lives there now. We will have to go and visit the place that a man built who was inspired by Mr. Haast. I will think of my uncle as I visit.

Kathy Kundtz
Steven Parsons 26-Feb-2008 22:01
I lived just across the road from Bill's place in 1959 thru 1961 and went
there often.

Our house was on 5 acres, had a HUGE banyon tree in the back yard (if
you're old enough and were ever at Bill's you'd remember seeing it), and
all the fruit trees you could ever want, of any kind.

I'll never forget those days as a pre-teen. Back then that area was fairly
wild without much around and folks made good money catching black
racers and rattlers.

He was truely one of a kind.
s 20-Feb-2008 05:45
We used to hunt non-poisonous snakes in the Glades, Homestead farmlands: king snakes, red ratsnakes, yellow ratsnakes, indigos, black racers, etc., and take them down to mr Haas and he had a yardstick on the table and would measure them by the foot, pay us maybe .25cents/foot for the ratsnake, .35/foot for the kingsnakes, etc. One day I noticed his hands...his fingers...they were deformend, mangled, sort of like a something from an old horror movie...a result--one of many, of having been bitten by so many venomous snakes...I think his own blood was an anti-venom, as a result of being bitten so much, I think he used to distribute this "antivenom (his blood)worldwide to snakebite vicims. See, when a poisonous snake bites you, and his fangs (having hypodermic-like hollow holes at their points) inject their venom , they are in fact "digesting" you while you die...the venom is softening up your tissue, destroying it, making you easier to eat, digest...hence Mr. Haas' fingers were so deformed? All this may be imaginative conjecture of a teenage boy.. .Once thing sure, though, Him and his wife sure looked scary, to we boys, in those white Drs. Smocks.
Reid Graham 18-Feb-2008 01:39
My father grew up and was born in Paterson, as well. He would tell us stories about going to Boy Scout Camp with this extraordinary man, Bill Hasst.

Reid Graham
Alexandria, Virginia
Guest 14-Feb-2008 05:17
Thanks for the memories, as Bob Hope would say.

And what memories they are! I don't remember for how long, but my mom worked at the Miami Serpentarium. Us kids would love going there, back then traffic wasn't as bad on Dixie Highway as it is now, so we had no problems crossing from my uncle's store (Craft's Food Store - 124Street and Dixie Highway (US 1)) to the other side and spending the afternoon at the Serp.

Will have to show this page to my Mom! :-)
Lee Martines28-Jan-2008 09:36
Lee Martines - Growing up in Miami in the 40s and 50s I would visit the Serpentarium every couple of years and always marveled at the variety of snakes and the process of extracting the venom from the poisonous ones. After leaving Miami for the Air Force and then marriage, my bride and I returned to the Central East Coast of Florida to live, and on a trip to the Keys, I just had to take my new bride to show her Bill Haast's work. While he was extracting venom from a small cobra, he was struck on the thumb and calmly told his wife that he was going to lie down for awhile. She took over, and the show went on without a hitch. I feel sorry for the young generations that they will never get to see the true mastery of Bill Haast with his serpents.
Robert McKay 22-Jan-2008 03:40
Back in the 1980's, I lived in the Pepperwood S/D (about one block south of Kendell Drive, just west of Palmetto Expy). One summer day I was mowing my back yard and heard a hissing noise... It was a rattle snake. I didn't know what to do with it, so I call the Miami Serpentarium. The guy that answered the phone was very calm, and told me to just leave it alone and that it would probably just be on it's way. I followed his instructions and he was right. Turns out that I was talking to Bill Hast. I thought that was pretty cool back then, and still do.
Paul Smillie 12-Jan-2008 03:26
I grew up near the Serpentarium , and played baseball @ Suniland Park..Many times during games , an iguana that had escaped from the serpentarium , would run across the field..As kids , we too ,sold snakes to the facility , and we managed to see the show several times a year...we would ride our bikes to Parrot Jungle and the Serpentarium and see all kinds of rare wild animals and snakes , and birds , then fish salt or fresh water within a few miles of home...great place to grow up in the 60's
Richard Craig 07-Jan-2008 18:39
My Parents said we know Mr. Haast would you like to see his snake farm. I said yes, I got to feed his snakes white mice, met his daughter (she had a pet lion), used to catch snakes and sell them to Mr. Haast...He paid 0.25 for poisonus and 0.15 for no poisoness...He was a great man and saved thousands of lives with his snake anti-venom...Bitten numerous time and the only man to sruvive the bite of a Mamba, he insisted on being awake, so he could descirbe the symtoms of the snake bite,He descibed the bite as haluciations and dream world full of vibrant colors. So long Mr. Haast, you were a great man.
kim 01-Jan-2008 15:57
the coolest thing i remember is the sighn bill had on the stage while he was milking his terrorfying snakes "there is nothing more exciting then watching danger from a safe distance". great childhood memories spent there with my family , i remember getting goose bumps when we would see the cobra statue. i would love to read a biography on bill haast or should we say DR.HAAST?
kim b. 01-Jan-2008 15:46
i grew -up in south fla. in the sixties through the eighties,reading about bill haast brought back so many great memories.it was a huge treat when my mom and dad would pile all five of us kids in our station wagon a few times a year and spend the day at the miami serpentarium. the shows were fantastic , there was so much to explore everything was clean and the whole haast family were always charming.my family became amateur experts on exotic snakes and have read and watched everything we could over the years.but nothing ever compared to mr. haast
Guest 27-Nov-2007 20:03
I somehow got to this page from an old email I found and did the Google thing for " Bill "Miami Snakeman" Haast " and here I find myself with those shared memories. My Dad would take me there often, we lived in South Miami (as I do again...long story). There's a picture of me and an indigo snake, probably nearly as long as I was tall. My "fondest" memory: sitting on the side of the crock pit with my butt hanging over the edge, the wall wasn't but a couple feet tall, right? As I was sitting there I heard a big CHOMP and turned around to see one huge animal falling back into the pit…missed me by about a foot...horseshoes and hand-grenades...eh?

Phil aka "Philo"
Guest 26-Nov-2007 20:50
My mother took my brother and I to the serpentarium in 1977. As my mother was paying our admission, a worker rushed over to tell us that we were going to miss the King cobra show.
We stepped up to a rectangular lawn with only hedges separating the audience from Haast. He upturns a burlap sack and out dropped a King Cobra that raised its head to face Haast. I thought my mom would have a heart attack-my brother and I thought it was the coolest thing to watch him handle that snake and milk it. Thanks for the memories and the fantastic update on one of Old Florida's icons.
BobbyG 13-Nov-2007 04:33
Like for so many others, the Serpentarium was a place of wonder for me in my youth. Every year we took a field trip there, and every year I looked forward to it. I remember in 3rd grade, back in 1960, one of my classmates dropped her purse into the crocodile pit. Mr. Haast fished it out with a long pole after the big croc took a bite of it. As soon as it was handed back to an embarassed little girl, one of the boys said, "Now you have to look and see if it punched your bus ticket!" I also remember Mrs. Haast coming to the schools, all the way into my sophomore year at Gables High, to talk about their work - and the high point of her talks was when she would take an indigo snake out of her purse and invite everyone to feel it. He's truly an amazing man who has lived a life of exemplary devotion to his work.
Guest 23-Oct-2007 01:48
I remeber in 1970 when I went to JFK junior high in miami we went on a field trip to the serpentarium I am now 50 years old and never forgot the place.I did make a serious mistake while there that people I tell find hard to believe.there was this hudge round pit with a wall around it, in it was what looked to me like a large stone grey statue of a crcodile well I went in there touched it and one eye opened and I was out of that pit like a rocket.this crocodile was at least 15 feet long it must have been sleeping lucky for me.Bill left a lifetime of memories for a 13 yearold kid the man truely is a legend that has no equal in the reptile world. Jim F.
Beth Gold Keough 20-Sep-2007 03:01
Thank you for bringing back many many wonderful memories. Bill Haast's daughter was in my 4th grade class and we went to the Serpentarium for a field trip. My dad and I still talk about this over 40 years later! One of the girls fainted right in my dad's arms!
Tim Wright 11-Sep-2007 03:22
I can't imagine more suitable place than South Florida for Bill Haas's Serpentarium. Look at how big the transplanted Pythons get and that they thrive and fight the alligators in the Everglades. That applies to the many other wildlife that existed back then. But thanks to Bill, there were not many poisonous snakes left in South Dade in the 60s-70s when I had an youngsters craving for catching reptiles. Everyone sold them to the Serpentarium for $1.25/Ft, good money in those days. We took 3-4 water snakes there that closely resembled the deadly Water Moccasin, only to be turned away penniless. Of course he would buy the rare Indigo snakes, because they could rear up and spread their neck like a Cobra, but were not poisonous. However, we kept them because they made good pets. Even though the Serpentarium was there, some people still got bitten, and died from the poisonous snakes. I remember a Coral snake bit and killed a man digging in his yard in Whispering Pines in 1965. In the area of the Serpentarium, pigmy rattlesnakes abounded. People were always getting bitten, but they are so small that they rarely killed anyone. Like I said, we were always grabbing any snakes we came across, and one day finally got a Moccasin. Sad to say, a passerby noticed that the snake was poisonous and killed it before we could take it to the Serpentarium to get paid for all our efforts. That was South Dade, Florida, relatively free of the most venomous snakes because Bill Hass and the Serpentarium. One particular snake that I remember from my childhood visits to the Serpentarium was a big, oversized Florida Eastern Diamond Back rattlesnake. When my family came to Miami in1961, they left me in Lakeland, Florida with my aunt and uncle, who happened to be an avid hunter/fisherman. My uncle introduced me to the Florida Eastern Diamondback that grew up to 6 feet in length. We would eat the snakes, along with all the fish and snapping turtles we could catch from the Lakeland area lakes. I would take the rattlesnake skins and rub salt into them to try to preserve them. But at the Serpentarium, there was a monster 14 foot rattlesnake from upper Florida, probably from around the Gainesville area. Legend has it that the Timacuan indians who lived there before the European settlers arrived, revered these snakes as Gods. Consequently, the snakes grew to tremendous lengths, by not being hunted by the indians, and were probably fed leftover game to achieve the fantastic length. I witnessed one such snake in 1985 on a dirt road in northeast Florida. It was slithering across the road, which was about 11 feet across and the snakes head and tail were not clearly visible. We ran it over, and with a little coaxing, I convinced the driver to return. The snake had disappeared, but I estimate that the snake, which had at least a one foot girth, was 14 feet or more. Supposedly, this Timacuan sub-species and the nearby Mexican Bush Master are the largest poisonous snakes in the world and Bill Hass had both of them in his World famous Serpentarium.
Guest 10-Sep-2007 16:18
joe pyland...grew up at sunniland park two blocks from the serpentarium.Remember it well..Billy..the grandson ran over my arm in 1962 with his bike..breaking it and I missed the 1st 6 weeks of Khoury League.Remember Haast tamping alsoThis man was incredidle and brave.
Pam Castleberry/ Bilinska 28-Jul-2007 00:23
Thank you for reminding me about this incredible man.

I lived in South Miami in the 60s and drove by the Serpantarium 100s of time and thought Mr. Haast every time. Had it not been for him I would never have had the chance of knowing my mother in-law who was the salt of the earth. She was moving to Miami from Georgia in the early 50s . They stopped the car out on the Tamiami Trail she stepped out onto a Cotton Mouth Moc. with her rare blood type it was touch and go but Mr. Haast came through for her
joe perry 11-Jul-2007 23:07
don
my experiences with bill haast began in the early 1950's, when we used to sell him snakes we caught mainly off the tamiami trail.i 'm sure i sold the last one to him sometime in late 1958 when i needed quick cash for a date or something. mr haast had a fantastic memory and remembered me every time i would walk into the serpentarium.
my senior year of high school 1959-1960 i worked at ed hassens catering service off lejune road and 7th st.my service route was south miami and my favorite customer was none other than bill haast! he and his wife were always very polite and would tell me stories when he had a spare minute or two.when i was set to graduate and go into the military he wished me well and gave me a hug and a great handshake.in 1967 when i visited miami with my wife and two girls he remembered me and gave my small family a private tour of the facility. i was always proud to have met mr haast and even prouder that he cared enogh to remember me. i consider him a great man that dedicated himself to helping the needs of others. i would bet a months pay that even though i'm in my late 60's and he's in his late 90's that he would still remember me. that's the way he was
joe perry joda@nbtx.com
Rita 09-Jul-2007 17:17
I am so glad to have found this site. I remember visiting the Serpentarium on a school field trip when I was in kindergarten, in 1971. My whole life I've had vague memories of this place, wondered what it was, where it was.... Thanks for jogging my memory. I will enjoy looking over this site over time. Thanks for putting it up!
Roberta Perry Hughes 09-Jul-2007 04:12
When I was a child in the 1950's, Mama made us stay in the house. We had a large clump of banana trees in our back yard, & she had called Mr. Haast to tell him that there was a coral snake down in the undergrowth of it, & could he please come & remove it? Two men came to our house, & they had a hook on the end of a pole, & a cloth bag, & they soon had the brightly colored but deadly snake in tow. They paid my mother something like $10 or more for the snake. I think one of the two men was Mr. Haast himself. Quite a memory!
Guest 20-Jun-2007 19:55
I visited the Serpentarium two time back in 1958 and 1967, it was a very interesting place to tour. I think that this Dr., was loved by thousands of Miamians, because of him lives are save. I will admired and respect this wonderful human being for the rest of my life. It's a shame that everything is gone now.
Big Al 18-Jun-2007 15:53
I'm surprised to hear the stories about the cobra being damaged enroute to SMSH. I graduated from there in 1979. As far as I recall, the Cobra on the roof was the one from the Serpentarium. It was damaged by a hurricane in 2005 and they just built a new one. The cobra that Elliot Arkin made was the one inside the building across from the office.
Tyler Penny 16-Jun-2007 11:44
The concrete & stucco cobra was the second icon of the Serpentarium. The original cobra was a metal structure that was twisted into oblivion by a rare tornado in the late 50's or early 60's. This tornado also picked up a dredge crane, working on one of the drainage canals, and placed it across the canal without any significant damage.

My parents operated a produce market in Perrine that the Haasts frequented. They would pick up much of the scrap lettuce and other produce, which we kept refridgerated for them, to feed their reptiles.

In my early teens, I could not decide which I admired the most. The lovely and elegant Clarita, or the mint, coal black Lincoln Mark II. To borrow from Bob Hope "Thanks for the memories".
Guest 06-Jun-2007 18:51
I grew up in Miami and loved the Serpentarium. I recall the incident where the child died -- it was very tragic and Mr. Haast clearly felt terrible about it. At the same time his work saved dozens of lives. He was known as the "go-to guy" for snakebites. I liked that his shows were practical and informative with very little hype, but fascinating nonetheless. He was a local celebrity known for something really worthwhile (unlike so many celebrities nowadays).
The cement cobra at South Miami Senior High was not the one from the Serpentarium (which, as the article said, was damaged while being transported), but another one built by a SMSH student, Elliot somebody (he was my classmate but I didn't really know him). I think it's still there. I do miss seeing the Serpentarium's big cobra sculpture from the highway -- it was a great landmark of "Old Miami."
Guest 28-May-2007 01:47
My scary moment at the Serpentarium was to see the salt water crock in a deep pit jump up and snap a chicken before it hit the ground!
Someone had captured it on Key Largo and I did not know such animals existed there. For years, Anne and I collected black glass (from the sunken ships on Carys Fort Reef) all over that island and must have passed that damn crock many times but it did not want either of us! Whew...
Somewhere I have a photo that was in the Miami News of Burl Grey and his black glass bottles. I still have a few bottles at Papillote Wilderness Retreat in Dominica.
Kathy Steenson 07-May-2007 23:36
When our son was very small, he was afraid of snakes. So, on a trip to visit my parents in Miami, when Scot was two (1977), we took him to the Miami Serpentarium. We watched the show (I don't remember if the presenter was Mr. Haast), and afterwards, Scot was encouraged to touch several snakes. The whole experience seemed to do the trick, as he never displayed such fear of snakes again after that. I'm sorry I can never take my grandchildren there. It's a shame good things must always come to an end, isn't it?
Guest 28-Apr-2007 12:12
We had an iguana that was too large to keep. We donated it to the serpentarium.
Hanley Harding 27-Apr-2007 03:00
I took care of Clarita Haast's original Continental Mark. And we often talked of many things when she came in to South Dixie Amoco to have the well-maintained car serviced. Their daughters, Nya and Shantee probably do not even remeber me (it was in the early seventies). Bill's dedication to helping science, medicine, and snakebite victims was always unwavering. And modern medical researchers are proving him right... snake venom fractions are becoming recognized as potent medicines. May he live far past the hundreds. Hanley "Doc" Harding, Aurora Protection Specialists
Bob Plotkin 19-Apr-2007 11:48
I was Bill's neighbor on the Serpentariums north side from about 1970 until the Village of Pinecrest purchased my land & building in 2000 ( The Carpet Mart ). After Bill sold the Serpentarium, our 12,000 sq.ft. carpet warehouse became the new home for several large ( 2 to 4 foot ) lizards, which I guess, were living in the trees and were never captured. Our carpet showroom and warehaouse was open on Monday & Friday nights and some very strange noises were heard at night as you would walk through the warehouse.
I would love to see Discovery Channel or TLC pick up the Serpentarium story and Bill's fine work.
Karen Moen18-Apr-2007 13:11
Thank you for the bio of this incredible man. I have watched tv programs about him on Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel. Voted for the photo and the biographical info.
Guest 12-Apr-2007 06:50
I rememer Bill Jr. when we rode motorcycles in scramble races out in North Dade. The Serpentarium was my childrens favorate place to go on weekends, especially my son who is now grown and still holds a fasination for snakes
Guest 09-Apr-2007 18:57
ABOUT 1975 OR SO, I TOOK MY FAMILY ON VACATION TO SEE ALL THE SIGHTS MIAMI HAD TO OFFER INSTEAD OF LEAVING TOWN AS WE ALWAYS DID. PARROT JUNGLE, MONKEY JUNGLE, SEAQUARIUM, ETC. WHEN WE WENT TO THE SERPENTARIUM, WE WERE IN THE CROWD WITH MOSTLY OUT OF TOWNERS. BILL PUT ON HIS MILKING SHOW WHEN A SNAKE IN BILL'S HAND WIGGLED AROUND AND SPRAYED A WHITE LIQUID FROM THE REAR OF THE SNAKE INTO THE CROWD AND ACROSS THIS WOMEN'S LEGS IN FRONT OF US. BILL TOLD THE CROWD NOT TO WORRY, "IT'S ONLY CALCIUM". THIS SOFT SPOKEN WOMAN TURNED TO HER FAMILY AND SAID "I'VE COME ALL THE WAY TO MIAMI TO HAVE SOME SNAKE S__T ON ME". THAT WAS THE MOST MEMORIBLE PART OF THAT VACATION.
Guest 24-Mar-2007 03:42
Did you know that Charlie Baxter aka MT GRAVES IS STILL ALIVE & is one hell of a nice guy
guest 02-Feb-2007 00:56
The 35' cobra ended up on the roof (south side) of South Miami Senior High-my old high school-where it served proudly for many years.