Remembering “Big Sid”

If you lived in west Michigan in 1978 and someone mentioned the name “Big Sid” — you knew exactly what they were talking about.

For those of  you who weren’t around, here’s the story.

“Big Sid” was a 7 year old, 16 foot python (some articles said 20 foot), who weighed 140 pounds. He  just happened to spend about a month loose in the Standale, MI, area during the summer of 1978. He was part of the Wonderful World Circus and was one of the star attractions. The clever serpent escaped from his plywood and rope cage…and slithered away into the woods on June 23rd, 1978.

People from the area searched for weeks looking for the elusive “Big Sid”. Several businesses took advantage of the added publicity to the area. LaVeen’s Department Store created “Standale: Home of Big Sid” t-shirts that sold like hotcakes. Other merchants named pizza or donuts after the snake.

Finally on July 24th, 1978, Steve Rapolevich, and his wife Patty, were bicycling on Maynard Avenue around 7:30 pm on that summery Monday night. As they biked along, they spotted “Big Sid”.  Steve got off his bike and grabbed the tail of the snake. He tried to hold on while his wife called the Police. It took six men to hold Big Sid. As they were trying to capture and contain the snake, about 500 people gathered to watch. “Bid Sid” had been captured!

Sid’s owner, Kenneth Heller, was thankful for all of the help he received from Standale residents during his search. After the snake’s capture, Heller agreed to exhibit the snake as part of the Standale “Sid-walk” Sale that year.

The month of freedom took it’s toll on “Sid”. When he was captured he weighed only 70 pounds. In the month or so he had been on the loose, he lost about half of his body weigh. Overall he was in pretty good health.

Spokane Daily Chronicle - July 25, 1978
Spokane Daily Chronicle – July 25, 1978

The day after Sid’s capture there were stories in newspapers across the country, including the Nashua Telegraph (New Hampshire) and the Spokane Daily Chronicle (Washington). (Click on the newspaper clippings to see them full size)

Nashua Telegraph - July 27, 1978
Nashua Telegraph – July 27, 1978

A few years ago, mlive.com did a story on “Big Sid”. They also have a photo gallery of some of the photos from 1978. Here is the link to that story and photographs.

One thing I’ve noticed over the years when talking to people about this story…it seems that everyone has a relative that helped capture “Big Sid”. “My mother…”, “It was my uncle…”, “Big Sid was captured by my grandfather…”.

Do you remember “Big Sid”? Did you help capture him? Please leave a reply by hitting the “submit comment” button below!

 

Photo Credit: Tigerpython

 

 

My goal is to keep you informed and/or entertained on a regular basis. Maybe you'll learn something new, or just get that much needed laugh. My topics will include a wide range of subjects....from what's going on in the world, to places I've been, things I've seen, or even just a fun video that I've found online. Check back often to see what I've posted.

15 Comments

  1. Betty Bartlett
    July 24, 2016 - 11:42 pm

    YES, I had two young children and a small dog and lived on MAYNARD AV.!! I was glad he was captured so we could once again live without fear and play in our yards! Somewhere I have a copy of the song “Big Sid” written on his behalf!

    Reply
  2. Pat Rapolevich
    July 25, 2016 - 9:39 am

    I definitely remember this whole episode since it was my husband and I who came across him while riding our bikes. It was an interesting month around our house the whole time he was loose. Their were sightings and searchers looking for him during the month he was on the run. Great memories.

    Reply
  3. Rick Wylie
    July 25, 2016 - 10:12 am

    I was 19 yrs old and worked at LaVeens, it was my idea to make the t-shirts, although I suggested they say “set Big Sid free,” that didn’t pass the bosses sense of humor.

    Reply
    • Krista
      July 28, 2017 - 6:58 am

      That is so funny. I really enjoyed this article. I was born that year but remember hearing about it as a kid.

      Reply
  4. Heidi
    July 25, 2016 - 3:42 pm

    I was 4 years old, but I remember that! My grandparents lived im Standale om Wilson Ave and I remember beung bervous to go out in the back yard! Any word on if he is still alive?? I am thinking that they can live to be pretty old. I would love to know what happened to him after.

    Reply
  5. Gordon Hicks
    July 25, 2016 - 5:46 pm

    I was at home when they captured the snake. When it came across the bottom on my tv screen he was captured I went directly to the site he was at. I owned at that time Laveens Dept Store. We were going to have a sidewalk sale in two days of the time the snake was captured. I made contact with the owner of the snake and ask him if I could use the snake on exhibit for 3 days. He agreed to that if I paid the gentleman who captured the snake the reward for finding him. $200 back them was a lot of money. Then I had to deliver big Sid down to Indiana where the circus was performing.
    We decided to name our Standale Side Walk sale that year the Big Sid Walk Sale.
    The news of Big Sid hit the UPI. We sold hundreds of Big Side Tee Shirts across the country once it hit the UPI net work. When we brought the snake over to the back of the stores warehouse in the box he broke out of I hired a carpenter to come over and rebuild that box so he could not get out of it again. I put the snake on display in fron of the department store for three days 9-9. And we figured at least over three days 5000 people lined up to take a look at it. We had t-shirt orders from all over the country. Arizona, Colorado, California,New York, and many more.

    Reply
    • Cathy Strait
      July 25, 2016 - 10:57 pm

      My sister, Cheryl Brownell had the honor of babysitting Big Sid during the SidWalk Sale, making sure he didn’t go o n the lam again

      Reply
  6. Jim
    July 25, 2016 - 7:16 pm

    The Wonderful World Circus was staying at the Brandmiller farm at 202 Sunset Hills. Herman Brandmiller, a retired Boy Scout camp inspector, owned the fruit farm at that time. He was a huge circus buff and never missed a circus when in town. If the circus had a layover before its next gig Herman would invite them to move onto his farm for the layover. Over the years he had lions, tigers, black bears, chimps and elephants all stay there. One year a group even had a trapeze with the nets and all set up. My father, James took care of the farm back then and we as kids always had front row seats! Some very good memories!

    Reply
    • Jill
      January 10, 2017 - 11:13 pm

      We lived across the street from brandmillers and always enjoyed all the animals we got to go and see great memories!!! Great people

      Reply
  7. Mel
    July 26, 2016 - 11:32 am

    I was 5 years old when this happened and I had absolute nightmares about “Big Sid” I remember my parents walking me up there so I could see he was caught although no one I knew helped catch him …lol

    Reply
  8. Lenora Hoekstra
    July 26, 2016 - 2:03 pm

    Just the other day I was telling my kids the story of Big Sid. It is a huge childhood memory and I love to tell the story. I was ten at the time. My parents, siblings and I lived on Hall St., which is not far from Maynard. I remember going to the La Veens Sidewalk Sale (I remember it opened at 2 am and our parents took us there every year) and looking in the cage at Big Sid and being scared and thinking his head was huge. I remember the t-shirts and the signs saying “Standale: Home of Big Sid”. Thanks for the look back! ?

    Reply
  9. toni
    March 12, 2017 - 12:25 pm

    I was not living in Micigan but my sister kept me posted. What an escapade for all!

    Reply
  10. John Joldersma
    April 2, 2017 - 10:48 pm

    I lived on Maynard until the Fall of 1980 then moved to Athens GA. Baig Sid was missing when I left and my mother sent me the clippings about the recovery either in Sept or Oct of 1980 not 1978.

    Reply
    • Scott Winters
      April 2, 2017 - 10:57 pm

      He was only missing for about a month. If he had been missing over a winter, he probably would not have survived. All the clippings and stories I have, including the printed copy I saved from “The Grand Rapids Press” are all dated 1978. I’m not sure what snake may have been in the clippings your mother sent you.

      Reply

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