MARATHON — It started out with a snake. Just one. Then it was one more. Then another. Then it was lizards, turtles, frogs. Somehow an alligator joined the menagerie. And a tarantula. And, of course, more snakes: You don’t get called “The Snakeman” for nothing.
“It’s just one of those habits that got out of hand,” said Dan “The Snakeman” Chase.
Chase, who will host one of his educational programs for children at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at Courthouse Park in Cortland, has been doing this a long time — so long that he’s not exactly sure when it all began.
Somewhere in the late 1980s or early 1990s he started doing his first shows. The very first one came about by accident. He had a friend who owned a pet shop but was terrified of snakes. So he hired Chase to clean out the snake cages. Chase was doing that one day when a teacher came in and asked him to come to her class and talk to her students about his snakes.
“That’s how it started,” he said.
He didn’t know what he was doing at first, but people loved it. As he did more shows, he learned more about how to present them.
His first big one was at Lime Hollow Nature Center in Cortlandville.
“It was packed,” he said. “I was really surprised. And after that, the phone started ringing and it never stopped.”
Glenn Reisweber, executive director of Lime Hollow, said this morning that Chase has been a regular presenter for several years at the nature center.
“He is always a big draw,” Reisweber said. “They (kids) love him. He has a great personality. He interacts well with the kids.”
Chase didn’t grow up in a family with a love of snakes, though. In fact, his parents hated them. But Chase first started collecting snakes as a kid, but he did it secretly, where his parents wouldn’t know about his collections out in the woods.
Then he got older, and he began collecting them openly. His father didn’t get it at first.
“Yeah, you know that kid used to be normal,” Chase said his father would tell his farmer buddies.
But while his father wasn’t into snakes, he was definitely a man with enthusiasm, said Chase. Only that enthusiasm was for cows.
Chase said his father would get up at 3 every morning, and sometimes earlier. But he didn’t just get up and do the chores. He got up excited to do the chores.
Chase said he sees that same type of enthusiasm in himself, and he’s glad he’s got it.
“When I first started doing this, I thought this would be a couple summer thing,” he said. “But it never stopped, which is a good thing.”