70th Anniversary of the Great Cobra Scare

2023 is already shaping up to be a big year for Springfield!   This year also happens to be the 70th anniversary of the Great Cobra Scare of 1953.  If you haven’t heard the details yet, be prepared to learn your new favorite story from Springfield’s history. 

In August of 1953, Rio Mowrer owned a pet shop on St. Louis Street east of National Avenue in downtown Springfield.  Rio had entered a deal with a local teenager, who traded garden-variety black snakes for a tropical fish.  When the fish abruptly died, the boy felt shorted in this exchange.  He saw a crate on the back deck of the pet store and released what he thought were the black snakes, but instead sent an unknown number of deadly cobras into the heart of Springfield. 

The ensuing panic started in August and continued into October.  Mothers locked their children inside and would only allow them out to play if an adult stood watch with a garden hoe, ready to behead the snakes in a moment’s notice.  Police officers were sent to investigate reports of suspicious snakes.  At one point, a radio van was equipped to play “Indian snake charmer music” in an attempt to lure the snakes out of hiding,into the waiting arms of the large group of men with garden tools following the truck on foot. Sadly, snakes only react to the vibrations, not the sounds and it did not help the search efforts.  

By the coming of the cold weather,  eleven cobras were killed and one was shot then taken to live at Dickerson Park Zoo until it died. Not a single person was harmed by the snakes.  No eggs were ever found, so it is believed the snakes were either all male or all female. To commemorate the event, Drury University has the snake that lived at the zoo preserved in a jar, the City of Springfield included an image of a cobra on the city seal for many years, and Mother’s Brewing Company crafted “Cobra Scare”, a delicious sour wheat ale. 

This story is one of the oddest and most hilarious in Springfield’s history.  It’s been featured on the History Channel and written about in various newspapers and magazines.  If you’re looking to learn more about this crazy period in Springfield, come by the History Museum on the Square to discover more!


Written by Meg Pearson and John Sellars, 2022.