Snooty, once the world’s oldest known manatee, entertained guests at the South Florida Museum for decades. But in a cruel twist of fate, he drowned the day after his 69th birthday bash at the South Florida Museum. Snooty’s 60,000-gallon tank contains a panel to access a plumbing area. Between the museum closing at 5 p.m. Saturday and staff returning at 8 a.m. Sunday, the panel somehow became dislodged. Snooty swam into the tight area but couldn’t turn around to swim out. Staff found him when they returned in the morning.
After the news was made public, the community responded immediately. Locals started a memorial for Snooty. Tributes to the iconic manatee ranged from lettuce (Snooty’s staple food) to sweet potatoes and cards. People from around the world left grieving comments on the South Florida Museum Facebook page. “I cried myself to sleep last night. We were going to visit in October. So very sad.” “Snooty is now free to swim in Heaven, God bless him.” “We are so sad to hear the news about Snooty. We live in Scotland but always visited Snooty when we were on holiday as a family in Florida. Heartfelt wishes to everyone who knew Snooty so well at the museum. Our thoughts are with you.”
But should the legacy of Snooty, who entertained generations of visitors and symbolized a species in desperate need of conservation, be reduced to Facebook posts and lettuce? Bradenton native Anthony Pusateri doesn’t think so. He is petitioning to replace a Confederate monument in Bradenton with a statue of Snooty.
The idea came after Pusateri heard the tragic news. He'd seen an article calling to remove the Confederate monument days earlier and hatched his plan.
“Why not do both?” Pusateri says. “Why not remove the Confederate monument? And then here’s an idea of what we can replace it with: the most beloved member of Manatee County.”
Pusateri grew up visiting Snooty on field trips. His great aunt worked at the museum as a volunteer, and the highlight of visiting was seeing the famous manatee. Snooty’s drowning hit him especially hard.
“My fiancée and I were thinking of having our wedding there so we could actually have Snooty at our wedding,” Pusateri says. He might still get married at the museum. The couple wants to support everything the museum does, especially the manatee rehabilitation program.
The petition to remove the Confederate monument and immortalize Snooty has already gained more than 11,000 supporters, far surpassing Pusateri’s initial goal of 2,500. He plans to submit the petition to the Manatee County Commission at the end of the week. If the courts accept his proposal, he needs to start thinking logistics. A Ringling College graduate in San Jose has already volunteered to make the statue.
But removing the current monument, which is a tribute to the Daughters of the Confederacy and emblazoned with the Confederate flag, is bound to meet resistance. Pusateri has heard two main arguments: that the monument is part of American history and that the monument is meant to remember fallen soldiers. But Pusateri doesn’t think just because something is part of history that it is worth glorification.
“The Nazis fought for Hitler and for Germany back during World War II,” he says. “They were patriots just carrying out orders that they were given. But you don’t see any statues of Nazi soldiers or Hitler in front of the Reichstag in Berlin.”
Pusateri doesn’t want the monument destroyed or ruined, just moved. He believes it's a better fit somewhere else, like at the Gamble Plantation, than in front of a courthouse. Nevertheless, his actions will create an argument. The Hill and BuzzFeed have already picked up his story. Comments range from, “I don’t think war memorials should disappear because a war in retrospect has become unpopular,” to “The monument is not offensive, in any way, to anyone, excpet [sic] you snowflakes.”
“I understand that not everybody is going to agree with it,” Pusateri says. “They have their convictions about what the Confederate statue means. They are entitled to that.”
But, with enough public support, Snooty just might one day bump that Confederate monument from its perch near the courthouse.