In A Nutshell
While most people are terrified of snakes, Bill Haast handled these legless reptiles every single day. After opening his famous Miami Serpentarium, Haast devoted his life to studying and milking snakes. Even more impressive, Haast injected himself with snake venom every day . . . a bizarre treatment that actually saved lives.
The Whole Bushel
Bill Haast loved snakes. He started catching them when he was seven and was bitten by a copperhead and timber rattlesnake before his 13th birthday. During the 1920s, he dropped out of high school and toured with a traveling snake show. Eventually ending up in Florida, he went to work for a bootlegger and spent his spare time hiking around the Everglades, searching the marshes for fork-tongued reptiles. After his boss was arrested, Haast worked as a mechanic for Pan American World Airways, a job that let him travel the world and smuggle home cobras in his toolbox.
However, Haast wanted more than just to catch snakes. He wanted to study them and show these legless wonders to the world. In 1947, Haast opened his very own “serpentarium,” a snake farm just outside of Miami. Guarded by a 10.5-meter-tall (35 ft) cobra statue, the park attracted visitors clamoring to see the “Snakeman” in action. Every day, Haast put on performances where he handled deadly snakes and milked them for their venom, the key ingredient in antivenin. Afterward, Haast sold the toxins to pharmaceutical companies, and by the 1990s, he was producing 36,000 samples of snake venom every year and saving countless lives.
When he wasn’t milking snakes, Haast was busy mixing up his own bizarre brews. A big believer in the medical properties of venom, Haast treated over 6,000 patients with his homemade venomous elixir. With the assistance of a local doctor, the Snakeman treated people suffering from various ailments like arthritis, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis. However, after CBS did a story on his controversial therapy in 1951, the Food and Drug Administration ordered Haast to cease and desist—but they didn’t say he couldn’t treat himself.
For over 60 years, Haast regularly injected himself with a crazy concoction made of venom from serpents like mambas, kraits, cottonmouths, and cobras. Not only did he claim it made him healthier, the toxins also seriously built up his immune system, something which probably saved his life on multiple occasions. During Haast’s long career, he was bitten over 170 times by deadly snakes like Malayan pit vipers and eastern diamondbacks. On one occasion, his wife had to chop off the end of his blackened finger, and another time, the White House secretly sneaked antivenin out of Iran to save the Snakeman’s life. (He wasn’t immune to “that” particular snake.) On the flip side, Haast’s blood was so full of antibodies that it was actually used to save lives. On multiple occasions, Haast was flown to remote locations like the jungles of Guatemala where he donated his superhuman blood to rescue snakebite victims. In fact, his poison-proof plasma saved over 21 people.
Sadly, Haast shut down his Miami Serpentarium after a young guest was killed by one of his crocodiles. After closing up shop, Haast spent a few years in Utah before moving back to Punta Gorda and reopening his snake farm sans the showmanship. The Snakeman continued milking deadly reptiles until his 92nd birthday when he lost his finger to a pit viper. Despite his nubby hands, he kept on injecting himself with his snake serum every day, famously saying, “I could become a poster boy for the benefits of venom. If I live to be 100, I’ll really make the point.” Bill Haast died on June 15, 2011. He was 100 years old.
Show Me The Proof
Bill Haast obituaries from the New York Times, LA Times, and Washington Post
Bill Haast and King Cobra (CBS documentary)