New Orleans, Louisiana is a home of many weird people full with bizarre stories. One of them was Sandor Szalmas a Katrina survivor, jack-of all trades DIY Hungarian, who lived in the town since 1981. When I first heard the story of his fatal Dec. 5. motorcycle accident last week, he was in a coma with not much chance to survive. On Tuesday, he died of head and spinal injuries suffered in the accident. What makes his death really weird is the rattlesnake on his motorcycle. According to Walt Philbin of the Times Picayune (photo by George Berke):
“Police think Szalmas failed to negotiate a curve on Almonaster Avenue and struck a curb because he was distracted by a rattlesnake he was transporting on the back of the motorcycle….In the week before he died, Szalmas came upon a rattlesnake in the woods and shot it dead. When he brought it back, possibly to show his grandson, a Vietnamese woman who runs a manicure shop near his house saw it and had it cooked for him. Some of his friends speculate the reason he was taking another snake back with him at the time of the accident was that he wanted to eat this one, too.
Long before his unusual death, Szalmas was considered by those who knew him to be a larger-than-life character.
Carl Mack said his friend was “the kind of guy who would be talking with you and catching a fly out of the air at the same time or playing with geckos or eating termites he plucked off a board as he worked on a house.”
Since the fatal accident, friends recalled the time Szalmas rode his bicycle around the country, the time he chopped an alligator’s head off in a swamp when it attacked his inflatable boat, and the time he kept a rattlesnake in his living room as a pet for at least a year, using a covered-over billiards table as a makeshift cage. When he let the snake out for exercise, he would shut the living room doors and post signs saying, “Snake out,” Connelly said.
“The only time I ever heard him admit to being scared of something was when he said he was chased by a wild boar through the woods in eastern New Orleans, and had to climb a tree to escape,” Mack said. “He said that boar was determined to get him.”
Jarreau remembers him as “a very skillful hunter and fisherman, a great swimmer, just a great outdoorsman. He loved his bow and arrows and to ride his motorcycle. He would sleep outside in the woods two or three days at a time.”
Employer and friend Robert Glisson said that “one of the great things about Sandor is that he knew how to do every part of the job — plumbing, electricity, carpentry — you name it, he did it to perfection.”
He also could figure out how to do seemingly impossible jobs. Like the time he constructed a pulley system to lift a 300-pound mirror over a 20-foot balcony into Glisson’s French Quarter apartment. Or when he built a contraption with poles and two-by-fours to carry a 200-pound crystal-and-brass chandelier through the Quarter.
“Tasks that were impossible for most people were not even difficult for Sandor,” Glisson said.