Pigs might not fly, but the Aquarena Center in San Marcos featured one for 30 years that could swim.
A swimming swine named Ralph stood out among attractions such as Aquamaids, glass-bottom boats and a sky ride during the time of the theme park’s operation.
The famous pig performed as part of a 45-minute underwater act in the unique submarine theater, which is being removed as part of an effort to return the park to its natural state.
According to the book, Aquarena Springs (Images of America) by Doni Weber, Ralph would leap into the water at the cue of his trainer, swimming across the water to the reward of a bottle of milk.
Within the 30-year span of the “Ralph the Swimming Pig” act, more than 600 porkers performed the role, paddling through the water at ages as early as six weeks.
According to information displayed in the Aquarena Center, prospective Ralph’s were required to fit within a specific age category to swim at all. The natural structure of pig – large bodies, short legs and lack of buoyancy – work too greatly against them once they reach six months, and trainers were no longer able to handle them in the water. Thus, new Ralphs were constantly in training.
Ada Davis was the trainer who initially brought the pigs to fame, and most Ralph’s were able to return to her farm upon retirement. Only a few of the aquatically inclined piglets were sent to market, perhaps a luxury of fame.
Sam Massey, Texas State alumnus and current Aquarena Center employee, said Ralph was not the first trained animal to be featured in the shows at the theme park. He said a collection of horses, goats and other animals also performed various skills for the masses.
“Ralph wasn’t at the beginning when the underwater shows started,” Massey said, “but they adopted him over time.”
Visitors to the submarine theater witnessed underwater performances. The Aquamaids, who received air via breathing tubes, performed synchronized swimming and underwater ballet for spectators and demonstrated how to have a “fishnic” while drinking Dr. Pepper and eating fruit.
Ralph brought worldwide recognition to the City of San Marcos by "swine diving" his way into the memories of the park’s visitors. Ralph earned such television appearances as the Charles Kuralt special of the Walter Kronkite show in 1967, That’s Incredible in 1980, and performed in the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans.
The Aquarena Center experienced a drop in attendance after the rise of modern theme parks during the 1990s. Southwest Texas State purchased the theme park in 1994 and eventually voted to gradually convert the park to an educational facility.
A pig named Susie took Ralph’s final swine dive in 1996, and the park bid farewell to its theme park attractions along with her.
According to the United Kindom’s The Telegraph, pigs in the Bahamas are keeping the tradition of Ralph going by swimming for tourists.
The hundreds of Ralph piglets might be an unknown part of the history of San Marcos for students, but his status as a local icon remains strong with lifelong residents.