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Reptile show at the Minnesota State Fair goes on without founder

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Brian Teigen, owner of Monty's Traveling Reptile Show.
Brian Teigen, owner of Monty's Traveling Reptile Show, stands for a portrait with Albert, his 46-year-old American alligator, at the Minnesota State Fair on Monday.
Lacey Young | MPR News

Monty's Traveling Reptile Show is a landmark on Nelson Street on the Minnesota State Fairgrounds and staple for many fairgoers. But there's one big difference this year. 

Monty Krizan, the show's founder and namesake, died in April of heart failure at age 74.

"Monty just absolutely loved reptiles," says Krizan's nephew Brian Teigen, who has taken over the operation.

The building that houses Monty's Traveling Reptile Show.
The building that houses Monty's Traveling Reptile Show at the Minnesota State Fair.
Lacey Young | MPR News

"We have generations of families, you know multiple generations that come back every, that have been coming here for over 30 years," said Teigen. "They tell us, 'this is the thing we come to see. This starts our fair. You know, I remember bringing our kids, now we're bringing the grand kids, too.'"

Like a lot of things at the Great Minnesota Get-Together, Monty's Traveling Reptile Show had humble beginnings. It started 46 years ago with a baby alligator — Albert — who ended up at the Humane Society in Dunn County, Wis.

A reticulated python sits in its habitat.
A reticulated python sits in its habitat inside Monty's Traveling Reptile Show.
Lacey Young | MPR News

"Somebody thought an alligator would be a good present for their kid," explained Teigen. "Then the novelty wore off, they stopped taking care of him. Eventually, they took him to the Humane Society."

Enter Monty Krizan, a Wisconsin native, former paratrooper, liquor store clerk and lover of all things reptilian. Teigen says Albert and his uncle became inseparable.

"Monty said he took his jean jacket, and in the lining cut a spot and sewed it up, so Albert as a baby would just ride around with him. Wherever he'd go, Monty was the guy with an alligator in his pocket," he said.

Albert became the first of many reptiles to join Krizan's menagerie.

"He'd always take the 'problem childs' we'd call them. The guys that were really picky eaters, or somebody that we got in that was sick," Teigen said.

Monty and his trailer-sized reptile collection were regulars at Midwestern state fairs and Canadian provincial fairs. He even had his own reptile television show on Canadian TV for a time. It was truly a traveling show and Krizan's life's work.

Dooner, a 28-year-old rhinoceros iguana.
Dooner, a 28-year-old rhinoceros iguana, sits on display just outside Monty's Traveling Reptile Show.
Lacey Young | MPR News

He raised 20-foot pythons, rattlesnakes and a 175-pound snapping turtle and a Gila monster, all live, on display behind glass — although Albert the alligator has a hatch that lets fairgoers occasionally pet his nose. About 20,000 people a year pay their $3 to come in and see the collection.

Teigen says the Minnesota State Fair is the only regular appearance for Monty's show now. Teigen worked for his uncle's show for 13 years before Krizan died. He works as a crop farmer and paramedic near Eau Claire when he's not caring for Monty's menagerie, working on the exhibit, or shuttling around the reptiles to school talks, charity events and other appearances.

"We take care of the reptiles and show them off to people and you know, reptiles are really cool creatures," Teigen said. "That's what he loved to tell people and show people, you know. They're not this icky, slimy horrible disgusting thing that a lot of people think."

But for the first time in a generation, Krizan isn't around to tell fairgoers himself.