This gargoyle depicts a rattlesnake poised for attack, with an open mouth and visible fangs ready to strike. Dean Francis Sayre encouraged the donors to sketch a design with a rattlesnake to represent an American symbol.
The donors — retired medical school professors with no formal training in sculpture — created a model for a “Don’t Tread on Me” snake out of a small block of clay. Carver John Guarente added a second rattle so that the snake could be identified as an American rattler from either side.
The American Rattlesnake is one of 112 gargoyles and grotesques across the Cathedral, which act as water spouts to divert water away from the building. Gargoyles carry away excess water via pipe running through their mouths; grotesques deflect rainwater by bouncing it off the top of their heads, noses or other fanciful body parts. They are often (but not always) carved in the form of fantastic or imaginary animals or humans.