Ol' Rip
September 28, 2007 9:23 AM   Subscribe

1897, Eastland, TX. A cornerstone was being laid in the foundation of the new county courthouse (to replace the old county courthouse, not to be confused with the original county courthouse). People put various items in the hollow space in the marble, time capsule style. Just before they sealed the box court clerk Ernest Wood (E.E. to his friends), acting on a whim, grabbed a horny toad that his son, Will Wood, had picked up on the way in to town and placed it in the box. Entombed forever. But...31 years later, 1928. Eastland, having decided it needed a NEW new courthouse, was about to demolish the old one. Someone recalled the time capsule, and the unfortunate horny toad, and 3,000 people showed up to see the poor dead lizard. "As a county official held up the dusty reptile, his leg twitched, and then his whole body came alive."

"I know it happened because I saw it," one observer said. "I know it didn't happen because it just doesn't make sense." Is this even possible?

They named the miracle toad Ol' Rip - like Rip Van Winkle. He became an instant celebrity, toured the country and even gained an audience with President Calvin Coolidge. Life was good for Ol' Rip. Tragically, however, on Jan. 19, 1929, his cage was left out on a sunporch overnight during a cold snap and Ol' Rip proved once and for all that horny toads, at least when not entombed in courthouses, are mortal. Ol' Rip succumbed to pneumonia and died. R.I.P, Rip.

Eastland's most famous resident was placed in yet another box in the courthouse, this one of velvet and glass. Entombed forever. But...

In 1962 Gubernatorial candidate John Connally (yes, that John Connally) was baby kissing in Eastland, and went for a photo-op with the venerable and mummified Ol' Rip, and accidentally tore off his leg. Back in the box, Rip.

Two years later Ol' Rip was toadnapped, for charity and all in good fun, by the local Jaycees.

In 1971 Ol' Rip was taken again, this time held ransom by a nefarious person claiming to be a part of the "original conspiracy" to defraud the US of A into believing the tale of Ol' Rip. The nerve! This person demanded his co-conspirators come forward, but none did. Ol' Rip was eventually recovered. He'd been left at the county fairgrounds. Or had he?

Judge Scott Bailey, who served for 36 years (A Texas record) was quoted as saying: "This toad is fairly well-preserved. The other was more ...mummified."

Now, the most interesting thing about Ol' Rip is that you probably already know him. Only, you know the fictionalized version of Ol' Rip, you know him as Michigan J. Frog, erstwhile mascot of the WB television network, and star of what Steven Spielberg once called "The Citizen Kane of animated film", the 1955 Chuck Jones Loony Toon classic, One Froggy Evening.
posted by dirtdirt (22 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Love the story of Ol' Rip. One Froggy Evening has to be one of Chuck Jones' best, too.
posted by malaprohibita at 9:37 AM on September 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

posted by sy at 9:37 AM on September 28, 2007

When I was a kid, my family stopped in Eastland en route to another vacation spot, and I distinctly remember visiting that courthouse and being in thrall to the legend of Ol' Rip. Wish I still had some of the souvenirs we bought (though I doubt the T-shirt would still fit).

And you can bet I believed that story with all my heart.
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:00 AM on September 28, 2007

The Texas News, March 2, 1997:

"...Then State Representative Jim Keffer read a statement from Governor George W. Bush declaring Eastland to be the "Horned Toad (or maybe he said horned lizard) Capitol For the Day." Bush also said that horned lizards, now a protected species, exemplify "true Texas grit.""

See? He was really GOOD at issuing pronouncements about Lazarus Toad. I bet he wrote that himself. Why didn't he stick to that? A hundred-thousand-odd people would still be alive, and the toad pronouncements in Texas would probably be better to this day.
posted by bicyclefish at 10:01 AM on September 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm gonna have to call you on that "horny" toad spelling error.
posted by rolypolyman at 10:04 AM on September 28, 2007

"horney toad" - 18,100 results.
"horny toad" - 583,000 results, including UTexas and Wikipedia's page on the critter.

I think it's horny.
posted by dirtdirt at 10:44 AM on September 28, 2007

Hello, my baby
Hello, my darlin'
Hello, my ragtime gal
Send me a kiss by wire
Baby, my heart's on fire!
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 10:53 AM on September 28, 2007 [3 favorites]

Thus proving...
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:56 AM on September 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Could this toad possibly be Michigan J. Frog (YouTube) of Looney Tunes fame?
posted by dougzilla at 11:09 AM on September 28, 2007

...if you refuse me
honey you'll lose me
and you'll be left alone, so darlin'
and tell me i'm your oOOOOWWWWNnnnnnnnn!

[ps. many thanks, dirtdirt!!!]
posted by CitizenD at 11:12 AM on September 28, 2007

oooh dougzilla, you could scroll up just a tad to the bottom of the "More inside" section
posted by edgeways at 11:17 AM on September 28, 2007

Rip was a horned lizard, not a toad, but it is still a good story. Thanks.
posted by TedW at 11:34 AM on September 28, 2007

I've heard something about ticks waiting in ambush on twigs, that are triggered into activity by chemicals the host emits. I seem to recall that some guy kept them encased in glass boxes, and they would become active after decades of poised stasis. Was it an Oliver Sax book about time perception? Some such thing.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:38 AM on September 28, 2007

posted by StickyCarpet at 11:39 AM on September 28, 2007

Moral: Avoid John Connally.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:10 PM on September 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

Previously on metafilter, by me...

This is a great post. Never heard of this little guy! I love the little casket.
posted by agregoli at 1:53 PM on September 28, 2007

wow A Lazarus frog. Amazing.

In the plant world, the Resurrection Plant.
posted by nickyskye at 2:07 PM on September 28, 2007

Fortean Times on Toads in Stones
posted by A189Nut at 4:13 PM on September 28, 2007

Exceedingly excellent use of the "more inside" feature, dirtdirt, and overall a stellar post that, IMO, sets a new high mark for MeFi.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:14 PM on September 28, 2007

Whoa. I knew and liked Michigan J. Frog, but I didn't have a clue about his amazing past. And now I know . . . the rrrrest of the story.
posted by booksandlibretti at 6:19 PM on September 28, 2007

bicylefish:"He was really GOOD at issuing pronouncements about Lazarus Toad. I bet he wrote that himself. Why didn't he stick to that? A hundred-thousand-odd 1.2 million people would still be alive, and the toad pronouncements in Texas would probably be better to this day."

Sorry for the derail.

Back to the toad. Anyone know if this really is possible? I'd say way not, but who knows.

I found a horned toad when I was in Arizona. I was like 6. Got my picture taken with it.
posted by cjorgensen at 11:04 AM on September 29, 2007

Stickycarpet, I'm thinking it was John Bleibtreu's "The Parable of the Beast", which was a very cool book.
posted by sneebler at 12:41 PM on September 29, 2007

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