In 1955, Looney Tunes writer Michael Maltese was inspired by the story of Ol’ Rip to write a cartoon episode titled One Froggy Evening. In the episode, a construction worker demolishing a building finds an 1897 time capsule inside a cornerstone. The capsule contains a living toad, Michigan J. Frog, which is able to sing Tin Pan Alley songs; in particular, “Hello! Ma Baby” and “I’m Just Wild About Harry”.
But did you know that it was based in fact?
On July 29, 1897, a 4-year-old boy named Will Wood caught a horny toad in Eastland County, Texas. The boy’s father, Eastland County clerk Ernest E. Wood, decided to use the reptile to test the West Texas tradition that the creatures could survive for many years in hibernation. The horned lizard was placed in a cornerstone of the Eastland County Courthouse in Eastland, Texas along with other time capsule memorabilia, including a Bible and a bottle of alcohol.
Thirty years later, construction workers began to tear down the old courthouse, and town officials scheduled a public event to open the time capsule in mid-February 1928. A crowd of 1,500 spectators gathered in Eastland, Texas, to witness the opening of the time capsule and to learn the fate of the horned toad. Newspaperman Boyce House recalled the chaotic scene:
“When the brick wall was pulled away from the cornerstone, the crowd rushed forward, in its excitement pressing so closely against a worker that he barely had room to ply his pick in order to break a layer of cement that was over the top of the stone. Then he lifted a sheet of metal underlying the cement. As this covering was raised, disclosing the cavity, Rev. F. E. Singleton (pastor of the Eastland Methodist Church), who was standing beside the cornerstone, leveled a finger and said: ‘There’s the frog!’ Eugene Day, oil man, thrust his hand into the cavity and lifted out a flat, dust-covered toad which he handed over to Rev. Mr. Singleton. The pastor handed the creature on to Judge Pritchard who dangled it aloft by a hind leg that all might see. Suddenly the other hind leg twitched: The frog was alive!”
Within days, national newspaper chains reported the discovery of the entombed lizard on their front pages. Due to the extensive media coverage, Ol’ Rip became a national celebrity.
The peak of Rip’s fame occurred in May 1928 when, during his national tour, the lizard was transported to Washington, D.C. where Texas Senator Earle Bradford Mayfield presented the specimen to President Calvin “Silent Cal” Coolidge. A bemused Coolidge purportedly declined to touch the frog and merely nudged it with his spectacles. A newspaper article reported the incident:
“President Coolidge asked numerous questions concerning his celebrated guest; stroked the frog’s back with his horn-rimmed glasses, and then President and Old Rip gazed steadily at each other for a full minute without a sound—Silent Cal had met his match”.
Old Rip now resides on display in the Eastland County courthouse.
And you can see the cornerstone he spent 31 years in as well