A short story titled "Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog" made Mark Twain famous.
In it he tells the tale of a bet made between two men: Jim Smiley and a stranger. Who's frog can jump the highest? The stranger won by weighing down Smiley's croaker with buckshot. This 1860s story was retold in a 1950s opera by Lukas Foss, and became an event made notable in Calaveras, CA (fondly known as Frogtown USA). NE Ohio's very own Valley City climbed aboard the frog-jumping band wagon in 1962 after the county fair's general chairman and local historian came up with the idea as a way of entertaining all ages at the township's sesquicentennial celebration.
It was a big hit back then and continues to grow in popularity. Now, we know why.
We had the privilege of attending our first Frog Jump Festival in Valley City last Sunday. Thanks to the Sandors who gave us free meal vouchers, we started our afternoon with a plate of sweet corn, grilled chicken and coleslaw. The heat was menacing that day, which made our cold sodas taste that much colder and the food that much more savory. We even had an unexpected visit from Medina County Commissioner, Pat Geissman, who joined us at our table for lunch. In addition to her many responsibilities as commissioner (including a judge and Frog Jump announcer), she is a wife and a grandmother, and her husband is recovering from shoulder surgery. We had a pleasant conversation and I hugged her as we left.
I also hugged the wife of the man who grilled our chicken.
It was that good.
With country music and classic rock tunes as our soundtrack, we took our full bellies down to the tents where the frog-themed games and merchandise were, said hello to our friends, and proceeded to the main event. In a small arena, children and adults coaxed their pets one by one, trying to get them to jump. Coincidentally, the frog owners resembled frogs themselves as they crouched down on their haunches, tilted their bodies forward and smacked the ground with their hands. Some frogs needed more persuasion than others, but all of them ended up hopping with panache. I mean, with names like Sr. Frogsire Esquire, Fudgy Nickels, Mojo Jojo, Fluffy, and the Punisher, how can you not watch?
Mark Twain was certainly on to something all those years ago, though I doubt he considered the future celebrity of his narrative. Frog jump t-shirts, postcards, postage stamps and animal rights activists? Don't worry PETA, all of the amphibians in Valley City are safe.
Until next year.
Until next year.