Sunday, May 23, 2010


Every year, May 23rd rolls around.

And every year, May 23rd is Lucky Penny Day.

And every year, on May 23rd, I fail to find said Lucky Penny.

This year is no exception.

But, I did find this one back in January. And I'm thinking...

...if this one is truly a Lucky Penny, I'm not sure the luck is exactly on the side of the good 'ol U. S. of A.:

Friday, May 14, 2010

...And It All Started With The Gold Rush, a Tall Tale, and a Really, Really Crappy Road

You may already know that May 13th, 2010 marks the first day of the 82nd annual Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee, held annually the third weekend of May. And you may even know that this particular event is tied to Mark Twain's famous story, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. But I bet you don't know the story behind the story, which is always the best part, don't you think?

Thar's Gold (an' Stories) in Them Thar Hills
In 1865, when then-unknown Mark Twain visited a tavern in the California mining town of Angels Camp, he heard a tale about Jim Smiley - an unabashed gambler who'd bet on anything, a frog named Dan'l Webster - which was rumored to be able to out-jump any frog alive, and a mysterious stranger - who offered a bet ol' Smiley couldn't refuse. Some folks say the tale is true and certain. Others aren't so sure. And at least one other soul informed Mark Twain that the story he heard that day was nothing more than a several-thousand-year-old Greek fable, recycled.

A Bit of Backstory...
Angels Camp was founded by Henry Angel in 1848. By the height of the Gold Rush in the 1850's, Angels Camp boasted nearly 4,000 gold miners.
In those days, Angels Camp was exactly that: a mining town consisting of nothing more than rows of tents flanking narrow dirt roads, which were rutted and muddy from years of wagons and stagecoaches rumbling about. Gradually, though a proper town began to grow up around these humble beginnings, the woefully subpar roads remained unchanged. By 1927, residents had had enough of this bouncing and jouncing travel through and mud and dirt, so they passed a measure to finance a paved main street.

...And the Birth of a Jubilee
In 1928, the Angels Camp Boosters - a community service organization formed in 1925 and still in effect today - wanted to celebrate their smooth achievement. A visiting minister, Reverend Brown, suggested using Twain's by-then-famous Jumping Frog story as the theme of the celebration. The Boosters agreed, and the very first Jumping Frog Jubilee was held May 19-20, 1928, right on the new pavement. Some 15,000 folks attended the festivities, and the very first contest winner was "Pride of San Joaquin," jockeyed by Louis Fisher of Stockton. The winning jump measured 3 feet, 6 inches.

Eighty-two Years and Thousands of Frogs Later...
The Jumping Frog Jubilee has continued each year since, with the only exception being 1933 (on account of the Great Depression). By 1938, the celebration had morphed to such large proportions that it was combined with the Calaveras County Fair, and the festivities were moved from Angels Camp's main street to Calaveras County's fairgrounds. Today, the event has grown to 35,000+ folks attending, and 2,000 or so Frog Jump contestants. Qualifying jumps are held throughout the Jubilee days, with the top 50 frogs/jockeys competing on Sunday for not only bragging rights, but also the coveted grand prize of a bronze plaque installed on the famed Frog Hop of Fame in Angels Camp.

Jumping to Glory
The current world frog jump record (yes, world record - people and their frogs fly in from all over to compete in the Jumping Frog Jubilee) is held by "Rosie the Ribeter," who jumped 21 feet, 5.75 inches in 1986, with the encouragement of jockey Lee Giudici of Santa Clara, CA.

Frog jumping is a fun, but also serious challenge: many of the folks who compete for frog jumping glory are part of family teams spanning three generations of competitors over as many as 50 years. Case in point: this year's contest - with the 2010 theme "Celebrating the Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain!" - finds the Bozo Frog Team vying for an unprecedented 4th consecutive frog jumping victory.

Living Vicariously
Can't make it to this year's festivities? Not to worry. Here are two videos to help you live (at least a little) in the moment.

This one shows snippets of the actual Jumping Frog Jubilee:

This one briefly re-tells the famous Twain tale, gives some insight into life in Gold Rush towns, and illuminates a bit of the Jumping Frog Jubilee competition and the folks who live it:

Finally, if you (like me) just can't get enough of all things jumpy and froggy, check out the sources listed below. And have a very, very happy Jumping Frog Day!

Jumping Frog Jubilee Calaveras County Angels Camp California Annual Event -
Calaveras County Fair & Jumping Frog Jubilee - Official Site - Home page for a documentary film all about the Jumping Frog Jubilee. Click around - lots of great pages on this site: rules of the contest, location, history...all great stuff. The videos above are snippets from that documentary, titled, Jump.
Frog forecast: Lofty leaps likely if Mother Nature cooperates - - A Calaveras County newsletter-type site with brief info about this year's contest, and interesting links to other Twain and frog and jubilee and local news info.