Rip didn't want his fifteen minutes of fame. It was thrust upon him.
He was Young Rip when he crossed paths with E. E. Wood, electrician
and part-time cornet player with the Eastland Municipal Band. He was
Ripley to his mother who had sent him to the store for a box of red
Mr. Wood was on his way to the laying of the cornerstone for the new
County Courthouse. The year was 1897 and people were starved for
entertainment. So much so, that horned toads were regarded as pets.
Even if they never brought the paper in or rolled over, people would
watch their little wart-covered bodies sit immobile for hours. This
was before Television, this was before Radio. Hell, if Edison hadn't
invented the electric light, Mr. Woods wouldn't have been an electrician.
Anyway, on the way to the festivities, Ripley scurried in front of
Mr. Woods and changed his life forever. E. E. grabbed the unfortunate
creature and put him in his pocket planning to present him to his
sons at the end of the day.
|Close-up of "Ol'
Rip," lying in state
Photo courtesy Terry
Jeanson, January, 2007
Woods arrived at the site just in time to see the town fathers place
various articles into the cornerstone/time capsule. Everyday items
to be sure, but things that loomed large in the everyday lives of
A few coins, a Bible, a newspaper and a bottle of whiskey had already
been placed inside when the Mayor asked if anyone had anything else
to contribute. Ripley chose that moment to scratch his little pointed
head and Mr. Woods suddenly remembered he had something to offer.
Everyone laughed when Ripley was lowered by his tail into his new
home, for these were fun loving people who would've put someone's
car keys in there, if cars had been invented. The cornerstone was
sealed and Rip's mother and siblings starved for want of the ants
Rip was to bring home.
|The 1897 Eastland
County Courthouse, Ol' Rip's residence for 31 years
Postcard courtesy rootsweb.com/ %7Etxpstcrd/
Even in 1897
they didn't build things "like they used to" and 31 years
later the courthouse needed to be replaced. When news of the demolition
was announced in the paper, a now remorseful Mr. Woods reminded
everyone that a horned toad had been placed in the cornerstone.
This would be an opportunity to see if the Indian legend of the
toad's longevity was true. Word spread and a crowd of 4,000 people
showed up. Most of them left when they discovered it wasn't a hanging,
but enough were there to witness Rip's resurrection. His seemingly
lifeless body twitched and he seemed to inflate himself as he breathed
the fresh air. Eastlanders went wild. Westlanders went wild. The
bottle of 31 year old whiskey disappeared. Rip went on tour.
He went to Washington D.C. and sat on the President's desk (This
was Calvin Coolidge, a man only slightly more talkative than Rip),
he went to St. Louis, he made public service announcements and endorsed
tennis shoes. Robert Ripley (no relation) featured him in his "Believe
It Or Not" column and newsreels showed Rip's face on movie
screens across the land. Warts and all.
It's too late to make a long story short, so I'll leave out his
kidnapping. Rip spent what were to be the last months of his life
in Mr. Woods front window in a goldfish bowl sunning himself or
burrowing in the sand. Rip had literally found his place in the
sun. Neighborhood children caught red ants by the bushel for Rip.
But in February a Norther blew in and the temperature dropped. While
the Woods slept under quilts, Rip froze in the unheated front room.
Eastland County wept. The Nation mourned. A casket company provided
a glass case, a monument company a marble base, and a taxidermist
performed the sad task for free. Like Lenin, Stalin and Ho Chi Minh,
Rip was put on public display. (It was never proven that Rip was,
or ever had been a party member). Eastland's favorite toad, the
reptile that brought fame to a otherwise sleepy town can be viewed
to this very day in the Eastland
County Courthouse. (North side.)
As a public service announcement, we would like to point out that
Horned Toad is an endangered species and should not be placed
in cornerstones. It was this sort of nonsense that put them on the
endangered list. Mere possession of one can result in a $500.00 fine
and a second conviction can result in a 90 day jail term and a $1000.00
fine. If you are found with a horned toad and a Barton Creek
Salamander you will be drawn and quartered by Clydesdale horses.
If this story seems vaguely familiar, you might remember the Warner
Brother's cartoon from the fifties in which a bullfrog is awakened
from a New York City building being razed and sings ragtime tunes
while wearing a top hat and spats. It had to be Rip that inspired
Chuck Jones and Tex Avery who no doubt would've remembered the newsreels
from their childhood. Like the alligators in the NYC sewers, Rip
is perhaps one of the very first "Urban Legends". As Michigan
J. Frog, he continues to be used as logo/spokesfrog for the WB Television
|Ol' Rip lying
Photo courtesy of TXDoT
"We enjoyed reading the article about Ol' Rip. My husband, Daniel
Wood is the grandson of E.E. Wood., so we have heard this story
first hand from Danny's father, Billy Blake Wood. Thank you again
for interesting reading. It was nice to have proof to my co-workers
that this is a true story." - Cindy Wood, 2001
Escapes, in its purpose to preserve historic, endangered and vanishing
Texas, asks that anyone wishing to share their local history, stories,
landmarks and vintage/historic photos, please contact