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The Toad

Toad tale' had hoppy ending, by Jean Simmons

EASTLAND, Texas - He lies in state in the Eastland County Courthouse, resting on purple velvet and white satin

Jerry Don Reeves, "his personal maid," is polishing the glass that protects him. A tour bus is on its way, so clear visibility is important.

For here lies Eastland's most famous corpse: Old Rip, a horned toad.

The oft-told story of Old Rip bears repeating. In 1897, when the cornerstone of the new courthouse was dedicated, Justice of the Peace Earnest Wood, a member of the band, noticed that his son Will was playing with a toad. Let's put him in the cornerstone, he decided. There the toad lived peacefully buried until Feb' 18, 1928, when the courthouse was demolished to make way for a new one.

Three thousand people were on hand, anxious to watch the opening of the cornerstone. Judge E.S. Pritchard removed the Bible and other objects, and at the was the toad. Eugene Day, an oil man, thrust d into the cavity and lifted up the dust-covered creature He handed it to Frank S. Singleton, pastor of the First Methodist Church, who passed it on to Judge At chard, who in turn held it up by the tail for all to

Suddenly Old Rip awoke from his 31-year-sleep. No wonder he's called Rip, after Washington Irving's Rip Van Winkle. In the months that followed, he was exhibited in various parts of the Uniten States, including visit to President Coolidge in Washington, until he died of pneumonia on Jan. 19, 1929.

A biologist explained how Rip might have survived in the cornerstone: Horned toads, as with many lizards, can slow their metabolism in cool weather, and a crack might have allowed ants to enter, providing food.

After being embalmed, Rip was given a place of honor just inside the main courthouse entrance.

A conventional granite marker outside the building calls attention to what lies just on the other side of an above window: a glass box containing the long-dead toad. A missing leg has been attributed to the late Gov. John Connally, who on a whistle-stop tour in 1962 either picked up the frog while there or took him off to Cisco, where he was retrieved.

County Judge Scott Bailey is Old Rip's guardian angel, keeper of the key to his box. The toad is always referred to as "he," but who really knows? Judge Bailey isn't saying.

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