Unusual events always offer a destination for an adventurous traveler. Take for example, the Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee in the small Northern California town of Angels Camp. I’ve always been curious about what happens at this event, so a few years ago, I found out.
The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County by Mark Twain was first published in 1865, a decade before The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, two decades before The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The short story gave Mark Twain his start and inspired the signature event of The Calaveras County Fair, one of the longest running spectacles in California.
The Fair attracts nearly 40,000 spectators for its extended weekend run, which means you have to plan ahead. Of course the Jumping Frog Jubilee attracts plenty of outsiders, like me, but for locals it also has the typical county fair agenda — like a parade, 4H Club competitions, livestock showings and auctions, arts and crafts exhibits, a rodeo and even a police dog demonstration.
A few of my favorite events, not counting the Frog Jump of course, were the Destruction Derby and the Arm Wrestling Contest. The Derby is run in a mud-filled arena that is much smaller than those I’ve seen in Southern California, but that only added to the excitement. Smash, bang, crash and crunch! I don’t know why I love seeing all of this damage, but it works for me.
As for the Arm Wrestling Contest, this was the first big league match I’d ever seen. It is sponsored by Armwrestling USA as part of their nationwide county fair circuit. There are competition classes for men and women and each match is judged by a referee wearing an official black and white striped shirt. He gets down close to the action to make sure there are no cheaters. The crowd loves it.
The biggest attractions are the Frog Jump competitions culminating in the International Frog Jump Finals on Sunday afternoon. There are seats up close to the stage where the frogs jump, but most folks sit on the grassy knoll that overlooks the stage. You can’t see any details from this vantage point, but nobody complains. The public address system keeps everyone informed.
Frog jockeys seem to come in all varieties — men, women, young, old, stylish, slovenly, whatever. Prior to placing their little critter on the launch pad, many jockeys will kiss their pets, or whisper sweet nothings to the spot where ears should be. They all seem to have their rituals.
To make them jump, jockeys will blow on them, give verbal commands, clap their hands or do anything they think will make their little green jumper set a new record. Judges measure every jump with a tape measure. A frog named “Rosie the Ribiter” set the current record in 1986 at 21 feet, 5 ¾ inches. $5,000 awaits the contestant who beats it.
If you don’t bring your own frog, you can rent one from the Frog Spa, a little room behind the stage. I’m not a frog devotee, so I just watched.
Each year the winner receives a cash prize, notoriety, and a bronze plaque embedded on the sidewalk in Angels Camp’s famous “Frog Hop of Fame.” As you stroll along the walk, you’ll also see large frog sculptures, frog pictures and stores selling frog-oriented memorabilia. Everybody is into it.
The next Fair and Frog Jump is scheduled for May 19 – 22, 2016, so if you plan to go – you’d better jump to it! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)