EASTLAND, Texas – The center of Eastland Texas, which happens to be the center of Eastland County, happened to be the center of the entire country nearly 100 years ago.
It seems the story of a lizard, commonly referred to as a toad, stole the Lone Star State spotlight back in 1928 when the cornerstone of the old Eastland courthouse was removed. Rumor had it that when the courthouse was built in 1897, people remembered a horned toad being put in the void and sealed so curious onlookers would come out in droves. At least, that’s what Cecil Funderbergh, a lifelong resident of Eastland, told us.
“A crowd of about 3,000 people gathered together for the opening of the cornerstone because there were rumors that the horned toad could live for a hundred years, you know, could hibernate for 100 years and everybody wanted to see if it was true,” Fundergergh said. “So after 31 years they opened the cornerstone and an oil man by the name of Eugene Day reached into the cornerstone and pulled out a flat, dusty horned toad, handed it to the Methodist preacher who then handed it to the county judge, Judge Pritchard. He held it up by the hind leg for everybody to see and all of a sudden the other hind leg started twitching. Then he took a deep breath and he puffed up like the horned toad will sometimes puff up pretty good, and the crowd just went crazy, you know.”
The lethargic lizard was nicknamed Old Rip in honor of another sleepy story Rip Van Wrinkle, and wouldn’t you know, Old Rip became an overnight sensation.
“They say that he got more press coverage than anyone other than Charles Lindberg, when Lindberg few the Atlantic, you know,” said Funderbergh. “Old Rip was the big story around the nation.”
He even got a face-to-face meeting with President Calvin Coolidge.
“Calvin Coolidge, his nickname was ‘Silent Cal.’ You know, he didn’t talk very much, and they say that Old Rip stared him down,” Funderbergh said. “So you know, he made the president speak first.”
It’s even been said the story of ol’ Michigan J. Frog got its start thanks to Old Rip.
“You know, Eastland’s name was in the paper all over the country and it’s just a source of pride,” said Funderbergh.
Unfortunately Old Rip’s time in outside world was short-lived and Old Rip took an eternal nap 11 months after being freed from his Texas tomb. But today you can see ole’ Rip sitting prominently in the window of the Eastland County Courthouse. County Judge Rex Fields got us a personal visit with the frozen stiff toad.
“Well, Old Rip is a landmark for Eastland, Eastland County,” said Judge Fields. “This is a claim to fame here, that we could have a reptile that could live in a cornerstone of the courthouse for 31 years. It’s pretty amazing.”
Of course there are those who don’t jump right in when it comes to the lore of this lizard. But considering they busted Old Rip out during the winter, those who firmly believe say that’s all the proof you need right there.
“Would be next to impossible for someone to get a horned toad, a live horned toad, in February and say hey, this is the one that was in the cornerstone,” Funderbergh said. “So, I think the evidence points to it being a true story. Of course, around here we swear to it.”
So what used to be a common critter in Eastland county is now an oddity, an oddity that swells the pride in the people in this part of our state. And you too can see the lizard with lineage and pay your respects to Old Rip.
“It’s part of our history, you know,” said Funderbergh. “I think everybody needs to know about horned toads since they’re nearly extinct. They need to know about them.”