History

Old Rip: Did This Texas Horned Toad Survive 31 Years In a Time Capsule?

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Texas history is full of legends. Naturally, there’s Stephen F. Austin (the veritable “Father of Texas”), Davy Crockett, and the other fierce defenders of the Alamo; as well as various and sundry other important pillars of our rich culture and heritage. However, one legend that many don’t know about is Old Rip, a Texas horned toad who was entombed in a cornerstone of the Eastland, Texas, courthouse in 1897, and who allegedly appeared unscathed (and very much alive) when the cornerstone was opened again in 1928. That’s 31 years without food, water, or air, if you’re following along at home.

Horned Toad Tall Tale or Truth?

Old Rip

Photo: Facebook/Russ Ezell

This possible tall tale, which many believe to be true, begins during the construction of the Eastland courthouse in 1897. Four-year-old Will Wood captured an unassuming horned toad and named him “Blinky.” Wood’s father thought it would be fun to conduct an experiment on the horned toad to test the widely-held theory that horned toads (which are actually lizards) can hibernate for 100 years. So, poor Blinky was sealed up, along with other time capsule items in the courthouse’s structure.

Blinky, the horned toad, was promptly forgotten until the demolition of the courthouse began in 1928. Three thousand people gathered to watch the re-opening of the cornerstone, perhaps in the hopes of seeing what 31 years of entombment might do to a horned toad. Well, you can imagine the shock and awe the people of Eastland felt when the 31-year-old horned toad, crouching flat and covered in a thick layer of dust, emerged alive!

R.I.P, Rip

Old Rip

Photo: flickr/QuesterMark

Blinky was abruptly re-named “Old Rip,” after the legendary character, Rip Van Winkle, (who famously took a 20-year nap). Old Rip became a national sensation after his resurrection. He was escorted around the country on tour and even traveled to Washington D.C. to visit President Calvin Coolidge. Sadly, in 1929, 11 months after resurfacing, Old Rip died of pneumonia. However, if you’re thinking that this is where Old Rip’s story, ends, you would be wrong.

The Plot Thickens…

Old Rip

Photo: Facebook/Kelsie Jackson

After Old Rip’s death, the horned toad was embalmed, and his little body was placed in a casket in the lobby of the new Eastland courthouse. There, Old Rip lay in state until 1973 when the remains went missing. A ransom note indicated that the thief who stole the horned toad felt remorse for his part in a hoax conspiracy. He wanted to go public with his confession that he’d helped create the myth that the horned toad had survived entombment. The kidnapper alleged that a live horned toad was switched out for the very much deceased original “Blinky.” The kidnapper demanded that his accomplices come forward and confess to taking part in the hoax.

When no accomplices came forward, the defeated kidnapper sent word that Old Rip could be found at the county fairgrounds, where officials later retrieved a dead horned toad in Old Rip’s original coffin. However, many people claim that toad appeared to be better preserved and was perhaps an imposter.

Today, visitors to the Eastland, Texas, courthouse (located about 55 miles east of Abilene) can still find a preserved horned toad, who may or may not be the original Old Rip (née Blinky), who astounded the state and captured the curiosity of much of the nation. Old Rip’s popularity even reached the mainstream entertainment industry. It’s widely thought that famous Warner Brother’s animator, Chuck Jones, modeled his singing, dancing cartoon frog, “Michigan J. Frog,” after the story of Old Rip.