I’ve never been a huge fan of Mark Twain. In fact, I don’t think I’ve read anything substantial written by him. Sure, I’ve seen quotes by Mark Twain (although I can’t think of one), but I don’t recall reading any of his novels or even a short story. (In 10th grade English class, the kids with overprotective, over-Christian parents read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or maybe The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. My mother signed the permission slip, so I got to read Brave New World instead.)
I know Twain is supposed to be funny, with a biting wit, but I’ve never been able to get into his writing. I think my my enjoyment is blocked by his Victorian Era syntax and word choice. Reading Twain’s writing feels too much like schoolwork to me.
In any case, when I went to California and first heard someone reference Calaveras County and frogs, I had only a glimmer of what it the speaker might mean.
I’ve learned a couple of things since then.
The title in question is “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” According to Wikipedia, it
The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches is also the title story of an 1867 collection of short stories by Mark Twain. It was Twain’s first book and collected 27 stories that were previously published in magazines and newspapers.
It turns out that Calaveras County is a real place.
[T]he County of Calaveras, is a county in the U.S. state of California. As of the 2010 census, the population was 45,578. The county seat is San Andreas, and Angels Camp is the only incorporated city. Calaveras is the Spanish word for skulls; the county was reportedly named for the remains of Native Americans discovered by the Spanish explorer Captain Gabriel Moraga.
I was excited when I got a house sitting gig outside of Murphys, CA. You guessed it! Murphys is in Calaveras County.
Murphys is proud of the county’s famous frogs, even though Twain’s story is set down the road in Angels Camp. Mark Twain lived in Murphys for a spell, which probably increases the civic pride.
I suppose “lived in” is a relative term. The guide on the free Saturday morning walking tour I went on explained that Mark Twain lived in Murphys for “88 days, less than three months.” I guess it would be less impressive for the town if word got out that Twain vacationed in Murphys or spent a season there.
The Murphys Historic Hotel is proud to claim Twain at the top of their list of “notable guests” who stayed at the hotel “during its early years.” Apparently visitors can view a copy of Twain’s “original registration” signature in the hotel’s lobby, but the website is mum as to when and for how long Twain stayed there.
The town of Murphys (population 2,200) is proud of its county’s froggy heritage. I found three frog sculptures as I explored Murphys downtown. (All three are featured in this post.) However, I didn’t see any information about the artists who created the frogs.
Heck, Calaveras County is so proud of their frogs, they feature them on their recycling bins.
I guess it helps to be known for something if a town wants to attract tourists.