Sunday, March 2, 1997
A century ago Old Rip was placed in cornerstone
By KEN ELLSWORTH / Senior Staff Writer
EASTLAND - This Eastland County Courthouse is a sacred burial
place. Old Rip, the most famous individual horned lizard in the
world, the lizard who survived 31 years of hibernation in the
cornerstone of the old Eastland County Courthouse, lies in state
here - or a least his effigy does - and he is revered more than
many humans can ever hope to be.
Old Rip's casket, made by the Abilene Casket Co., is behind
glass and open for viewing from either inside or outside the courthouse.
About eight inches in length, the plush casket provides more than
enough room for the four or five-inch Old Rip to move about should
he decide to awaken once more. Old Rip is also honored by a nearby
stone made by the Eastland Monument Co.
Friday, however, a courthouse celebration for Old Rip, attended
by more than 100 people, was anything but somber. It had been
exactly 69 years since Rip had risen from his cornerstone tomb
after a sleep of 31 years, groggy, but alive. And, it had been
a century since he had been placed alive into the stone in the
Mayor Don Griffin, introduced by emcee, County Judge Scott
Bailey, stepped forward Friday in the courthouse lobby and proclaimed
Eastland to be the "Horned Lizard Capitol for the Day."
Then State Representative Jim Keffer read a statement from Governor
George W. Bush declaring Eastland to be the "Horned Toad
(or maybe he said horned lizard) Capitol For the Day." Bush
also said that horned lizards, now a protected species, exemplify
"true Texas grit."
Keffer said that Old Rip provides Eastland and Eastland County
with an identity that is state wide.
"Isn't that the place where they've got that frog or toad
or something?" Keffer said people often ask.
Siebert Elementary School students participated in the event
by entering an Old Rip coloring contest. Winners were on hand
to receive Old Rip chocolate candy bars, gold plated Old Rip pins,
or, for first place, T-shirts. The T-shirts said "Wanted
Alive" and showed a picture of a horned lizard. In all, 348
crayoned horned lizards were placed on view.
Nobody there Friday seemed to doubt Old Rip's fantastic achievement
of surviving incarceration in the old courthouse cornerstone from
1897-1928, least of all the people present at the Friday celebration
who had also been witnesses at the startling event in 1928.
Virginia Weaver Russell, still of Eastland, said she had been
among the 2,000 citizens crowded around in front of the old cornerstone
when Old Rip was lifted out in 1928. She had been in high school
that day and had no idea why school had been dismissed. As she
and the others watched, Eugene Day reached down into the open
cornerstone to pick up the horned lizard.
"They pulled him out by the tail and held him by the tail,"
Mrs. Russell said. She and the others watched and saw Old Rip
"There was a great cry from the crowd," she said.
'He's alive!' Is he alive? Yes! He's alive!' " Mrs. Russell
also remembered that the loud cry of the multitude was nearly
Velton "Buddy" Moser, now 84 and also of Eastland,
had also been a witness. Friday, wearing a pewter horned lizard
pin with turquoise eyes, Moser said at age 15 he had been carrying
water to crews working on the new courthouse.
"I saw him (Old Rip), but I couldn't tell for sure if
he moved," he said, but he did not doubt that others did.
Richard May, now of Abilene, was just eight on the day none
"I had an ice cream cone in my left hand and to stay close
to my dad. I held his back pocket with my other hand. I watched
and saw (Day's) hand go down and hold the frog up. I saw that
they had him by the tail," Mr. May recounted. "They
said he had hibernated. That (31 years) seemed a long time to
me, but I did believe it."
Mr. May said nothing to indicate he had ever changed his mind
and neither did anybody else.
So, long live the legend, or the reality of Old Rip, who eventually
met President Calvin Coolidge, toured the east, and was written
up by New York newspapers. It does not really seem to matter.
He can still draw a very nice crowd.
This column covers the cities and communities of this part
of West Texas. To contact Ken Ellsworth, call (800) 588-6397 or
(915) 673-4271, Ext. 381, or write to P.O. Box 30, Abilene, TX
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