Thursday, February 7, 2008
I visited the “Birthplace of the Frog” Saturday. And it’s right here in Mississippi.
We were in the Delta for the District 1-AA Junior High Basketball Tournament. Our teams played Friday and Saturday, so we stayed overnight in Indianola rather than make the two-and-a-half hour drive back and forth.
But Saturday morning, we had some time on our hands before the 2 p.m. championship game tipoffs.
Pam had already requested we travel about 22 miles to Greenville, where she lived for five years during high school. Her dad was a minister there, and she graduated from Washington School. She wanted to stir some memories.
We had been back there shortly after we were married for the wedding of one of her classmates. That trip was probably 15 years ago.
But before we arrived in Greenville, we made a stop in Leland. Our 6-year-old, Erin, was not in one of her best riding moods. But there things changed.
On the bank of Deer Creek, one and a half miles west of the intersection of Highway 82 and Highway 61 is “Birthplace of Kermit the Frog: An Exhibit of Jim Henson’s Delta Boyhood.” It is housed in the Washington County Tourist Center/Leland Chamber of Commerce. Henson, the most famous puppeteer in history, was born September 24, 1936, in Greenville. He grew up in Leland.
Both the creator and a performer of the “Muppets,” Henson is known throughout the world for his puppet creations, which include such characters as Grover, Elmo, Big Bird, Bert and Ernie, Miss Piggy, and especially, Kermit the Frog, whose voice was provided by Henson and who remains the muppet with which Henson is most closely associated.
We were greeted at the exhibit by a nice lady. She was retired from the public schools. Her knowledge of Henson, his hometown and the memorabilia was outstanding. She answered all of our questions thoroughly, and even told us things we didn’t think to ask.
Erin, of course, loved the place. She didn’t want to leave. Pam made her photo with Kermit.
She had to leave with a couple of souvenirs, and we dropped a small donation in the jar near the front door. The building housing the exhibit is small. No doubt, more space is needed.
Our tour guide said the exhibit continues to grow - many items being contributed by individuals. Some of the most recent were some Big Bird house shoes.
My children - Emma, Andy and Erin - have picked up reading skills via the Sesame Street books, featuring Henson’s “Muppets.”
I always had trouble differentiating between Bert and Ernie, and my children often laughed. That reminds me of one of my favorite books, entitled “Just Like Ernie.”
It begins “Ernie and Bert are as different as two friends can be. Ernie likes snazzy red sneakers. Bert likes sensible brown-and-white saddle shoes. Ernie likes to play the drums. Bert likes to play dominoes. Bert makes things neat. Ernie makes a mess!”
It seems we often forget about Mississippi’s famous people. Our state has been blessed with sports legends, outstanding musicians, excellent writers and as I was reminded on Saturday, the world’s greatest puppeteer.
As much as I’ve looked at those Big Bird books over the years, I tend to forget the connection to Mississippi.
Our stop in Leland was unplanned but truly enjoyable. Perhaps we all need to get out and discover more of our own state.
Henson died of pneumonia in New York on May 16, 1990. Over the course of a career spanning more than 30 years, Henson received 18 Emmy awards, seven Grammy awards, four Peabody awards, and numerous other honors.
And it all started right there in Leland where one of his childhood friends, Kermit, would later inspire the name of Henson’s most celebrated creation.
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