Easter weekend means lots of people in Springfield for the Governor’s Frog Jump, the famous festival that on Saturday will mark the 50th jumping of the frogs in the western Orangeburg County town. But the event is actually in its 52nd year.
After a half-century, most people may not know the story of how Springfield and frog jumping became synonymous.
Look no further than Columbia in 1966 when the governor of California asked the governor of South Carolina to send a frog to California to compete in the famous Calaveras County Frog Jump immortalized in “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” an 1865 short story by Mark Twain and his first great success as a writer.
In 1968, a Springfield frog named “Buckwheat” won the contest in Columbia and then-Gov. Robert McNair asked Springfield officials if the town wanted to sponsor the festival.
Pat Williams, son of late Springfield resident Lila Williams who worked for the Governor’s Office, was responsible for bringing the event to his hometown. And Mrs. Williams was a driving force for the event across decades.
A meeting was called at the old Springfield Community Center, and the townspeople and then-Mayor O.K. Furtick were challenged to put on the Frog Jump Festival. They agreed to hold the event in Springfield.
The state General Assembly then took a vote and designated Springfield as the official home of the Governor’s Frog Jump.
The first Frog Jump in Springfield was held in 1969 on Main Street in a vacant lot between stores. Former Mayor Dickie Phillips initiated the purchase of the lot where the Frog Jump is now held. The land was purchased from Alice Bean, daughter of Daniel Bean, one of the town’s founding fathers.
The Frog Jump parade has attracted many state politicians, with the late Sen. Strom Thurmond being a frequent participant who even entered a frog in the competition on occasion.
During the festival’s second year, the International Egg Strike competition was added. Striking eggs had been a tradition ever since the Irish settlers came to Springfield.
The festival has spawned interest all over the nation and the world. It has thrived where some other festivals have suffered or even faded into history, largely because the Frog Jump is today a family reunion of sorts for townspeople committed to keeping it going beyond its golden anniversary in Springfield.