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Frog Boy: Death of an Urban Legend

The Good Word

Karen Stollznow

September 20, 2010

Leaping to Conclusions about Cryptid Frogs

One night, a young man drove home alone along Interstate 76 near Brighton, Colorado. Swampland straddled the highway as he approached a lake. A shudder suddenly ran down his spine as he remembered this is the home of a terrifying monster … Frog Boy.

Frightened yet intrigued, he decided to investigate. He wandered around the area, his feet sinking into the marshy ground. He stood still and listened. The silence was broken by the sound of an incredible splash. Frog boy! His heart pounding, he ran back to his vehicle and sped off. Only later did he realize that what he’d heard wasn’t Frog Boy, it was probably just a bullfrog.

The Frog Boy of Barr Lake terrorized locals for three decades in this way. Terrorized their imaginations, that is. Frog Boy can be categorized as a cryptid, an animal whose existence has not been proven (and probably never will be). Cryptozoology is the study of as yet undiscovered or unproven animals, such as Bigfoot and el chupacabra; mutant versions of known animals, like big cats and the Mongolian Death Worm; and hybrid cryptids. Creatures in this last category are interbred species that might be a cross of known animals, such as England’s Beast of Dartmoor, a lion-pig. These might be part known animal and part mythological creature, like the Jersey Devil, or legendary creatures that resemble common animals, such as the horse-like unicorn. Whatever the mythical mix, these genetic anomalies are the prototypical monsters of folklore.

Hybrid cryptids can be humanoid or even part human. Hybrid human cryptids include Spring Heeled Jack, the Flatwoods monster, Mothman, and werewolves. Barring the prevalence of mermaids over mermen, “monsters” are rarely female. They’re usually male, including alligator boys, monkey men, goat men, owl men, lizard men, wild men, and of course, frog men.

There are plenty of cryptid amphibians in folklore. Some are more plausible than others, such as the African White Frog, a “pure white frog that has been reported from areas of the eastern Congo rainforest.1 These sightings could be of a new species, a known frog, or an albino frog. Then there’s the less plausible Cameroon Flashlight Frog, a frog with a bioluminescent nose.2 Least plausible are the frog boys of California and Florida and the infamous case of a half-man, half-frog (or lizard) known as the Loveland Frog of Ohio.3

There is the Hodag hoax. This creature had “the head of a frog, the grinning face of a giant elephant, thick short legs set off by huge claws, the back of a dinosaur, and a long tail with spears at the end.”4 The beast was “captured” and “killed” (that is, created) by one Eugene Shepard in the late nineteenth century. He revealed his prank when a team of scientists from the Smithsonian Institution planned to visit to inspect the corpse. The Hodag is now the official symbol of Rhinelander, Wisconsin, the town where the prank was perpetrated; it also lends its name to an annual country music festival.

As we know, fact is often stranger than fiction. A seventy-million-year-old fossil of Beelzebufo ampigna, a real “monster frog,” was discovered in Madagascar by a team of U.K. and U.S. scientists. This relative of the horned toad weighed about nine pounds, had a body length of up to sixteen inches, and probably snacked on small dinosaurs.5

There are several medical defects that might be construed as “monstrous.” There is a condition informally called “Frog Leg,” a developmental dysplasia of the hip that can result in a frog-like appearance in the lower limbs. If diagnosed early, this condition can be treated successfully. Then there is the condition anencephaly, a neural tube birth defect that results in the absence of major portions of the brain, skull, and scalp.6 Infants with this condition often have a frog-like appearance, with bulging eyes and deformed limbs. If not stillborn, these babies rarely survive for more than a few hours or days after birth, so a “frog-like” baby would not develop into a “frog-like” boy.

Then there is (or isn’t, as the case may be) the Frog Boy of Barr Lake. After stories about fossils of mega frogs from the Cretaceous period, bioluminescent amphibians, and a monster that is part frog, part elephant, and part dinosaur, Frog Boy is somewhat of an anti-climax.

The story of Frog Boy centers around claims of a cryptid hybrid amphibian human that inhabits Barr Lake State Park in Brighton, Colorado. I originally found out about Frog Boy via Bryan and Baxter of the Rocky Mountain Paranormal Research Society. Unfortunately, they knew little more than the name and alleged location of this cryptid. As a first step I contacted the Barr Lake Nature Center seeking information about the legend. Park Ranger Malinda responded on behalf of her team, “Sorry, none of us have heard of this. You’ve got us curious though!” I knew the project was in trouble if the source location had no archived accounts, sightings, or stories to share.

I began my own research, consulting books about local oddities, including Weird Colorado,7 to no avail. Even on the Internet, that guardian of fiction and fabrication, there were no references. I contacted the Crypto Science Society at Denver’s Metro State University, but they knew nothing of the legend either. I even emailed cryptozoologist Loren Coleman, who has written about the Loveland Frog, but he hasn’t heard of Frog Boy.

Frog Boy exists solely in local oral history. There are no written accounts. There are no images, no web tracks, remains, or other evidence, but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence. All we have is a story … well, stories. These have the hallmarks of urban legend. No two stories are the same. Moreover, there are no primary witnesses; the tales are all “friend of a friend.”

According to anecdotes, reports of Frog Boy date back to the 1960s or 1970s. There have been no sightings of Frog Boy, but he is green and scaly and has webbed hands and feet. Some say he has the face of a frog and the body of a boy. Some say he has the face of a boy and the body of a frog. Some say he’s part boy; others say he’s part teenager, or he’s part man. If you don’t see him you can smell his foul stench and hear his splashes, croaks, and calls. He also speaks English. Frog Boy was either born that way, the product of an evil Dr. Moreau-like laboratory experiment, or the result of a tragic accident. Frog Boy was a boy-turned-frog or a frog-turned-boy. He was abandoned by his parents, or he escaped from a traveling circus. Frog Boy is extremely angry and violent and has killed people, or he is ashamed of his appearance and shies away from human contact. Frog Boy also shares his swampy home with a lake monster. My favorite response was: “Frog Boy? Is that the guy who paints his body green and runs naked through the streets?”

So after all these years, is Frog Boy still a “boy”? Like an amphibian Peter Pan of the lily pond, some say he never ages but is forever a boy. Some say Frog Boy is dead. And the legend is dying. There is no more to tell. Some legends flourish and expand, such as perennial favorites Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster, while others, like Frog Boy, die out over a few generations unless they evolve.

With such little information, it is difficult to trace the source of the legend. It is interesting to speculate that Frog Boy might be related to the Loveland Frog. Reports of Frog Boy emerged within a decade of the Loveland Frog, and there are many similarities between their stories and descriptions. Most intriguing of all is that Barr Lake is about forty miles southeast of Loveland, Colorado. Could Frog Boy be the legend of Loveland, Ohio, transplanted to the large body of water to Loveland, Colorado?

There is no evidence that Frog Boy dwells in Barr Lake, but there is evidence that bullfrogs do. The legend is certainly is a load of bull.

References:

1. Cryptid Amphibians. Available at www.angelfire.com/bc2/cryptodominion/amphibians.html. Accessed September 14, 2010.

2. The Cryptodominion: Home of Hidden Animals. Available at www.angelfire.com/bc2/cryptodominion/frames.html. Accessed September 6, 2010.

3. Coleman, Loren. 2001. Mysterious America. Paraview Press. 4. Wikipedia. Hodag. Available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hodag. Accessed September 6, 2010. 5. Paleontologists Reconstruct a Monster Frog. New York Times. Available at www.nytimes.com/2008/02/19/science/18frog.html. Accessed September 6, 2010.

6. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. NINDS Anencephaly Information Page. Available at www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/anencephaly/anencephaly.htm. Accessed September 16, 2010. 7. Getz, Charmaine Ortega. 2010. Weird Colorado: Your Travel Guide to Colorado’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets. Sterling Press.

Karen Stollznow

Karen Stollznow's photo

Karen Stollznow is an author and skeptical investigator with a doctorate in linguistics and a background in history and anthropology. She is an associate researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, and a director of the San Francisco Bay Area Skeptics. A prolific skeptical writer for many sites and publications, she is the “Good Word” Web columnist for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, the “Bad Language” columnist for Skeptic magazine, a frequent contributor to Skeptical Inquirer, and managing editor of CSI’s Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice. Dr. Stollznow is a host of the Monster Talk podcast and writer for the Skepbitch and Skepchick blogs, as well as for the James Randi Educational Foundation’s Swift. She can be reached via email at kstollznow[at]centerforinquiry.net.