The Frog Jump of Calaveras County

A man belly-first on the ground watches in excitement as his frog leaps through the air

The Calaveras County Fair & Jumping Frog Jubilee is one of the longest-running fairs in California. | Public Domain photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Frank Schulenburg

For some, having a frog in their throat is a good thing. That was the case for Samuel Clemens — also known as Mark Twain — who found his voice + leapt into celebrity status with his short story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”

Originally published in 1865 in the New York-based The Saturday Press, the fictional tale of a gambling-obsessed Gold Rush rogue who thinks his frog can jump farther than any other was a huge gambit for Twain. He was a journalist wanting to go fulltime as a fiction author — a profession that “was considered very lowly… at the time.”

Thankfully for Twain, the local color piece — which is said to stem from a conversation he overheard at a bar in nearby Angels Camp — was an immediate success, jumping from paper to paper to give the country + the world over a glimpse at Gold Rush life in California.

Following its publication, he saw greater success as a writer, and would go on to report for the now-defunct Sacramento Union before writing classics like “Tom Sawyer.”

But the humorist’s narrative has left a lasting impact on our region + the mining town where he wrote it: Angels Camp. To commemorate Twain’s story, the small city (think: ~4,000 residents) has hosted the international Frog Jumping Jubilee alongside the Calaveras County Fair since 1928. There’s even a hall of fame for past winners, like “Johnny Jumper” from Sacramento who leapt over 20 feet in 1983.

Drawing up to 50,000 people, the four-day fair + jubilee is set for this Thurs., May 18-Sun., May 2, with the “International Frog Jump Day!” happening Sunday. Grab tickets.

Want to join the contest for the chance to win its $5,000 grand prize, but don’t know where to start? Hop to this guide called “Frog Jump Secrets.”

More from SACtoday