Frog Bridge

February 2, 2009 — I’m not sure how civilization will end, with a bang or a whimper, by the sweaty metamorphosis of global warming or the glorious return of a very pissed-off Christ, but I do wonder what piece of art or architecture will be left over to speak for us when those extraterrestrials for whom we’ve been waiting so long finally do arrive:

“I thought the invitation said January 3, 3012, 4:30 pm,” said Gluup, scrutinizing with its posterior ocular organ the golden disc from one of the Voyager spacecraft.

“We totally should’ve RSVP’d,” replied GliiP, smacking the flat of its dorsal tentacle against its middle forehead disappointedly. “Now we’ll never meet Chuck Berry.”

The iconic image of the long-vanished Mayan civilization is the stepped pyramid. The mysterious people of Easter Island left behind giant heads for us to remember them by. With our luck, human civilization as a whole will come to be represented to future races or evolved species by the Frog Bridge in Willimantic, CT.

Though I do dig some oddity in my art, the subgenre of kitsch rarely appeals to me, and not just because the word kitsch is one of those terms, like cute, that I feel absolutely silly saying out loud. And a foursome of identical 11-foot-tall bronze frogs painted green and set astride giant spools of thread certainly sounds like it might be kitsch.

However, in this case, there is an otherworldly quality to the sculptures on Frog Bridge that make them seem less like whimsical stabs at creativity and more like the architectural remnant of some ancient, Lovecraftian civilization whose members were either amphibious, worshiped amphibians, or both, and over whose alien ruins the people of Willimantic sacrilegiously built their town. It was a choice by the Willimantic founding fathers the consequences of which some future generation of Willimantics will have to face when the creatures arise to take back their land. Coming to a theater near you.

Finished in the year 2000, Frog Bridge, known technically as Thread City Crossing and SR 661, is a four-lane span on South Street that arches over the Willimantic River. A pair of enormous yellow-eyed, concentric-circle-cheeked frogs sits at each entrance of the bridge on giant spools of thread. The spool motif is repeated at regular intervals along the length of both sides of the bridge, and represents the industry that anchored the town in its early days, the production of cotton thread. But the frogs...well, they have a story...and it’s quite the strange one to build an entire identity around.

Back in the mid-1700s, during the death-an-inch-away days of the French and Indian War, the people of this area of Connecticut were awoken in the middle of the night by a noise terrifying enough to conjure nightmares of Judgment Day, Indian invasion, and the future soundscape of 80s-era popular music. As citizens are wont to do, they panicked, each according to his own psychoses. Eventually, they found the wherewithal to track the noise. With swords and pistols by their side, they stumbled across an epic frog battle, where hordes of bullfrogs were all decimating each other over the last dregs of a nearby and nearly dried-up pond. I know such a scene might sound like children song fodder, but I just spent the last 20 minutes watching and listening to YouTube footage of frogs fighting...terrifying on a few levels, I’ve got to tell you, and I’m not even the product of a superstitious age. At least I don’t think I am. There are a lot of ghost hunter shows on these days, though.

Anyway, everybody went home after the discovery, relieved that it was just nature being her crazy self, and hoped inside that nobody would ever hear about their overreaction, much less theme a town around it. Oh well. That moment in time has since come to be known in tale and song as the Battle of Frog Pond. Frogs still talk about it to this day.

The pond itself apparently survived the carnage and was un-droughted at some point. A sign on the side of Route 14, at the intersection of Scotland and Follett Roads outside the Willimantic town limits, points out Frog Pond, nay, “Historic Frog Pond,” which ends in a drainage waterfall and a stream right beside the road. A granite boulder with a bronze plaque further commemorating the event is supposed to be set somewhere along its border.

Getting back to Frog Bridge, it does have sidewalks along its length so you can walk right up to the beasties, although the best view of a giant thing is rarely directly underneath it. A plaque on one side of the bridge gives its official name, architect, dedication, and notes the placement of the bridge as Windham, CT. Apparently, the town of Willimantic is located inside the town of Windham in a game of Russian nested dolls that I don’t pretend to understand.

On the other side of the bridge is another plaque with about three books worth of text pressed into it that I assume tells the Battle of Frog Pond story in detail, but which I couldn’t get close to because there was a lot of traffic on the bridge when we visited, there’s no crosswalk, and, as apt as the action might have been, I wasn’t about to Frogger my way across the street.

The bridge frogs of Frog Bridge aren’t the only frogs in Willimantic. In fact, the people of Willimantic are pretty much perennially living through the second plague of Egypt. From enough frog-themed businesses to make me suspect certain requirements in their commercial zoning laws to its community art project of scattered fiberglass frogs-on-spools, we saw enough frogs in the few minutes we were in town to cure me of watching The Muppet Show for months. Well, days. In addition, boxes of Honey Smacks fill the breakfast cereal aisles of their grocery stores, French restaurants proliferate, and Dissection Day in the local high school biology class is a regular party.

Frog Bridge is a great piece of construction, although if you were to ever run across it in the early fog of a lonely morning, I don’t see how you could avoid dropping to your knees in dramatic Charlton Heston fashion and cursing human civilization for letting the frogs win. Damn dirty frogs.