What was Battle of the Frogs?
A Connecticut bridge marks the site of one of the strangest amphibian moments in American history.
Tue, Aug 12, 2014 at 10:30 AM
The quaint New England town of Windham, Connecticut, lies about 30 miles east of Hartford. Founded in 1692, Windham is known for its historic buildings, several Revolutionary War-era army camps and the old mills that once fueled a thriving textiles industry. But Windham has a darker secret in its past — a bizarre massacre.
The year was 1754. Windham was a prosperous town, but it was also gripped in fear. Diseases had recently struck, killing many residents. Meanwhile the French and Indian War was in full swing, and rumors of the terrible atrocities committed in battle were making their way to the town. Many of Windham's men were off fighting the war, and the people who remained lived in constant fear of a possible attack.
On a hot, foggy night in June, those fears came to a head. As recounted in a book published in 1857, "It was past the midnight hour, and the inhabitants were buried in profound sleep, when the outcry commenced. There were heard shouts and cries, and such a variety of mingled sounds, which seemed to fill the heavens, that soon roused the people from their slumbers and thoroughly alarmed the town."
Thinking the town was under attack, residents rushed in terror from their homes, many of them half-naked, carrying their children to what they hoped might be safety. The horrible cries continued through the night. "The outcry was loud and very extraordinary, the noises seemed to fill the heavens, and are described as thunderlike," recounted one family.
But no attack ever came. Still, the men in town remained vigilant all night long, standing guard with pitchforks, hatchets and muskets. Many fired their weapons into the darkness, hoping to strike whatever creature had produced those fearsome cries.
As the sun began to rise, the sounds finally began to fade. Townspeople began to investigate, and they came upon a grisly sight in a nearby pond. There lay the bodies of hundreds, if not thousands of dead frogs, all felled in mysterious circumstances.
The true cause of the frogs' death was not clear then, and it has never been discovered. One theory suggests a drought, but the pond was known to be both full and fresh. Some people thought there must have been a disease, or an earthquake, or a burst of electricity. Another theory suggests the frogs found themselves in the middle of some sort of war for territory. No matter the cause, the unusual event quickly gained a name: The Battle of the Frogs.
Although nearly forgotten today, the Battle of the Frogs became a legend in Windham, where it was celebrated in poems and songs for decades, like this little ditty called "Lawyers and Bull-Frogs":
'Twas of a fright happened one night,
Caused by the bull-frog nation,
As strange an one as ever was known
In all our generation.
Frogs were also depicted on the local currency (each regional bank issued its own back in that day). The bullfrog eventually became the official seal of Windham. Many businesses in town still use a frog as their symbol or logo.
Today the frogs retain their celebrated stature in the form of four statues that mark the corners of the bridge over the Willimantic River, which was built in the year 2000. Each massive frog sits atop a giant spool of thread, harkening back to Windham's nickname, "Thread City." Officially known as the Thread City Crossing, the bridge is more commonly referred to by the name of those it commemorates: the Frog Bridge.
There's just one thing missing in the area. As recounted in 2008 on the website Damned Connecticut, visitors to the bridge will find plenty of traffic but they won't find a single living frog.
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Inset photo: Doug Kerr/Flickr