Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Rayne, Louisiana: The Frog Capital of the World

This is Chapter Two of a series of posts featuring our recent trip to South Louisiana.  If you missed the first post, you can click here if you'd like to read it before continuing with this one.

In anticipation of our trip, I researched the area and found several places I thought would be interesting or fun to visit.  A town called Rayne was one of them.  Rayne has two claims to fame, one of which is the distinction of being designated "the frog capital of the world."

Monsieur "Jacques"

According to the Rayne Chamber of Commerce, frogs and Rayne have a long history that dates back to the 1880s, when a gourmet chef named Donat Pucheu started selling, juicy delectable bullfrogs to New Orleans restaurants.  Word of Rayne’s frog delicacies spread like wildfire and soon attracted the Weil brothers from France, who started a lucrative business exporting frogs to restaurants.  Jacques Weil and his brothers started using “Frog Capital of the World” in their marketing information, once they learned that Sardi’s in New York boasted on their menus of offering "frog legs from Rayne, Louisiana, USA, Frog Capital of the World."  According to Chamber records, although Jacques Weil did ship to Sardi’s, it was actually restaurants in Weil’s native Paris that first put the slogan “The best frog legs from Rayne, Louisiana, USA, the Frog Capital of the World” on their menus.

It seems that the folks in Rayne not only have a whimsical sense of humor, but their vivid imaginations and creativeness are very much in evidence throughout the town in the form of 110 frog statues welcoming visitors to businesses throughout the town. The statues were a joint project of the City of Rayne and the Rayne Beautification Board, as well as several murals decorating the blank brick walls of buildings in the town featuring ... what else, but ... FROGS!  Several of the murals were commissioned by renowned muralist Robert Dafford, and are truly works of art, as you can see in the pictures below.

This Dafford mural is on the wall of the Rayne City Court building and
features judge, court stenographer, lawyer, dragonfly-catching witness, and jury ...

The details and expressions are remarkable!


The next mural is on the front of the office of The Rayne Acadian-Tribune newspaper office.

Do you see the little frog statue sitting at the entrance?

Here's a closer look ... isn't he cute!

Before I show you some of the other frogs I captured (in pictures) .... there are a couple more murals I'd like to share, which were painted by some very talented residents of Rayne.


[I'm not sure if the next one was done by Dafford or by a resident artist]

I wish I could have captured pictures of all 110 frog statues, but I did manage to get a few really cute ones during the time we were there.

This little guy was sitting outside a nice antique shop we visited.

We enjoyed browsing and visiting with the owners.


Rayne Volunteer Fire Department Frog

"Butch," the Mardi Gras Frog

Another shop we visited in the downtown area was an honest-to-goodness old-fashioned five and dime store.  I was sorry I didn't take pictures inside, but by that time I was hot and tired and didn't feel like carrying my camera in with me.

It was such an interesting store, filled with all kinds of nostalgic merchandise from the 50s and 60s, ranging from old buttons, thread, yarn, and toys, to bonnets and caps, dishes, and pots and pans.  It was as if I had stepped back in time to the days of my childhood when we visited Woolworth's and Kress's. The only thing missing was a lunch counter and the little baby turtles they used to sell back then.

I have one more frog statue to share which leads us to the story of Rayne's second claim to fame.

Yes, that's a priest frog ... and he welcomes visitors
to St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Rayne.

Across the street from the church is St. Joseph's Cemetery, which has been featured in "Ripley's Believe It or Not!"


According to the plaque in the churchyard: "The site of St. Joseph's Catholic Church and Cemetery was determined after the new settlement of Rayne was established.   Huge wooden wheels were made and the old church from the original Poupeville settlement was mounted on them and moved to the present location in 1882.  The cemetery, adjacent to the church, was the only known Christian cemetery for many years where the graves were placed in a north-south position lengthwise. 

According to ancient Christian customs, graves are positioned east-west so the bodies of the dead lie facing the rising sun, the symbol of Christ's resurrection.  Folklore about the cemetery's misalignment has been passed down over the years in stories, but no one knows for certain why this cemetery does not follow tradition."

The Rayne Chamber's website tells "the rest of the story" ...

"Such an oddity caught the attention of Robert Ripley, who included the St. Joseph’s Cemetery in his famous newspaper cartoon early in the century.  Only recently has the graveyard again been run as an attraction in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” and people come from around the world to see the only cemetery in the Judeo-Christian world that faces north-south rather than east-west. A copy of the Ripley article is on display in the lobby of the Rayne Chamber office."

Now I guess you know why I chose Rayne as one of the places I wanted to visit during our trip through Acadiana.  I would love to go back someday and capture the rest of the frog statues and take some pictures inside the five and dime store. A good time to go would be the second weekend in November, during the Frog Festival.

Activities include frog racing and jumping contests, the Lions Club Frog Derby, a queen's contest, parade, carnival, and live music.  As the Cajuns say, "Laissez les bons temps rouler!" ("Let the good times roll!")

[To be continued]


C M Designs said...

Thank you, Janie, for such an interesting tour and visit to Rayne, Louisiana. I would loved to have visited the five and dime store too. It's too bad that kind of store doesn't exist anymore.
The murals are wonderful. That cemetery is amazing.
My late husband, John, used to tell me about how he went "frog gigging" when he was in his teens. He always was in the company of snakes swimming around his legs in the water.. I don't know how he did it----would NOT want to do it myself.
I'm looking forward to more pictures and stories about your travels.
Charlotte in Va.

Dorothy said...

I had never heard of this place! The murals are wonderful and the statues are interesting and fun. Thanks for sharing!

Jenni said...

Girl! I LOVED this post! Wow... you do find out the most interesting tidbits and pass them on to your readers....Adore the frog murals and statues... too cute... and the cemetery historical facts were fascinating...

thanks for sharing, precious friend! Hugs from Texas,

racheld said...

I just RUNN OFT yesterday to look at RAYNE on google-satellite, and got soc arried away, I just wandered off into silly stuff like dishes and laundry. That's me.

If the Monopoly Man and the Tin Man went through a transporter together---they would come out as that first Froggy---all ready to go a-courtin'. And if ever there was DIGNIFIED, it's that first noble guy on the wall---grave and showing good breeding all around.

The little murals of stores are just precious, and I wonder how many stop to realize that one's getting a SHAVE---who this day and age would recognize a straight razor?

And all the foot-tucked fellows---wonder if they were ever a contest---one year here, they parked half-size concrete race-cars all over town for businesses and clubs to decorate, and they drew crowds from all over---so clever, made into everything from reclining Mae Wests to circus tents.

And where I got detained---looking down from Google-heights, I took the cemetery for a mobile home park, and kept trying to figure out how they got in and out of their DRIVEWAYS. I need a keeper.

Best of weekends to YOU and yours, M'Dearie.

love and,