Tucked away in Cajun country is a tiny corner of the world dedicated to commemorating the days when frogs were king. For over a century, Rayne, Louisiana has been known as “The Frog Capital of the World.”
Beginning in the 1880’s when Donat Pucheu, a Frenchman who ventured to Louisiana where he first started selling produce then ducks, before bringing frog legs to New Orleans where the trade, for a time, exploded. Though his original business would pass through many hands over the years, at its peak Louisiana frog legs were shipped all over the United States – and even back to France.
Louisiana: A Guide to The State (written as part of the Depression-era Federal Writers’ Project), describes Rayne in 1941 as such:
“Rayne is the center of the Louisiana frog industry. The Louisiana Frog Company Plant is said to be the largest shipper of edible frogs in the world. In 1937 some 500,000 frogs were shipped. On warm days as many as 10,000 frogs are brought in; the largest ever received weighed three pounds.”
Like many of America’s more niche markets, the frog leg industry experienced a sharp decline in the 1970’s. Locals understood that maintaining the status of Frog Capital of the World wouldn’t happen on its own; so, in 1973, Rayne threw its first Frog Festival. Ever since, the festival has proceeded annually, drawing crowds .
Part of a hearty group of festivals in the region each celebrating a specialized area of industry, teenagers are elected to represent their hometown and compete not based on beauty, but rather knowledge of their towns’ history and commitment to community. At the 2015 Rayne Frog Festival, the Frog Derby Queen stood alongside queens bearing Gumbo, Shrimp and Petroleum, and Tabasco crowns.
In addition to the unique pageant aspect of the Frog, there is a surprisingly long parade, lots of kissing of live frogs, and plenty of jumping. Perhaps most entertainingly, patrons brought frogs – alive and kicking – dressed to the nines, which children and adults alike lavished with compliments. The night concludes with carnival rides and, of course, frog leg snacks… which is only sort of macabre.
The festival takes place one weekend each year, traditionally in November though now moved to May. However, the historic town bursts with an endearing sense of pride year-round in the form of city streets lined with murals depicting frogs in all their magnificent, often silly glory.