November 22, 2004
Hopkin Explained

Where to start?

As I noted here previously, sometime around September of 2003 some fliers appeared in Seattle, proclaiming the loss of what appeared to be a small boy’s frog. “Who took my frog?” the author asked, plaintively. Concluding with a determined “P.S. I’ll find my frog,” the fliers were noted and remarked upon by at least a couple of Seattle-based bloggers, Jeff Sharman and Samantha, whose last name I do not know at present.

As Jeff notes, sometime in September 2004 the flier was introduced to an online image sharing community, where it quickly became the subject of a still-growing set of visual riffs. An enterprising individual soon registered the domain lostfrog.org, where new contributions continue to be posted. Around this time, another high-traffic community website, MetaFilter, hosted two different threads concerning the frog flier and subsequent images. This image of the flier comes from the lostfrog.org site.

lost.jpg

In one of the MetaFilter threads, an enterprising researcher established that Hopkin was a toy distributed as a freebie by the McDonalds corporation. Others noted that someone had called the family and verified that the frog was indeed a toy. Intrigued, I went back and looked at the initial postings that Jeff and Samantha had made, and realized that there was a high likelihood that the person who made the fliers lived in my neighborhood.

I did my own research then, and quickly found one of the toys on eBay for about $5.00. Having purchased it and established where the flier artist lived, I cast about for my next step. As it happened, I received a call from an editor of mine, who was establishing a new relationship with a community paper that covers the neighborhood where the family lived. I ran it by her, and was given the go-ahead to pitch a story to the editor-in-chief of the neighborhood paper. We got in touch, and she green-lighted the idea.

hopkin_03.jpg

I’m in the middle of working on a big pile of stories for another publication, so I added the family to my list of calls each day. Initially, I spoke with a female child, and requested a call back from her father; then I spoke with an elderly woman, and then an adult female. In no case did I ever get a call back; this didn’t greatly concern me.

Finally, Sunday afternoon, I picked up the phone and dialed the family’s number; to my surprise, the father was there. Here is more or less what he told me.

First, he was not interested in appearing in a neighborhood newspaper story about his son’s lost frog and the internet. He gave me permission to write about it here, however. Out of consideration for his concerns, I have chosen not to explicitly identify the family.

hopkin_04.jpg

The person who drew the flier is a sixteen-year-old boy who suffers from autism. His father was unaware that his son may have made more than one batch of fliers (it appears that new fliers were hung in May of 2004). He did know about the loss of the frog and I believe that he knew about the first batch of fliers.

He also did not want me to give the frog to his son. He’s forgotten it, he told me. Bringing it up again will probably only bring up a bunch of bad memories.

He was quite unaware of the interest in the frog and the flier on the internet. He reiterated that he did not think it would be a good idea to show the sites to his son.

hopkin_01.jpg

He was pleasant throughout our conversation. But he was quite clear and firm in his opinion that reminding the child of his lost frog, even to the point of restoring it to him, would be inadvisable for the boy. On his behalf, he asks that no-one send other Hopkins to the child. I was happy to hear that apparently I have been the only person calling them about the frog. Left unstated was the suggestion that future calls will be unnecessary.

So, then, that’s the resolution. Hopkin was lost by an autistic adolescent; this explains something of the sense of determination that comes through the initial flier. His family requests that no Hopkins be sent and that people seeing the Hopkin flier should not call with frog news, or, as I did, to find out what the story behind the flier is.

hopkin_02.jpg

It’s a different ending to the story than I expected or had hoped for, certainly; but on another level, it means that Hopkin will remain forever lost, justifying and extending the mounting need for Hopkin-related photoshop tomfoolery. Perhaps someday the flier’s author will stumble upon lostfrog.org, or the tee shirt. I simply cannot imagine what that moment of perception might be like.

I hope this blog post satisfies some curious people. I am glad to know the backstory now, and hope this data proves useful to you as well.

UPDATE, July 1, 2005: Seven months later, this post is still generating interest and links from large collaborative sites. Every other month, on average, someone links to it from a high-traffic link-collector, and I get another day of several thousand site visits to the page. Just today, MetaFilter, a site in which I actively participate, linked to this page again. A commenter there chucklingly suggested I should link to the thread, and so I have.

Another commenter in the MeFi thread is curious about a link in a comment posted here after the initial publication. In that link, citizenkafka recounts calling Terry’s mom about two weeks before I did, and mentions a) Terry’s mom knew about lostfrog.org and b) that Terry has a new frog.

I did not speak to Terry’s mom, but to his dad. The family is of an ethnicity that often emphasizes patriarchy and the adults clearly speak English as a second language. I didn’t want to step on toes by grilling Mom or Sis or Granny.

Terry’s dad told me what I recount - he was unaware of the web’s interest, and so was Terry, and that was a good thing as far as he was concerned. I specifically asked if other people had been calling, and he indicated that no-one had.

However, not mentioned in the thread comments is yet another story of someone calling Terry’s family. In this story, a forum participant (possibly affiliated with the very first site to post the image) called and spoke with Terry’s sister. I can’t recall the details of that interaction, but the poster noted that he was ecouraged not to locate and give a new frog to Terry.

Finally, Terry’s dad did tell me that he has a new frog. Although I don’t recall this explicitly, I believe I must have asked if the frog was called Hopkins. Terry’s dad emphasized that the frog was different. I was surprised on reviewing this post that I did not mention it directly. Presumably I didn’t think it had bearing on Hopkin.

I believe that in all probability the other members of the family just never mentioned the calls regarding the appearance of the flyer on the web - remember that Terry was actively posting these flyers for at least six months, and that they included a phone number. Others must have called before the web got hold of it.

So in my mind, the different narratives associated with Terry’s family boil down to internally consistent perspectives, despite the apparent contradictions. It’s possible, of course, that Terry’s dad actually was aware of the internet hubbub but chose to deny it in order to keep our converation brief. Of course, over time it becomes more likely that the family will become aware of it, as well.

mike whybark. 1295 words. Posted at November 22, 2004 07:09 AM
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