1894: How a cartoon frog became New Orleans’ weatherman
Since the city’s founding, the maddening climate has been a key element of life in New Orleans. So, naturally, it has a long tradition of trusted weather forecasters, from Nash Roberts, Dan Milham and Bob Breck to Carl Arredondo, Margaret Orr and David Bernard. But long before any of those came along, there was The Times-Picayune weather frog, an amphibian authority introduced to readers on Jan. 11, 1894. Line-drawings of the frog — dressed in such a way as to convey that day’s forecast at a glance — have graced the paper’s pages on and off for the past 123 years.
Despite being temporarily retired twice, the frog has proven an enduring figure. After his most recent hiatus — amid a 1980s newspaper redesign — he hopped back onto The Times-Picayune weather page in 1995, where he still appears every day. In 2011, the frog went digital, spreading his web-fingered reach to The Times-Picayune’s web portal, NOLA.com.
- The weather frog — dubbed “The Picayune Weather Prophet” — was introduced in 1894, the brainchild of Daily Picayune owner/editor Eliza Jane Poitevent Holbrook Nicholson, who wanted to add a touch of personality to the paper. He wasn’t the first mascot she introduced to readers. In 1879, Nicholson — writing under the pseudonym Pearl Rivers — introduced “The Society Bee,” the city’s first society column. Its mascot? A bee, naturally.
- The first version of the frog was created by Picayune staff cartoonist Louis A. Winterhalder. That original frog was more biologically correct than the version featured now — aside from the fact that he was usually shown walking on two legs.
- The Picayune frog became enormously popular, with souvenir pins becoming a fashion around town and the frog gracing calendars and other miscellany. Local music store owner Philip Werlein even published sheet music for a song by Alphonse Barra called “The Picayune Frog Polka.”
- The weather frog also inspired recipes such as “Picayune Frog Lemonade” and “Picayune Frogs a la Creole,” according to the 1901 second edition of the Picayune Creole Cook Book, which featured an introduction, in verse, by the weather prophet himself.
- In the early 1900s, the frog migrated to the newspaper’s children’s page, as the ringmaster of what was dubbed “The Frog Circus,” where he “presided over children singled out for notice.” “The Frog Circus” later inspired its own book.
- It’s unclear if the frog ever received a formal name, but in The Times-Picayune Guide to New Orleans, published in 1904, he was referred to as “Froggy.”
- In 1914, The Daily Picayune merged with The Times-Democrat to create The Times-Picayune. Soon after, the frog was retired in favor of The Times-Democrat’s duck mascot. The duck was also sent packing within a few years, after which the paper went without a regular weather mascot until the 1952, which is when the frog returned, though more cartoony that his original form.
- The frog seen today is based on drawings by former staff artist John Elliot Clement and, later, Louis Benedic Sr.
New Orleanians are passionate when it comes to their traditions, and that includes the Picayune weather frog. Even after he disappeared from the paper in 1914, he was fondly remembered by locals — so much so that when editors introduced cartoonist Walt Kelly’s popular Pogo the Possum character as its new weather prophet in spring 1952, readers demanded the return of the familiar old amphibian. The unmistakable message: Don’t fool with the frog.