Chris Churchill

Sch­enec­tady would do well to honor its na­tive cre­ations, Frog and Toad.

Albany Times Union - Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - CHRIS CHURCHILL Sch­enec­tady ■ Con­tact Chris Churchill at 518-454-5700 or email [email protected]­

The “Frog and Toad” books, pub­lished in the 1970s, were a gift to the world.

The sto­ries about two am­phib­ian friends cel­e­brate kind­ness, al­tru­ism and love. The books are time­less, warm and, as I know from ex­pe­ri­ence, end­lessly fun to read to chil­dren. We need more Frog and Toad in our lives. We need more Frog and Toad in our pol­i­tics. A Frog and Toad 2020 pres­i­den­tial ticket would have my full sup­port.

Hap­pily, the books have a lo­cal con­nec­tion. Arnold Lo­bel, their au­thor, is a Sch­enec­tady na­tive. Born in 1933, he grew up on Baker Av­enue, made a name in lo­cal theater and was grad­u­ated in 1951 from the old Nott Ter­race High School.

Lo­bel left Sch­enec­tady soon af­ter and never again lived in the city. But his daugh­ter, Adri­anne, told me her father’s Sch­enec­tady child­hood re­mained an in­spi­ra­tion for his work. Be­fore his 1987 death,

Lo­bel him­self told in­ter­view­ers he be­gan draw­ing and cre­at­ing char­ac­ters to en­ter­tain his Sch­enec­tady class­mates.

Though his books sold more than 14 mil­lion copies and have been cel­e­brated world­wide — and turned into a Broad­way play — nei­ther Lo­bel nor Frog and Toad have been pub­licly lauded in Sch­enec­tady. That’s a shame, but it’s also an op­por­tu­nity.

It just so hap­pens that Sch­enec­tady is de­bat­ing the fu­ture of the ren­o­vated Gate­way Plaza down­town along State Street.

The land was the long­time home of an 8-foot-tall re­pro­duc­tion of the Statue of Lib­erty, but she’s been

moth­balled (not with­out con­tro­versy) as the city moves for­ward with a tem­po­rary sculp­ture that will honor the progress of gay rights.

What comes af­ter? That hasn’t been de­cided.

So I’m go­ing to f loat an idea: Why not honor Lo­bel and his am­phib­ian cre­ations there?

There’s no rea­son a Frog and Toad statue or two couldn’t co­ex­ist with Lady Lib­erty or a gay rights dis­play.

But the fa­mous am­phib­ians would turn the park into a spe­cial at­trac­tion — one that’s unique to Sch­enec­tady. They’ve been so hon­ored nowhere else.

Cel­e­brat­ing Lo­bel could also be a way of con­tin­u­ing to honor the LGBTQ com­mu­nity. Lo­bel him­self was gay, and The New Yorker even de­clared that

Frog and Toad, as two male char­ac­ters who care for each other, “are an am­phibi­ous cel­e­bra­tion of same-sex love.”

Maybe. Maybe not. We can tackle that once we de­cide what Se­same Street’s Bert and Ernie were up to.

In the books, Frog is the op­ti­mistic, en­thu­si­as­tic friend who of­ten per­suades the pes­simistic Toad into ad­ven­tures he’d rather avoid. Frog en­cour­ages his friend to grow a gar­den, cel­e­brate spring or head out­side on a cold day when Toad would rather bur­row un­der his cov­ers.

“Win­ter is beau­ti­ful,” said Frog. “Come out and have fun.”

“Blah,” said Toad, who is nev­er­the­less con­vinced to go sled­ding. Af­ter the sled crashes, Toad con­cludes that “win­ter may be beau­ti­ful, but bed is much


Many of us can sym­pa­thize.

Chad Put­nam of Sch­enec­tady Pride, the group be­hind the planned Gate­way Plaza pro­ject, was in­trigued by honor­ing Lo­bel and Frog and Toad when I men­tioned the idea to him.

So was Mary Moore Wallinger, the de­signer of the re­made Gate­way Park and chair­woman of the city Plan­ning Com­mis­sion. Like me, she’s bi­ased to­ward Frog and Toad, given that she so fre­quently reads their ad­ven­tures to her chil­dren, ages six and three.

Wallinger said her goal for Gate­way Park was to make it a Sch­enec­tadys­pe­cific gath­er­ing place that would add to the city’s sense of it­self. Stat­ues of Frog and Toad, she added,

are the type of mon­u­ments that can be­come iconic for cities and make them fun —ak­in­towhat­nip­per­has be­come for Al­bany.

“Those are the things that peo­ple come to love and that are funky and un­ex­pected,” Wallinger said. “The thing that cities have go­ing for them is the ex­pe­ri­ence, so hav­ing things that are fun are a crit­i­cal piece of the puz­zle.”

My friend Dun­can Crary, a Union Col­lege grad­u­ate who lives in

Troy, has a Frog and Toad con­cept that’s es­pe­cially am­bi­tious. In ad­di­tion to a city­wide fes­ti­val honor­ing the books, he imag­ines Frog and Toad sculp­tures around Sch­enec­tady that would ref­er­ence scenes from the sto­ries and en­cour­age fam­i­lies to tour the city.

In one story, Frog and

Toad go swim­ming but Toad re­fuses to leave the wa­ter be­cause he looks funny in his bathing suit — a scene that could be de­picted at the Cen­tral Park pool. The story in which Frog sends Toad a let­ter by snail — snail mail! — which could be de­picted out­side the down­town post of­fice.

How­ever it hap­pened, honor­ing Frog and

Toad could show that Sch­enec­tady is a city that em­braces whimsy, makes room for chil­dren and has a strong sense of self. By em­brac­ing such kind and lov­ing char­ac­ters, Sch­enec­tady could sig­nal what it hopes the world can be.

Vote Frog and Toad in 2020!

[email protected]­sunion. com 518-454-5442 @ chris_churchill

Times Union archive

Kath­leen Kemp holds Frog and Toad dolls at the Open Door Book­store onJay Street in Sch­enec­tady. The pair of beloved char­ac­ters may of­fer a way for Sch­enec­tady to honor its unique his­tory at Gate­way

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