The Loveland Frog
by Ryan Haupt
Loveland is a small suburb northeast of Cincinnati, Ohio. It was once a busy railroad town, and the Little Miami River, a tributary of the nearby Ohio River, flows through it. It happens to be where my father grew up, and I lived there for five years as a kid myself. It is also home to an obscure local cryptid "the Loveland Frog."
The story begins in 1955. The exact date of the first sighting is unknown, but it is often said to have been in May. There are three versions of the original sighting, with only subtle differences. They all involve an unnamed businessman (or travelling salesman) driving along an unnamed road (though I did see one report claim it was Hopewell Road) late at night, with some reports saying around 3:30am. Though as an aside even for a believer you'd have to be skeptical of knowing the exact time of the event when so much else, including the day the event occurred, remains unknown. Some say he was heading into or out of the Branch Hill neighborhood, right along the river and near a poorly lit bridge. According to the first version, he saw three figures along the side of the road. They were three to four feet tall, stood erect on their hind legs, had no hair but rather leathery skin. Their hands and feet were webbed, and had the head-shape and faces of frogs. In this version the man pulled his car to the side of the road and watched the group for about three minutes. He watched the creatures 'converse' then one held a wand, sometimes described as a metal cylinder, above its head and fired a spray of sparks startling the man into finally leaving the scene. The other two versions have the creatures being spotted on a bridge, and the other under a bridge. This last version is the one I remember hearing growing up in the area and riding my bike along the river trail. The problem with these versions is due to the layout of Loveland there are a number of bridges going over the Little Miami river as it snakes it was through town, so even if we could be reasonably sure the incident happened near a bridge (which we can't) that doesn't narrow the location of the sighting down much. This is where the 1955 story ends. The businessman flees and it's not clear to whom or when he gave his report of the night's events.
The next widely recognized sighting wouldn't occur until 1972, and for this one we have a bit more information. At 1:00 am on March 3, 1972, a police officer named Ray Shockey was driving along Riverside Drive heading into Loveland. He claims to have been driving carefully due to icy conditions when a creature scurried across the road in front of his vehicle. Once stopped, he had the creature fully illuminated from his headlights and thus provided the following description. The creature was three to four feet tall, about 50 to 75 pounds, and had leathery skin like a lizard or frog (I tend to think of toads as the ones with leathery skin, but that's admittedly a nitpick). The creature was crouched like a frog, but stood to stand erect and stare directly at Officer Shockey. It then climbed over the guardrail back downs towards the river. Later, an investigation by Officer Shockey's fellow officers claimed to find scratch marks or abrasions on the guardrail where the incident had been reported, but in my research I couldn't find any photographic evidence to support that claim.
Two weeks after this incident, on St. Patrick's Day, another police officer, Mark Matthews, claimed to encounter the creature. In a similar fashion, he saw something crouched along the ice slickened road. He intended to remove what he thought was an injured or dead animal from the road and exited his cruiser when the creature lurched up from its crouch. Matthews discharged his weapon at the creature, which then hobbled towards the guardrail, climbing over it and out of sight. His description of the creature matched Officer Shockey's, except for the addition of a tail.
Later, Matthews changed his story, claiming that he'd only seen a large lizard, sometimes identified as an iguana or escaped pet, and that he tried to capture it so he could help support his fellow officer's story, since Officer Shockey's report wasn't being taken too seriously by others in the department. In a supposed e-mail interview in 2001, for which I was not able to find the primary source, he is often quoted as writing that the incident was "habitually blown out of proportion." And that:
It was and is no 'monster'. It was not leathery or had wet matted fur. It was not 3-5 feet tall. It did not stand erect. The animal I saw was obviously some type of lizard that someone had as a pet that either got too large for its aquarium, escaped by accident or they simply got tired of it. It was less than 3 feet in length, ran across the road and was probably blinded by my headlights. It presented no aggressive action.
There are other similar cryptids reported from the region that are sometimes associated with the Loveland Frog, the closest being the Giant Lizard of Milton, Kentucky, about a hundred miles away from Loveland along the Ohio River, also reported from the 1970s and described, as the name would imply, as a very large lizard. The final report that sometimes gets lumped in with the Loveland Frog, is that of 35-year-old Naomi Johnson, her 13-year-old son Darwin, and two other women whom all went swimming in the Ohio River at Evansville, Indiana, possibly in a place called Dogtown which is actually along the Wabash River, another tributary of the Ohio. Evansville is about 245 miles from Loveland, but the bodies of water are all connected. Naomi recounts that she was drifting about 15 feet away from the shore when something grabbed her and pulled her under. She said she felt large claws and a furry palm gripping her knee, and that she fought and kicked against her attack. When the grip loosened, she made it back to the beach and treated her scratched and bruised leg, and was left with a blue or green, reports differ, stain, possibly in the shape of a hand. that stayed on her leg for weeks after the attack. The was no visual sighting of anything, just what was felt by Johnson.
My favorite part of this particular incident is that when Naomi Johnson heard about the Sutton family's 1955 battle with supposed spacemen in nearby western Kentucky, as covered on Skeptoid in "The Kelly-Hopkinsville Encounter" she felt that the events must have been connected and she and her friend then remembered that they also saw a flying saucer in association with their riparian attack.
So those are the stories. Now let's look at some possible explanations for these spectacular encounters.
As is common practice on Skeptoid, one of the first things we should do is try to confirm if these events actually happened at all.
There's not much we can do to confirm the original 1955 story, since it lacks so many pertinent details, but we can look into the veracity of the later claims. Some sites claim that Ray Shockey, the officer from 1972, was an unnamed officer who chose to remain anonymous after the incident. While I wasn't able to find direct testimony from Officer Shockey himself, there was a Ray Shockey who was born in Loveland, Ohio in 1928 and died also in Loveland in 2014. He served on the Loveland Police Department for 40 years, beginning in 1971, the year before the 1972 sighting. So while not direct confirmation, certain some compelling lines of evidence that he may have been the police officer in question. I was not able to find similar corroboration for the existence of an Officer Mark Matthews, the one who later recanted his sighting. Finally, Naomi Johnson and her family gave numerous interviews about their encounter with the green-clawed beast, so the reporting of the incident, if not so much the incident itself, can be taken at face-value.
As to the events in Loveland, I wasn't able to find any articles from the time in neither The Loveland Herald nor the Cincinnati Enquirer online archives, nor anything in the Loveland Police Department's report archives. This isn't to say there weren't reports made to any of those institutions, it's possible they were and those simply haven’t been digitized yet, but none of the stories I read make specific reference to articles or cases from when the sightings occurred. Now that we have some context for the incidents, we can turn to some possible explanations.
Many websites about the Frogmen proclaim that the Shawnee tribe, the dominant first nations group of the region, told of a mythological beast called the Shawnahooc, or river demon, described as a bidpedal reptile living along the banks of the LIttle Miami River. Warriors from the tribe drove the beast into hiding, but after the Shawnee left the area it returned to torment the regions new inhabitants. However, in my research I only ever saw this idea referenced in an attempt to explain the Frog Men, never as part of the folklore of these peoples. By way of context, their folklore often did include water-based mythological entities: water spirits, horned water serpents, and a creature best described as a half cougar / half dragon that lived in deep water and caused people to drown. None of the native words come close to the Shawnahooc, and even simply trying to translate the word using Shawnee or the larger Algonquin language group, I was not able to confirm that Shawnahooc actually means "river demon" as claimed on many of these sites. As far as I can tell this represents little more than a likely false appeal to antiquity, or the wisdom of the ancients, as well as possibly attaching a bit of Sasquatch-esque significance to the Frogmen.
Officer Mark Mathews claimed that what he really saw was just a large lizard, possibly an escaped pet iguana. There are no iguanas native to southwestern Ohio, and I'’'m not sure how popular they were as pets in the 1970s but his updated version of events is consistent with an animal about the size of an iguana. In terms of naturally occurring reptile species in that specific region of Ohio, the largest don't really come close to the size of the reported frogman, and amphibians even less so. The largest reptile is the common snapping turtle (Chelydra sperpentina) which can reach lengths of up to 20 inches and can weigh over 35 pounds, but it's a poor match in terms of the description of the Frog Men. The largest lizard in that region is the broad-headed skink (Plestidon laticeps), which you could easily pick up and hold in your hand. Another lizard species, the common wall lizard (Podarcis muralis) had recently been introduced to the region from Europe in 1950. George Rau, son of the owner of the Lazarus department store in Cincinnati, brought about 10 of the lizards back with him from northern Italy, which he released near his home. The lizard has proliferated in the region so much so that it is now considered a native introduced species, known locally as the Lazarus lizard. I only bring this up because it represents a lizard species that a local might not have been familiar with at the time, but again it is far too small to be considered a very good explanation for the Frog Man.
Finally, there's the tried and true mangy dog theory. According to a 1978 report, the distribution of coyotes in North America at the time had southwestern Ohio just outside their typical range. As often brought up in skeptical discussions of cryptids, a coyote, or really any mammal with mange (a skin disease caused by parasitic mites) results in hair loss, and the formation of scabs and lesions, which may appear leathery or scaly, especially on a poorly lit night. A coyote would be about the size of the creature reported, and they can be seen both in packs or on their own. It is also possible for coyotes to breed with domestic dogs resulting in a coydog, which can sometimes have proportions that don’t quite match our built-in search image for either canid, and if mangy, would look even more foreign to someone unfamiliar with the animal. Granted there’s no evidence to support this idea, but to me this seems more plausible than a previously undescribed and never seen again large frog-like creature. The question then becomes: why then would it have been reported as being a Frog Man in the first place?
The answer may lie in pop culture and folklore. The film, The Creature from the Black Lagoon came out in 1954, the year prior to the initial sighting. Just as UFO sightings tend to go up whenever a movie about space or aliens comes out, it's reasonable to expect an increase in sightings of aquatic reptilian monsters when a movie about them comes out. Once the initial sighting gets reported and becomes part of the culture, it's again not surprising that additional sightings would have occurred. Officer Shockey, who grew up in Loveland, would have been 27 when the creature was first reported in 1955, and so the idea of Frog Men living in and along the Little Miami River would have been part of his cultural consciousness when driving down that dark road as a rookie police officer in 1972.
In this respect, the legend has much in common with other American tall tales like Paul Bunyan, as explained by University of Cincinnati folklore professor Edgar Slotkin at the American Folklore Society's annual meeting in 1985, "It happens in a cycle that I haven't been able to pin down. I hasn't been sighted in a while now, actually, so I expect it to show up fairly soon. One of the first things I tell my students is that we're all the folk." Which I think is a delightfully folksy take from an academic regarding the role we all play in establishing and perpetuating our local folklore. While there haven't actually been any additional sightings of the Frogmen around Loveland, he did return in the form of a 2014 musical at the Cincinnati Fringe Festival titled Hot Damn! It's the Loveland Frog.
So what can we ultimately include about the Loveland frog? The initial sighting is so vague that it seems unlikely that it ever even happened. It reads much more like an urban legend passed around the school yard in the wake of excitement over the latest Hollywood monster movie. Once in the minds of the local populace, it was seen a few more times and then passed purely into legend. I think the Loveland frogmen represent more of an object lesson in the way our own history and folklore shape our perception of the world around us, and less that there are a secret race of frog people hiding just out of sight beneath the banks of our rivers.
By Ryan Haupt
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