HOLMBERG: Memorial frog pilfered from Hollywood Cemetery has ‘hopped’ away before

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)–A frequently decorated, waist-high memorial frog that honored a beloved wife, mother and friend has hopped away from its years-long perch at Richmond’s storied Hollywood Cemetery.

“And I don’t think it hopped on its own,” said David T. Brown III, whose wife had bought the frog years ago – long before her death. “To take something off a gravesite, that’s kind of reaching to the depths of the earthworm.”

It’s a rare theft for the picturesque, 166-year-old cemetery that serves as the resting place for presidents, soldiers and statesmen.

But “Hops” the frog, as the family calls him, has been stolen before – the last time at the family’s West End home.

The story begins with Diana Maury Gatewood Brown, an avid gardener who bought the carved frog and gave it a high-profile perch at the end of the family driveway on Patterson Avenue between Forest Avenue and Three Chopt Road.

“She used to decorate it. At Christmas, she’d put on a Santa hat, at Easter people would leave notes,” Brown said, noting the seasonal decorations made it something of a landmark.

Diana Brown died January 26, 2004, from lung cancer. She was just 54.

Her grieving family decorated Hops the frog with a Tibetan prayer shawl and a large cross.

Two months later, someone stole him.

A gentleman found the frog standing up in the middle of the intersection of Patterson Avenue  and Horsepen Road. If the light hadn’t been red, he would’ve mowed it down, Brown said. That man threw the frog in the back of his pickup and put it in his mother’s garden until he read Brown’s plea for the frog’s return in an April 3, 2004 Time-Dispatch article headlined with “My wife loved that frog.”

The family asked for  the returned frog to be given a safer place standing at the gravestone of the woman who purchased him.

Hops has been there for years. He’s even became part of a tour in highly visited cemetery that has few memorial animals –most notably the iron black dog that forever guards the grave of a 3-year-old girl who died of scarlet fever in 1862.

This is a place that even drunks and late-night pranksters respect. A longtime manager there says thefts are extremely rare.

A database search shows an 1864 Daily Dispatch story detailing the “disgraceful business” of a 2nd Street blacksmith stealing vault locks there.

Much more recently, in 1988, a grave-robbing Richmond couple was nailed for stealing a bench and an urn at Hollywood.

And yet, someone took Hops sometime in the past four or five weeks, pulling up the long spikes that held him in place.

Brown wonders if it wasn’t just some alcohol-fueled prank, that Hops is cooling his heels in a dorm room somewhere.

He asks anyone with information to give him a call at (804) 920-6214.

“If somebody has the frog, I wish they would hop back with it,” Brown said. “Let bygones be bygones.”