Hooray for Toad Suck Daze, that gaudy, fun-filled time when downtown Conway is immersed in fun, games, toad races, things to buy, things to eat, especially if it’s on a stick. A curious and bewildering time, a four-day party that lures thousands of folks from near and far, and accumulates big money — almost $2 million since its inception. The show promises a large slice of the good life.
It’s been that way since the show opened. To say that the show is a winner is putting it mildly since it rates among the biggies in the nation.
Add a modicum of history to its stature gives it a nod better than the others, even the ballyhooed version in the rock.
And so, it was a hot sultry day in Conway on an afternoon when Frank Robins, owner and publisher of the Log Cabin Democrat and its managing editor, John Ward, sat down to discuss the dour situation in the city.
“Some kind of city-wide party,” Ward responded. After a trial run with a community pie supper, the Toad Suck Daze idea blossomed and by the next year, in 1982, the affair came to flower.
A show of sorts on the banks of the Arkansas River was a test. The best estimate had put the opening crowd for Toad Suck Daze at 5,000.
The actual number was more than 25,000 that first year. Toad Suck Daze was off and running.
From that auspicious opening, April 30 to May 2, 1982, the success of Toad Suck Daze was assured — almost.
When a huge storm descended on the banks of the river and the show was almost drowned in mud, it was imperative to find more hospitable grounds for the show, and downtown Conway provided the answer. Since then, Toad Suck Daze has been a winner through sun and rain.
Over the years Toad Suck Daze has accumulated considerable money for education in the city.
In addition to scholarship moneys, the festival has donated moneys to downtown Conway and to the Parks and Recreation Department.
All sorts of images of Toad Suck Daze are rampant. For example, a school teacher was horrified when one of her students came to class wearing a shirt that
read “Toad Suck."
She demanded that he return home to change shirts before returning to class.
Such is the way it is with Toad Suck – amusing, curious, and bewildering.
Today, Toad Suck Daze has carved a niche in the psyche of Arkansas and the city of Conway, dishing up its happy and delicious fare and fun to hordes of visitors.
The legend of the Toad Suck Ferry is mired in folktales and anecdotes that revealed the history of river crossings that spanned more than 250 years. It all started in the days of yore when travelers making their way across the Arkansas
River at the Perry County line in skiffs and other conveyances were somewhat aghast at the sight of a stout Indian boatman and his Toad Suck appearance.
The rotund fellow gave every indication that his propensity to alcoholic beverages to excess made him resemble a “fat toad” sucking booze from a bottle.
“He looks like a fat toad suck," one traveler was quoted as saying, and the remark was lasting.
The Indian met that description languishing in front of a tavern smoking a long, slender pipe and showing off his roly-poly torso.
Otherwise he was occupied plying conveyances that carried travelers across the river.
History of the taverns shows that they were located at most boat landings,and Toad Suck was no exception.
It was located on the west side of the river in
Perry County. The nondescript place was operated by two German brothers named Kirspol, who accommodated river travelers by offering them copious libations to “slake” their thirst.
The earlies date documented for the river crossing is 1820. This was only one year after the establishment of Arkansas as a territory. It was a sparsely settled place with 276 people.
For many years, the Toad Suck Ferry transported people, animals, and various types of vehicles across the river.
During the days when the ferry was powered by diesels prior to the construction of the lack and dam, the time of the ferry crossing varied from five to seven minutes depending on how full the river
was. One description of the Arkansas River before the construction of the navigation system was comically said to be “6 inches deep and a half mile wide."
The fare charged for river crossing fluctuated with the economic time. One early record shows the toll charge for a man on foot was twenty-five cents – a
man on horseback fifty cents – a man with a horse and buggy a dollar.
The demise of the ferry did not mean the end of probably one of the most colorful and picturesque place names in the country, Toad Suck. Perpetuation of the name has been assured by Congress, thanks to the efforts of the Conway Chamber of Commerce and the Faulkner County Historical Society.