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Day 7: In pursuit of Kermit

Day 7: In pursuit of Kermit

From the Road Trip with Greg Brownell series
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I saw it on a map as I was planning this trip. I ran my finger along the route I was taking through Mississippi. Near Leland there was a notation that read: "Birthplace of Kermit the Frog."

And I thought, why not. Let's see what's there.

I browsed the Internet last night and found there was a museum, but it closed at 4 p.m. I could make it as long as I didn't waste any time. I had lots to do.

I started Wednesday by parking in North Little Rock and taking an old-style streetcar across the bridge into Little Rock. It's probably the slowest public transportation I've ever been on -- it crawls along the streets at a few miles per hour -- but speed isn't the idea here.

The streetcar makes a loop through downtown and the driver calls out the history of just about every structure you pass. For a $2 round trip, it's a cheap way to get to know a city.

I was just going to do the loop once and leave. Then we passed the Old State House Museum. On impulse I jumped off and made a visit. I love historic government buildings.

That set me behind a bit, but getting out of Little Rock was no problem and I was on my way south. I skipped a lunch stop and instead ate an apple pilfered from the hotel breakfast line. I was on schedule to see Kermit.

I got to the Mississippi River around 3 p.m. Just before the river, you pass by Lake Chicot, which used to be part of the Mississippi but was cut off and became a good-sized lake. That seems amazing to me, that a river can be so large and winding that chunks of it get cut off and become a separate body of water.

I wanted a picture of the river, which was more challenging than I thought it would be. I had to get off the road and drive along a gravel path atop an large earthen berm that, I presume, was built to prevent the Mississippi from flooding. I got my picture and was on my way, but I was losing my safety margin to reach the museum on time.

I had to get through Greenville before I could get to Leland. There were streetlights all along U.S. Route 82 on the way through town. Every one of them was a red light. Every. Single. One.

I finally arrived in Leland around 3:45, saw the sign and parked in front of the museum. There was only one other car out front. The building looked empty. I pulled at the door but it appeared to be locked. I had missed out on Kermit.

I was about to give up when Emily Kearney appeared on the other side. The doors are a little sticky. A good yank and I was in. My day was saved.

Kearney is the curator of this museum and a fountain of information when it comes to Kermit, the Muppets and Jim Henson. The museum opened in 1991 to honor Henson, the creator of the Muppets, who spent his childhood in Leland. Originally the Chamber of Commerce and a visitors' center shared the building, but have since moved out to make room for Kermit and friends.

The story goes that Henson and a friend, Kermit Scott, loved to explore Deer Creek, which runs behind the museum. Hence, the concept of the "birthplace" of Kermit.

(As a journalist, I must point out that according to other information I found, it is not universally accepted that Kermit the Frog was named after Henson's childhood friend. Even so, Henson did grow up here, and we do kind of accept Cooperstown as the birthplace of baseball despite other claims. So anyway ...)

The museum is small, but stocked with all sorts of Muppets memorabilia and tributes to Henson. Although it was quiet on Wednesday, Kearney said they have visitors from across the country and other nations. Sometimes they come as part of tour groups; other times they see the sign and just have to stop in. Because, really, who doesn't love the Muppets?

"We find out every day what an impact one man made on the world," Kearney said. "Jim Henson truly did; he was just amazing."

There is a giant doll in the corner where kids can have their picture taken with Kermit. Sometimes big kids, too. As Kearney said, "Kermit makes us all look good."

It was after 4 p.m. when I left, but a couple had come in and Kearney was off to give them the tour. She said she'll keep the museum open as much as an extra hour if people are still arriving. This is clearly someone who enjoys her job.

I have Rainbow Connection running in my head as I write this. I guess I found my pot of gold for the day.

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