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Toad Suck Daze is an annual spring festival in Conway (Faulkner County) that features arts and crafts vendors, live music, a variety of foods, and toad races for children. It is held on the streets of downtown Conway, where more than 150,000 people attend the three-day event. No admission is charged, and proceeds of the festival support Faulkner County residents attending colleges located in the county.
While the festival is now one of the largest and most unique in Arkansas, it began as an idea John Ward had in 1982. Ward—managing editor of the Log Cabin Democrat, Conway’s local newspaper—wanted to raise the spirits of local residents experiencing the hard times of a recession and high interest rates. He thought a celebration would be just what the city needed and wanted somehow to involve Toad Suck, a location just outside of town on the banks of the Arkansas River. He added “Daze” to the name to represent “the euphoria of spring.” The first festival, and several thereafter, were held at Toad Suck Park, the location of the historic Toad Suck Ferry.
There are many stories in circulation about how the area on the river got its name. The most widely accepted story dates back to the days of steamboat travel on the Arkansas River, when boatmen stopped at a spot in Perry County—where Toad Suck Ferry Lock and Dam is—to wait for higher or lower water. The boatmen frequented a tavern there, and it was said that they would suck on the bottle until they swelled up like toads. Although other versions exist of the origin of the name, organizers of the festival generally quote this story to explain the name “Toad Suck.”
After devising the name and location of this new celebration, Ward got a cross-section of civic-minded people in the community on board, including members of the chamber of commerce, the circuit judge, presidents of banks, and others who eventually formed the first Toad Council. (As of 2008, the festival is governed by the Toad Suck Daze Committee, a group of volunteers and community leaders assembled through the Conway Chamber of Commerce.) Early on, the council agreed that proceeds would go to fund scholarship endowments at the local colleges, and hundreds of thousands of dollars have gone toward this goal since the festival’s beginnings.
The first year, event organizers hoped that 5,000 people would attend and were surprised when more than 25,000 people came that weekend to the banks of the river. Due to flooding in 1990, the festival was moved to the streets of downtown Conway, where it continued to see bigger crowds and add more attractions and vendors every year.
Even with all of the growth and changes, one thing has remained a constant throughout the festival’s history—the toad races. The signature event of the festival features the rounding up of toads days before the festival begins so that children can pick out a toad for the races. The children line up with their toads, and when the race starts, they can encourage their toads by blowing on them, patting the racing mat behind them, or shouting words of encouragement.
For additional information: Glover, Jeremy. “Festival Was Cabin Editor’s Brainchild.” Log Cabin Democrat. April 30, 2006. Online at http://www.thecabin.net/stories/043006/loc_0430060015.shtml (accessed October 22, 2014).
Toad Suck Daze. http://www.toadsuck.org/ (accessed October 22, 2014).
Jeremy GloverLittle Rock, Arkansas
Staff of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture
Last Updated 10/22/2014
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