By Steven Ward
Kermit the Frog was born in Mississippi.
Jim Henson, creator of Sesame Street and The Muppets, was born at King’s Daughter Hospital in Greenville on Sept. 24, 1936. Henson would have turned 85 this month. He died at age 53 in 1990.
Henson spent his early years in Leland. Henson lived in Leland because his father, Paul Henson, worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Leland was the place where Henson’s imagination and interest in art combined to trigger an idea that wound up changing the face of entertainment.
Today, visitors interested in the origins of The Muppets and Kermit the Frog can visit a museum in Leland known as Leland, Mississippi: Birthplace of the Frog: An Exhibit of Jim Henson’s Delta Boyhood.
Rhonda Looney, the museum’s general manager and curator, said the museum is housed at the Washington County Welcome Center.
“After Henson passed away in 1990, some Lelanders decided to honor him by creating a museum/exhibit from his childhood. His widow, Jane, and his children were contacted, and they were wonderful about helping us get started,” Looney said.
The Henson family gave the museum a big photo of Kermit with his banjo. Jane and the family later visited the museum.
So how did Kermit the Frog spring from Henson’s imagination while living in Mississippi?
As a boy, Jim Henson spent hours playing along the banks of Deer Creek. Looney said that’s when he dreamed up the character of Kermit the Frog who was named (some have said) after his childhood friend, Kermit Scott.
“He loved the outdoors and playing with frogs and snakes. After he moved to Maryland, Jim Henson never came back to Leland, but his experiences here and fond memories gave him what he described as ‘an idyllic time,’” Looney said.
Henson was invited to Leland to help celebrate the city’s 100th birthday in 1980. Henson wrote back to the mayor thanking him for the invitation but had to turn him down because he was slated to be in London for the next two years. Henson wrote that he planned to return to Leland for a visit, but he died before that happened.
Henson sent a photo of himself and Kermit the Frog to the mayor. The photo was signed by Henson with a note that said, “To Leland — Birthplace of the Frog.”
The museum features documents of his birth in Greenville and school attendance in Leland. There are photos from Henson’s childhood in Leland, Muppets photos, a playroom, videos for children, and a life-size Kermit to take photos with.
There is no admission, but donations are welcomed, and proceeds from the gift shop help fund the museum.
IF YOU GO:
What: Leland, Mississippi: Birthplace of the Frog: An Exhibit of Jim Henson’s Delta Boyhood
Where: 415 South Deer Creek Drive East
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Labor Day
10 a.m. to 4 p.m. until Memorial Day
More information: 662-686-7383
This story was first published at todayinmississippi.com, the website for the North East Mississippi Electric Power Association.