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Iconic “Leon the Frog” poem in Social Sciences tower accidentally painted over

By Scott Strasser, March 31 2017 —


In an attempt to remove graffiti at the University of Calgary, a piece of the campus’s history was accidentally erased last week.

Workers tasked with removing some of the graffiti common in the Social Sciences building unintentionally painted over “Leon the Frog” on March 31. The poem was written on the steps leading up the 13 floors of the stairwell in the Social Sciences tower.

The first to make public what happened was political science researcher John Santos, who posted about the poem’s erasure on Facebook the same day it was erased.

The U of C tweeted about the incident on its official Twitter account after the poem’s removal was discovered.

“Leon’s saga was mistakenly painted over as part of a blitz to remove graffiti on campus,” the tweet reads. “We are looking to see if we can restore it.”

“Leon the Frog” is a poem that first appeared on the Social Sciences stairs in the 1970s. The pun-filled story recounts the journey of a frog who hops up the steps, encountering each department and discipline in the social sciences along the way.

Due to the marker used to write the poem being worn away, “Leon the Frog” has been restored multiple times since its original inscription.

The last time the poem was restored was in 2007. Then-Students’ Union social sciences representative Teale Phelps Bondaroff and fellow U of C student Ian Kinney spent hours rewriting the poem on the stairs. The two also added an extra stanza to the poem on the floor leading up to the tower’s roof.

“Teale and I got together and we — with our sharpies — went step-by-step and re-stenciled all those letters to make it more legible, as it was fading over time,” Kinney said.

Kinney said he was hugely disappointed when he learned about the poem’s accidental erasure.

“Disappointment is an understatement — terrible disappointment and sadness that the university would do this to something so iconic,” Kinney said. “Every student and faculty and staff member who [has worked in or visited] that building — they’d probably take those steps and read part of that poem and know Leon’s journey.”

The original author of the poem is unknown, but Kinney thinks it could have been written by multiple people.

“The first inscription, I’m told, was in the 1970s. The way that it’s written gives me the impression that it was a cut-up poem that was something [that] different people contributed to,” he said.

Bondaroff said the poem added to the richness of the U of C’s history.

“It’s one of those things where, the university changes and gets new buildings, new installations and new facilities, but you hope that some of the history remains. It was one of those elements of history that was quaint and added some flavour to the social sciences,” he said. “It was a celebration of the social sciences, really — one step at a time.”

According to an April 3 statement, the U of C will seek to restore the poem this month, led by Kinney. A plaque recognizing the poem’s significance will also be created to ensure it is not mistaken for graffiti again.

“The Faculty of Arts will be seeking student and alumni volunteers to participate in the restoration event, which will take place on April 13,” the statement reads. “We hope that by engaging current students, it will connect them to this historical piece of art, which is a part of the culture of the faculty.”

Despite the erasure, “Leon the Frog” lives on in the archives of the Gauntlet. The original version appeared in a 1999 issue, while the updated version with Kinney’s and Bondaroff’s extra stanza was published in 2009. To read the original poem, click here. To read the updated version, click here.

The restored poem can be read here.

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