Welcome To Froggyland, The Croatian Taxidermy Museum That May Soon Come To The U.S. The museum features the work of a Hungarian taxidermist who created anthropomorphized exhibits. It had 50,000 visitors in 2019, but numbers fell during the pandemic and the owner now plans to sell.
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Welcome To Froggyland, The Croatian Taxidermy Museum That May Soon Come To The U.S.

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Welcome To Froggyland, The Croatian Taxidermy Museum That May Soon Come To The U.S.

Welcome To Froggyland, The Croatian Taxidermy Museum That May Soon Come To The U.S.

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

NPR's Rob Schmitz was reporting on the pandemic's impact on tourism in the coastal city of Split in Croatia when he stumbled on - or one might even say hopped on - to a museum devoted to frogs - stuffed frogs, to be exact. He sends us this postcard from Froggyland.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: There's a lot of hype surrounding Froggyland. Its own brochure declares in broken English, Froggyland and first love will never be forgotten. On the travel website Tripadvisor, Froggyland has 644 reviews, six times that of a local fine arts museum and twice that of Split's world-renowned archaeological museum. Most of the reviews have five stars, like this one from reviewer Martin.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1, BYLINE: (As Martin) Froggytastic (ph). Probably the best stuffed frog museum I have ever visited.

(SOUNDBITE OF POND AMBIENCE, FROG RIBBITING)

SCHMITZ: The sounds of a lilypad pond greet visitors to the museum.

(SOUNDBITE OF FROG RIBBITING)

SCHMITZ: Inside, it's quiet because the 507 frogs on display have been dead for more than a century. But they look very much alive, thanks to the work of Hungarian Ferenc Mere, a mustached taxidermist who spent 10 years catching and stuffing them - before arranging them in 21 whimsical exhibitions displaying frogs acting out human scenes of the era. There's a classroom with a froggy teacher trying to restore order among his naughty froggy students. A couple of them hit each other with rulers, and one is balancing a pencil on his froggy nose. In another exhibit, frogs ballroom dance with each other to the music of an amphibian band, while several others smoke, drink and play billiards and poker with tiny cards on the sidelines. All of this was too much for Tripadvisor reviewer PokerG, who punished the museum with a single star.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2, BYLINE: (As PokerG) Yeah, let's kill thousands of frogs for art and then ask people at the end of it, did you have fun? Go if you have no soul.

SCHMITZ: Most of the museum's worst reviews echo this, and Froggyland owner Ivan Medvesek typically writes back, explaining that taxidermy was popular a century ago when these frogs were stuffed. And if you think it's cruel, he asks, why bother visiting? After my own soulless visit to Froggyland, I ask an employee for an interview with Medvesek, who, like everyone else, calls him Boss Itzo. I wonder what kind of person owns Froggyland - an extravagant artist type? When he arrives, Boss Itzo is a burly, somber-looking businessman who actually seems a little worn out by Froggyland, possibly because it was foisted on him by his parents.

IVAN MEDVESEK: (Through interpreter) Fifty years ago, someone left these frogs behind in an attic in Serbia, and my parents bought them. At first, they had a little traveling museum, and then they opened this.

SCHMITZ: And later, Froggyland was passed down to him.

MEDVESEK: (Non-English language spoken).

SCHMITZ: He leads me inside to show me that none of the frogs have incisions in them. Ferenc Mere was such an expert taxidermist, he was able to remove the innards of the frogs from their mouths without leaving a trace. Boss Itzo says the people who most appreciate Froggyland are Americans and British tourists, but he says local Croatians aren't into it.

MEDVESEK: (Non-English language spoken).

SCHMITZ: He says they'd rather eat frogs than see them in a museum. Boss Itzo says ticket sales were great before the pandemic. Froggyland had 50,000 visitors in 2019. But since the pandemic, visitors plummeted to just a few thousand. And that's why Boss Itzo will not pass down Froggyland to his kids.

MEDVESEK: (Through interpreter) It's no longer profitable, and investors in America really want to buy it.

SCHMITZ: He won't disclose who's buying Froggyland, but he hopes the museum will continue to inspire people like Crispy C - a Tripadvisor contributor who gave Froggyland five stars during the height of the pandemic.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3, BYLINE: (As Crispy C) Sometimes a mirror of society works best to contemplate and understand your own life, existence and purpose of life. Froggyland is exactly that mirror.

(SOUNDBITE OF FROG RIBBITING)

SCHMITZ: Boss Itzo says he's not sure what he's going to do after he retires, but he's happy Froggyland is bound for America - a land where he believes people will fully appreciate it. Rob Schmitz, NPR News, Split, Croatia.

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