The image of an amphibian above a door is a reminder of a comical tale
Not all of Prague’s legends are scary ones. Some are more like extended jokes. The tale of the House at the Green Frog is one such knee-slapper.
Just off Old Town Square is a large complex of connected medieval buildings including a small one with the image of a green frog above the door at the address U Radnice 13/8. Today it is part of a hotel and restaurant together with an adjacent building, and the name has been changed to the more boring At the Three Drums.
But back in the 15th century, it had a tailor shop run by a tailor named Lokýtek who specialized in bespoke outfits especially for the various fakirs, jugglers and performers who appeared on Old Town Square and traveled around Bohemia. The name Lokýtek referred to the Prague measure for cloth called a loket.
He was also a big fan of watching the shows filled with illusions, prestidigitation, and seemingly impossible acrobatics.
The tailor was always looking at the costumes of visiting performers to see how he could improve his own.
One day, his housekeeper was cleaning up and she heard a thud from the back room. She ran in and couldn’t see Lokýtek. She heard her master’s muffled voice but all she saw was a giant writhing frog, which she assumed had escaped from one of the traveling entertainers in the market in Old Town Square.
The frog had no doubt eaten the tailor, who was calling for help from within the beast’s belly.
She ran as fast as she could, screaming for help. Soon, a soldier with a bayonet, a blacksmith with a hammer and tongs, a butcher with an axe, and various others filled the tailor’s workshop.
And they quickly burst out laughing.
Lokýtek had been making a light and dark green polka dotted outfit for a contortionist. It was spiffy while allowing enough loose material for the difficult movements.
But the tailor was not only a fan of stage magicians, he also longed to become a performer himself. He put on the green costume and attempted to wrap his legs behind his head, and do other contortions, but he lacked the training and exercise to be proficient. After a few basic moves his muscles began to stiffen.
His back locked up and his legs became stuck behind his ears. He tried to free himself but instead he fell over and couldn’t get up. This was the thud that the housekeeper heard.
She panicked and mistook the tangled tailor for a giant spotted green man-eating frog.
The blacksmith and butcher helped to get the tailor’s legs freed from behind his ears. The tailor got up and explained the situation, rather sheepishly.
He lived a long time after, but the incident was never forgotten. Once he died a stone frog, painted green, was placed above the doorway in his memory and still remains there.
Another tale says that there was also a pub in the cellar for many centuries. One of the patrons was allegedly Jan Mydlář, the famous executioner who killed the 27 leaders of the Bohemian Revolt in 1621 in Old Town Square. The restaurant next door capitalizes on that story.
The house at U Radnice 13/8 was built in the 15th century, and the stone frog seems to come from the 17th century, long after the time of the legend. Like stories for many such house signs, it is likely the story was invented to explain the sign, rather than the sign coming after the story.
The building is on the far side of a number of connected buildings that includes Old Town Hall, as well as the House at the Minute, covered in allegorical illustrations. Some of the buildings are owned by the city and awaiting renovation into an arts and cultural center.
The House at the Minute can be seen in the background of the King of Wands in The Tarot of Prague deck.
Middle class houses began to spring up in the Old Town area in the 13th century, and became known by the house signs, or images above the doors by the late 14th century. The merchants houses near Old Town Square were all relatively small and built without any spaces in between as even then real estate was at a premium.
The Old Town Hall began as existing middle-class houses that were joined together. Work on the Old Town Hall tower began around 1338. A market already existed in the square, and there was another a few streets away at Havelský trh, open since 1232.
Whether a tailor ever lived at U Radnice 13/8 is not known for certain, but clothing and textiles were long popular items at the street markets in the area.
Prague had its own unit of measure for cloth, the loket, and measuring rods can still be found at the New Town Hall and on the door at a former administrative building near Prague Castle. People dealing with cloth sometimes were known by the nickname Lokýtek.
The executions that took place June 21, 1621, in Old Town Square are remembered by 27 small crosses on the sidewalk and the date, made from black paving stones on a white background. The executed nobles, mostly Protestants, took part in an uprising against Habsburg Emperor Matthias and later Ferdinand II, who were Catholic. Fifteen of the lords were hanged, and a dozen were beheaded. The heads were displayed at the Old Town Bridge Tower.
The life of executioner Jan Mydlář was fictionalized in a 19th century romantic novel called The Memoirs Of A Prague Executioner by Josef Svátek.