Hard to believe it’s been a decade since “Where da gold at?” became a common punch line in Mobile. It’s even harder to believe that as the famed “Crichton Leprechaun” story turns 10, media outlets across the country linked to the YouTube video that has enjoyed nearly 26 million viewings over the years.
That’s an average of 7,123 people a day for the past 10 years clicking on what became one of the first viral YouTube clips and one of our city’s proudest moments.Last week, stations in Arizona, Iowa and Idaho — to name a few — honored the leprechaun, which started life as a news story at our own WPMI-TV. Then-morning anchor Scott Walker says the video has proved to be one of the more interesting aspects of his career. Walker, who is now the lead anchor at WDSU-TV in New Orleans, still laughs about the farcical story of crowds in Mobile’s Crichton community gathering after some claimed to have seen a leprechaun in a tree.
Each year, Walker posts on his website this explanation of how the story came to be:
“This happened in 2006 when I was working at WPMI, the NBC affiliate in Mobile. It was covered as a real news story … at first. We heard reports of large crowds gathering in the Crichton community and police were being called out. We didn’t know WHY they were gathering. The way I remember it, we weren’t going out there to cover a leprechaun sighting (that would have been a questionable decision). We were going out there to see why such large crowds were causing problems in the neighborhood,” Walker wrote. “When our crew arrived, things sort of snowballed. People were looking up at a tree and saying there was a leprechaun in it. We started shooting video and that’s when the people of Crichton took over and turned this story into an Internet sensation.”
Walker says he’s recognized 10 to 15 times a year as “the Leprechaun Guy,” something he finds ironic since he wasn’t even a reporter on the story. Reporter Brian Johnson was the one to investigate the CL, and that story first ran at night featuring Johnson on camera reporting. However, the next morning, it had been edited and Johnson’s stand-up was cut. Walker introduced the video and was sucked into Internet history while Johnson gets little of the glory.
“It’s amazing that version ended up on YouTube. Brian Johnson did a stand-up in the first version. When I introduced it was the first time I saw it,” he said, laughing.
While people taking about “crackheads,” bulldozing trees to find gold and using a magic flute to ward off leprechaun spells certainly made the clip what it is, Walker agrees the glue that holds it all together is the famed “amateur sketch.” The rudimentary drawing of a leprechaun done on yellow legal paper and devoid of practically any facial features has become ubiquitous across the Mobile area and famous nationwide.
“Someone obviously got a good look at him,” Walker deadpanned. He says he’s still not sure who drew the famous picture, but says it was auctioned off for charity for nearly $1,000.
WPMI, of course, reposted the story last week, along with this statement:
“It’s a story Local 15 News will always embrace, the Crichton Leprechaun. Ten years ago on this day, residents in Crichton reported seeing a leprechaun in a tree … and well, you all know the story.”
Walker theorizes the lasting popularity of the CL is partly because it has an annual tie-in with St. Patrick’s Day.
“It’s just so off the wall, but holiday specific,” he said. “It gives people a reason to go back.”
As a newsman with a distinguished career, Walker is still able to enjoy his role in the Crichton Leprechaun phenomenon.
“I realize it will be immortalized on YouTube for the rest of my life,” he said. “It was a special time in my career and the leprechaun was the icing on the cake.”
He added, laughing, “We still haven’t found the gold.”
WKRG News 5 named Station of the Year
WKRG-TV came up big at the 2016 Alabama Broadcasters Association “ABBY” awards last week, being named Station of the Year, but Mobile’s other stations took home some hardware as well.
“It’s a tremendous honor and what it is, is acknowledgement of all the hard work that all of our employees put forth every single day and in presenting our news and educating and providing content for our viewers,” WKRG General Manager Mark Bunting said in a statement.
WKRG also took the Best Website award for the second year in a row. WKRG’s J.B. Biunno was named Reporter of the Year for the second year in a row and also received an ABBY Award for Best Franchise for his “News 5 Web Center Report” segments.
The entire WKRG staff was honored for their feature “Fall Flooding,” taking home the Judges Award, and Jason Garcia rounded things out by winning Photojournalist of the Year.
WPMI-TV’s Andrea Ramey took home the Investigative Judges Award of Merit for “Andrea Ramey Investigates.”
In the Public Affairs division, WALA-TV took home the Judges Award of Merit for its piece entitled “Storm Ready 2015.” Franz Barraza, Renee Dials and Kellie Jones were also honored with an award for Investigative Reporting for “School Cheating Allegations.”
Congratulations to all the winners.