When the leadership at the local NBC affiliate in Mobile sent a reporter to the midtown area of Crichton to investigate what was causing a traffic jam, no one could have guessed the story they produced would live on for more than a decade and create a viral sensation that has spawned a market of its own themed products.
The resulting 2006 segment, which was just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, featured real interviews from locals convinced — OK maybe not all were convinced — a leprechaun had taken up residence in a tree and they had come to search for his gold. The goofy news story was a hit immediately as people all over town began talking about it. But once the piece hit YouTube, that’s when it became an international sensation that comes back up each year as St. Patrick’s Day approaches.
Scott Walker, a NBC 15 morning anchor at the time, says he never gets tired of rehashing the story of the fabled “Crichton Leprechaun.”
“If you’d told me we’d be talking about it 14 years later, I wouldn’t believe you,” he said.
Walker said NBC 15 sent a crew to Crichton that day to cover an issue with traffic in the area. He said a large crowd was making it difficult for people to get around. Had producers known at the time the commotion was due to a so-called leprechaun sighting, Walker doubts they would’ve sent a reporter.
“It wouldn’t have shown good news judgement,” he said.
Walker, who now serves as a Jefferson Parish councilman in Metairie, Louisiana, saw the segment for the first time like most of its fans online, after he pitched it during the next morning’s re-airing of the package. While the famous clip shows him as one of two anchors, the story originally ran the night before and featured reporter Brian Johnson holding a box of Lucky Charms, he said.
“I watched it along with the audience,” he said. “I read the intro and thought, ‘this is so stupid.’”
“It was unlike anything I’d ever seen before,” Walker added. “It was silly. Local telecasts air stupid stories all the time, but this is the gift that keeps on giving.”
Walker said he still gets recognized as the “leprechaun guy” about 20 times per year, even in the New Orleans area, for his part in the video. He said he and his family wear shirts commemorating the creature every St. Patrick’s Day.
One of the lasting pieces from the segment, which has millions of views on YouTube, is the “amatuer sketch” of the leprechaun in the story. A simple outline on yellow legal pad paper of the face of the creature with a hat, two eyes and no nose or mouth, has become synonymous with Mobile. It has now appeared on a myriad of hats, shirts, buttons, stickers, door hangers, Mardi Gras beads, cookies and, now, even beer labels.
As the city readies for St. Patrick’s Day, Lagniappe takes a look at some of the products inspired by the Crichton Leprechaun and tries to discover whether a trademark of that famous amatuer sketch might actually be “where da’ gold at.”
Crichton Leprechaun beer
Parish Brewing Company in Broussard, Louisiana, is currently trying to cash in on the phenomenon by selling what could be called the official beer of the Crichton Leprechaun, if the tiny sprite could drink without a mouth. The beer is a pilsner featuring the Crichton Leprechaun sketch on its label. Brewery owner Andrew Godley said he got the idea for the label while sitting at Callaghan’s Irish Social Club in Mobile. He called the leprechaun a “regional mascot” and was a big fan of the viral news clip.
“It was an amazing thing,” he said. “We originally thought of the leprechaun beer for St. Patrick’s Day.”
The pilsner with the Crichton Leprechaun on the label is the same one used for all of Parish Brewing’s themed beers and is available in the Mobile market and some parts of Louisiana, Godley said. The brewery has gotten requests for the beer from other areas too, he said.
“We get calls for it from wholesalers all over the South,” Godley said. “We can’t make enough. We only ordered enough labels for a small amount.”
The 400 to 500 cases they produced this year is only available until St. Patrick’s Day, if it lasts that long, he said.
Godley chose the pilsner as the base beer for the specialty label because it’s easy to drink.
“It’s not the most interesting beer we make, and it’s not a huge flagship for us,” he said. “Anyone can drink it.”
Johnny Gwin of Deep Fried Threads used the sketch to put a unique spin on his line of Mobile-centric clothing. Inspired by a trip to Chicago where he saw a T-shirt with “The Blues Brothers” character Jake Blues wearing Chicago Blackhawks warpaint, Gwin began producing shirts with a logo featuring a mashup of the Crichton Leprechaun sketch and an image of Mobile Mardi Gras icon Joe Cain.
“There are no words,” he said. “You either get it or you don’t.”
Gwin sells the popular shirts year-round, because in addition to St. Patrick’s Day, the clothing does well at Christmas.
Deep Fried Threads also sells “LepreCain”-themed huggers, buttons and “leprechaun-trapping license” stickers.
The owners of the Mobile bakery EllenJay got their own 15 minutes of fame when Jimmy Kimmel, host of ABC’s late night talk show “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” pulled a Crichton Leprechaun-inspired sugar cookie from his pocket while on the air last year.
Co-owner Jennifer Conrad said the bakery shipped Kimmel the cookies, but “never in a million years” expected the tasty treat to make it on the national broadcast.
The leprechaun cookie recreates the amatuer sketch on a legal pad background. It is hand-decorated, Conrad said. The bakery initially got a request from a customer for the custom cookie about five years ago. The next year, EllenJay started selling them, Conrad said.
The cookies are only sold at the bakery through St. Patrick’s Day, but the idea of expanding that time frame has been discussed.
“We have a shop full of them now,” Conrad said. “We’ve toyed with carrying them year-round. They are extremely popular.”
Callaghan’s Irish Social Club
There may be no more popular place in Mobile to spend St. Patrick’s Day than Callaghan’s. It’s also one of the local spots to capitalize on the Crichton Leprechaun branding.
The neighborhood bar and eatery, which hosts an annual street party for the Irish holiday each year, has also gotten into the Crichton Leprechaun madness as well.
Owner John Thompson is surprised by the staying power of the leprechaun and the original news segment.
“It’s amazing to me how widespread it is,” he said. “Members of bands who come and play here will see it on a T-shirt or hat and start high-fiving each other. It’s really funny.”
Thompson said they started putting the famed sketch on the establishment’s St. Patrick’s Day T-shirt and it was a “best seller.” Since then, their use of the image has only increased. It now comes on a Callaghan’s hat and is on a shirt for Christmas wearing a red Rudolph nose. It has also adorned knit golf-style shirts, perfect for those who want to take a little Crichton Leprechaun attitude to work.
Look for the amateur sketch to be on display again March 14 at Callaghan’s St. Paddy’s Day street party.
Leprechaun door hangers
Midtown resident Pam Johnson has been recreating that imfamous “ametuer sketch” of the Creighton Leprechaun on all kinds of seasonal knick knacks since late 2019. It started as small paintings for Christmas ornaments, but soon expanded to bigger sizes for things like door hangers.
It’s a side hobby for Johnson, who is a registered nurse and associate professor at the University of South Alabama, but fans of the small, mythical Mobilian seem to gravitate to it on platforms like Etsy. Johnson said the $30 door hangers are a crowd favorite and where she’s sold them is a testament to the CL’s worldwide reach.
“I paint him up for just about all holidays … Christmas, Mardi Gras, Valentine’s, Pride and also as the original ‘amateur sketch,’” Johnson said. “I sell on Etsy and Facebook, but mainly by word of mouth. I’ve sent them to Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Maryland, Ontario, Canada and even as far as Spain.”
As local trademark attorney Greg Friedlander tells it, he received a phone call years ago regarding the now-famed sketch and directed those on the other end of the line to come in so he could explain to them the various protections they could be afforded. He was unaware of the sketch’s notoriety at that point. But the voices on the other end of the line never dropped by.
“When I got home, my kids knew exactly what it was,” he said. “My whole family thought I should pursue it.”
The value of a trademark or copyright on something like the Crichton Leprechaun amatuer sketch could be hard for him to quantify as a legal expert, he said, but he did admit “it’s a weird thing to think about.”
The original artist in this case would have copyright on it because it would not yet be part of the public domain, he said, however, it might also be hard to prove he or she drew it. If the copyright was registered, Friedlander said, the original artist could sue on anything that used the image within the last three years.
There a number of defenses to copyright infringement, Friedlander wrote, and for a suit to be successful, the owner of the original published work will have to register it.
Unlike copyright, a trademark has to be registered with the government for “use in commerce,” Friedlander wrote. Like copyright, Friedlander said, the value of a trademark is not really a legal question.
Marcus Neto, owner of local advertising agency Blue Fish, said there’s “no telling” how much the sketch would be worth if it were trademarked.
“I’ve never thought about it,” he said. “It would be very valuable. I don’t know if it would be something somebody could retire off of.”
A trademark on the sketch would have a downside for those fascinated by the story. A number of the products based on the sketch would probably have never existed, Neto said.
“It’s got a lot more leg on it than if it was [trademarked],” he said.
Scott Walker believes a trademark and lawsuit attempts would “take the fun out of it.”
The question of who drew that famous sketch is one that’s never truly been established. Some believed reporter Brian Johnson was responsible, but there are others who lay claim to the famed drawing.
Lagniappe reached out to a friend of a man claiming to be the original artist, Sean Thomas, but was told he couldn’t comment because of a possible movie deal. There have been different stories about the artist, or artists throughout the years, but the friend told Lagniappe Thomas made an original drawing of the leprechaun and his sister, Nina Thomas-Brown, sketched the drawing and gave it to Johnson for the story.
Also, a man named John appeared on the Comedy Central television show “Tosh.0” claiming to have created the drawing as a child. Much like whether or not a leprechaun actually did take up residence in a Crichton tree, proving these claims have been quite difficult.
Another legend is that the rights to the drawing were sold and a local attorney now owns them.
In addition to “Kimmel” and “Tosh.0,” the viral newscast spawned a segment on the Comedy Central sketch show “Key & Peele.”
Councilman Fred Richardson, who represents the Crichton area, began laughing when asked about the leprechaun.
“It went worldwide,” Richardson said. “It’s the same as Santa Claus. The leprechaun is the same phenomenon.”
Jokingly, Richardson said the leprechaun believers are serious and there’s a reason the magical creature chose Mobile and, more specifically, District 1.
“The leprechaun is not stupid,” Richardson said. “He did some reconnaissance and he picked the best place.”
This light-hearted response about the leprechaun was shared by others interviewed for this story. Neto said it’s “f***ing hilarious,” and people who feel differently about it need to relax.
“It’s innocent,” he said. “We need to stop taking ourselves so seriously and enjoy seeing little things like that when they come along. The world is serious enough.”
Reporter Jason Johnson contributed to this story.
This page is available to our local subscribers. Click here to join us today and get the latest local news from local reporters written for local readers. The best deal is found by clicking here. Check it out now.
Already a member of the Lagniappe family? Sign in by clicking here