By Paisley Kirkpatrick
Since we've lived in Tomahawk, Wisconsin, we've seen statues of the Hodag everywhere in Rhinelander, located eighteen miles northeast of us. I learned the Hodag is a folkloric animal of the state of Wisconsin, but was stunned when our daughter visited us for the first time and saw one of the many colorful statues. She blurted out everything one would want to know about the Hodag. She'd seen the folklore of this mysterious beast shown on one of the Mysteries of the Museum television show.
The Hodag was introduced to the public in 1893. Newspapers reported the discovery of a strange-looking animal. It had the head of a frog, the grinning face of a giant elephant, thick short legs set off by huge claws, the back of a dinosaur, and a long tail with spears at the end. Eugene Shepherd, a well-known Wisconsin land surveyor, instigated the prank. He gathered a group of local people to kill the horrid beast with dynamite.
The photograph released to the media showed charred remains of the beast. It amazes me that nobody reading the articles in the newspapers caught on to it being a hoax, especially when it was described as the fiercest, strangest, most frightening monster ever to set razor-sharp claws on the earth. They reported it had become extinct after its main food source, all-white bulldogs, became scarce in the area.
In 1896 Shepard alleged that he'd captured yet another Hodag. This time he and several bear wrestlers captured one alive by poking chloroform on the end of a long pole into the cave where they'd located the creature.
Thousands of people came to see the Hodag at either the first Oneida County Fair or Shepard's display in a crudely built shack next to his house. Shephard connected wires to it and would occasionally make the creature move. This action would usually send the already-skittish viewers fleeing from the display.
As reports of the remarkable living creature appeared in local, statewide, and then national newspapers, a small group of scientists from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. announced they would travel to Rhinelander to inspect the apparent discovery. Their mere announcement forced Shephard to admit that the hodag was a hoax.
There are statues around the area of Rhinelander.
The beast is painted in bright combinations of color, but always with a fierce glare. The town's water tower has 'Hodag' printed on it. Vacationers can buy t-shirts with Hodag printed on it. I found a statue at the YMCA and was able to get a photo of it. During fair time the butcher shop even had 'Hodag' sausages - quite hot and spicy.
My favorite sighting came this past Christmas season. Someone cut Santa and his sleigh out of plywood and painted it. They made one slight change - instead of the reindeer they had Hodags pulling the sleigh. Unfortunately, it was not in a place where we could take a photo of it. I imagine it must have delighted everyone who noticed it on the lawn of a person with a great imagination.
There are a couple of other folkloric characters who supposedly live in Wisconsin's Northwoods. Paul Bunyan's exploits revolved around tall tales of his superhuman labors. The character originated in the oral tradition of North American loggers. Customarily, he was accompanied by Babe the Blue Ox.
On occasion, the Abominable Snowman shows up in wild tales. He is an ape-like entity, taller than an average human, this is said to inhabit the Himalayan region of Nepal. Hunters in our area swear to have seen this creature in our Northwoods.
Whether these folktales do harm or in fun way can give people a reason why situations occur, I like them.
I've NEVER heard of a hodag. How do you say it? Ho-dag or Hod-ag? What a funny-looking creature (and people believed in it). Eugene Shepherd must of been on heck of a good story teller! Got to admire someone who can do that!ReplyDelete
It's pronounced Ho-dag. Everywhere you go in Rhinelander, Wisconsin you see these colorful Hodags.Delete
Quite an entertaining post, Paisley. We had the opportunity to visit Wisconsin a few years back, a beautiful state...however, never got a glimpse of those "folks!" LOLReplyDelete
I'll let you know if any of them cross my path. :)Delete
If get back to our area, you will no doubt see one. Paul Bunyan has his own restaurant named after him. Now that is a place to visit. :)ReplyDelete
Fabled characters like the Hodag are entertaining, bring folks together and otherwise enrich our perspectives! We have our fair share in California. Thanks for the romp, Paisley!ReplyDelete
Thank you Arletta. I'm glad you stopped by.ReplyDelete
I love to go digging around in folklore and find out if there is any truth to them. Often times I have discovered there was an actual truth in the beginning that expanded into a wild tale. Paul Bunyan was one of those that did start with an actual man and grew into some wild tale that included Babe the Blue Ox. I was totally taken aback when I discovered the Legend of Johnny Appleseed was entirely true--right down to the sauce pan he wore for a hat and his bare feet.ReplyDelete
I am surprised anyone believed the Hodag story, but one thing I believe is that people like mystery. How boring to believe everything has already been discovered and there is no mystery left. I think that is why rumors and sightings of Big Foot continue. There are gorillas in the wilds, why not a Big Foot? Not too farfetched to dampen one's excitement and curiosity--right? I mean, I sure would like to believe Big Foot exists.
But a Hodag? It's such a messed up conglomeration of species, I can't imagine anyone thinking it could be real, but hey, why ruin the fun? It's a great story for a camping trip while everyone sits around the campfire telling scary whoppers.
I enjoyed this article, Paisley. I love these wild speculations, myths, and legends. They're just great fun. All the best to you.
Thank you for your take on folklore. I also enjoy it.ReplyDelete