Welcome back to #TravelTuesday, a summer series on Spooky Little Halloween where we put a spooky twist on this popular hashtag and travel to haunted destinations across the globe. Today we kick off this summer’s series with one of my favorite local legends, the Wisconsin Hodag.
In the Northwoods of Wisconsin lives a terrifying beast. It has “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”. According to those who have seen the monster in person – and lived to tell the tale – it smells of buzzard meat and skunk perfume.
Its name? The Hodag. And its home is in Rhinelander, Wisconsin.
He’s a beast I enjoy visiting regularly when I make my biannual trips to northern Wisconsin.
Yes, I have seen this beast in person…and lived to tell the tale.
Okay…so maybe the Hodag isn’t real, but he may as well be for how long this tale has been around – 125 years as of this blog post, actually.
And he started out as a tale larger than life.
The History of the Hodag
It all began in 1893 when Wisconsin resident Eugene Shepard stumbled into a logging camp and began to tell the tale of the ferocious monster he had witnessed. He rallied the lumberjacks, and they went off into the woods to capture the hodag with dynamite. Above is the widely published photo of the group with their prize.
The story goes that Shepard found a second hodag just a few years later, and this one he took home with him. The beast was kept pent up in his barn where it had visitors aplenty. When curious onlookers would show up, Shepard would take them to the barn and take a step inside to prepare the Hodag for visitors. Behind closed doors, however, visitors would hear a ruckus, Shepard would return in ripped clothing looking worse for the ware and he would tell them the hodag was too angry to accept visitors.
The story of the hodag was known so widely that Shepard began to visit county fairs across the state. Soon, however, The Smithsonian sent an employee to investigate the story, and Shepard had to admit it was all just a prank.
The Lasting Impact of The Hodag
But, like so many legends, the story of the Hodag lives on to this very day. The town of Rhinelander calls the Hodag its own. It is their high school mascot, and the chamber of commerce has a fiberglass sculpture of the Hodag in front of their offices. (And a charming hodag-themed gift shop inside, if I do say so…)
Many businesses around town are named after the Hodag. If you drive around, you’ll see small hodags made by artists around town, and the city even boasts an annual country music festival named the Hodag Country Festival.
Learn more about the Hodag at explorerhinelander.com.
Where to see The Hodag
If you’re ever in Wisconsin, I encourage you to stop by Rhinelander and see the Hodag! He is located at:
450 W. Kemp St.
Rhinelander, WI 54501
I thought I’d kick off our third summer of #TravelTuesday posts with something a little different – a legend I love! Now through the end of August, keep an eye on the blog. Every other Tuesday will feature a #TravelTuesday post from myself or one of the members of The Samhain Society. We are traveling to spooky locales all over the WORLD this year, and I can’t wait to share them all with you.
Until the next post, tell me…
What local legend in your part of the world would you take me to?
Share it in the comments – bonus points for a bit of the backstory, if you know it!
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