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Hodag! by Paisley Kirkpatrick

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Since we've lived in Tomahawk, Wisconsin, we've been seeing statues of the Hodag everywhere in Rhinelander, a town 18 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 statues. She blurted out everything one would want to know about Hodag. She'd seen the history of this mysterious beast shown on one of the Mysteries of the Museum show.

In 1893, newspapers reported the discovery of a Hodag. 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. The reports were instigated by well-known Wisconsin land surveyor, timber cruiser, andpranksterEugene Shepard. He rounded up a group of local people to capture the animal.The group reported they needed dynamite ho kill the horrid beast.

A photograph of the remains of the charred beast was released to the media. It was the fiercest, strangest, most frightening monster ever to set razor sharp claws on the earth. It became extinct after its main food source, all white bulldogs, became scarce in the area

Shepard claimed to have captured another Hodag in 1896, and this one was captured alive. According to Shepard's reports, he and several bear wrestlers placed chloroform on the end of a long pole, which they worked into the cave of the creature where it was overcome.

He displayed this Hodag at the first Oneida County fair. Thousands of people came to see the beast at the fair or at Shepard's display in a shanty at his house. Having connected wires to it, Shepard would occasionally move the creature, which would typically send the already-skittish viewers fleeing the display.

As newspapers locally, statewide, and then nationally began picking up the story of the apparently remarkable, living creature, 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 spelled the end, as Shepard was then forced to admit that the hodag was a hoax.


There are statues all around the area of Rhinelander. The beast is painted in bright combinations of color, but always with a fierce glare. The water tower has Hodag printed on it. Vacationers can buy t-shirts with Hodag on it. I found one at the YMCA and was able to get a photo of it to share. During fair time the butcher shop even had hodag sausages - quite hot and spicy so we decided not to take a risk. My favorite sighting came this Christmas season. Someone cut Santa and his sleigh out of wood 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 the person with the great imagination.

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