Author Topic: The Terrible Hodag (now extinct)  (Read 2227 times)

raycastile

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The Terrible Hodag (now extinct)
« on: February 06, 2012, 07:07:01 AM »
When I was a gloomy little monster kid, brooding my way through the 1970s like Vincent Malloy (no wait, that’s how I am now – I was rambunctious in the ‘70s), I would spend a lot of time in the school library, poring over every kookball monster book on the shelves.  One of my favorite authors was Daniel Cohen, who specialized in nonfiction children’s books about the paranormal.  Cohen helped introduce a generation to the more obscure corners of cryptozoology.  Leonard Nimoy and Peter Graves played up international superstars like Bigfoot and Nessie, but it was Cohen who filled us in on regional bogeys like Goatman and the Jersey Devil.

My favorite Daniel Cohen book was “Monsters, Giants and Little Men from Mars” from 1975.  I checked it out at least three times a year.  I didn’t realize I could have just asked my mom and dad to order me a copy from the local bookstore.  I thought books in the library came from some magic source that mortals could not touch.

“Monsters, Giants and Little Men from Mars” was subtitled “An Unnatural History of the Americas,” but it dealt mostly with crypto critters from the United States.  It mixed real mysteries with patently fictitious local legends and tall tales, giving them an aura of equal legitimacy.  I just assumed everything in the book was real.  If it weren’t, why would it be in a book?

One creature had a particularly strong impact on me – the Hodag.

Cohen gave him a scant few sentences on one page, but that was enough to tickle my curiosity.  Especially coupled with this image:



That picture stoked my imagination.  Was that thing real?  It had to be.  There it was in the picture!  Of course it was real.  Otherwise, there would be no picture.

What a cute little ugly monster.  I wanted my own Hodag!

So I made one.  Using kneaded erasers, I sculpted a Hodag figurine, coating it with gloss black Testors paint.  It looked just like the picture in Cohen’s book.  My Hodag terrorized the Adventure People for years, chasing them around the dark forests of my backyard.

I would love to show you a photo of my little homemade Hodag, but I can’t find him.  I dug through several boxes, everywhere I thought he might be, but came up short.  Maybe he bit the dust years ago.  Maybe my mom threw him away.  Maybe the Adventure People finally vanquished him when I wasn’t looking.  Or maybe he just ran away.

I’ll look around some more, and if I find him, I’ll post him.  In the meantime, I have a number of other interesting things to show you.

The Hodag is more than just a funny picture in a 1970s children’s book.  He is the most famous thing to ever come out of Rhinelander, Wisconsin.  He is the city’s mascot, its identity.  It’s not cryptozoology.  It’s pure folklore, a myth created by the town prankster 100 years ago.  Best of all for nuts like me, there is plenty of Hodag swag to collect.

I’ve been on a Hodag kick lately.  Lots of little packages from Rhinelander showing up on my doorstep.  So keep watching this thread to see more of this guy:


« Last Edit: February 06, 2012, 07:11:21 AM by raycastile »
Raymond Castile

frankenstein73

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Re: The Terrible Hodag (now extinct)
« Reply #1 on: February 06, 2012, 07:49:25 AM »
That's cool! I think I my try to make my very own lifesize Hodag this weekend. How big are they rumored to be Ray?
Mirabile dictu,don't you agree?

raycastile

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Re: The Terrible Hodag (now extinct)
« Reply #2 on: February 06, 2012, 02:59:06 PM »
That's cool! I think I my try to make my very own lifesize Hodag this weekend. How big are they rumored to be Ray?



They are supposed to be about 7 feet long.


I will post much more on the Hodag later.  In the meantime, here are some websites that provide a good synopsis of Hodag history:

From Wisconsin history publisher Hodag Press
http://www.hodagpress.com/about.htm

Local PBS documentary on the Hodag
http://wpt2.org/npa/IW823hodaghistory.cfm


Raymond Castile

Scatter

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Re: The Terrible Hodag (now extinct)
« Reply #3 on: February 06, 2012, 04:27:02 PM »
SACRILEGE!!! Claiming the Hodag to be the product of some twisted prankster. THE HODAG LIVES!!!
We're all here because we're not all there.
http://www.distinctivedummies.net/index.html

Hepcat

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Re: The Terrible Hodag (now extinct)
« Reply #4 on: February 06, 2012, 04:35:58 PM »
My favorite Daniel Cohen book was “Monsters, Giants and Little Men from Mars” from 1975.

“Monsters, Giants and Little Men from Mars” was subtitled “An Unnatural History of the Americas,” but it dealt mostly with crypto critters from the United States.  It mixed real mysteries with patently fictitious local legends and tall tales, giving them an aura of equal legitimacy.

One creature had a particularly strong impact on me –

My co-favourites are Champ from Lake Champlain and Ogopogo from Lake Okanagan. Quite simply they devour more people per year than any of the others.

 ;)
Collecting! It's what I do!

Unknown Primate

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Re: The Terrible Hodag (now extinct)
« Reply #5 on: February 06, 2012, 05:04:52 PM »
Great stuff, Ray!  And I'm with Scatter - Absence of evidence does not mean evidence of absence!
" Perhaps he dimly wonders why, there is no other such as I. "

Gasport

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Re: The Terrible Hodag (now extinct)
« Reply #6 on: February 06, 2012, 10:45:08 PM »
Ray,  PLEEEZE don't give up in your search for your homemade Hodag! He's probably just hiding. [something he's obviously very good at]

raycastile

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Re: The Terrible Hodag (now extinct)
« Reply #7 on: February 06, 2012, 11:41:16 PM »
OK, so what is this Hodag thing.


It is a ferocious creature roughly the size of an alligator, only more bulky, with a bulldog-like head, bison-like horns and dinosaur-like spines along its back and tail.  It lives in the woods of Rhinelander, Wisconsin, a small town that has become known as the "Home of the Hodag."

Like many regional monsters, the Hodag is a chimera, or a mythical creature compiled from the scariest parts of other fierce animals.  In the St. Louis area, we have the Piasa of Alton, Ill.  It's a flying, dragon-like creature.  Like the Hodag, the Piasa is the city's mascot.  There are businesses, schools and sports teams named after the Piasa. 

The same is true for the Hodag in Rhinelander.  But I think Rhinelander has done a much better job of marketing their beastie.  The Rhinelander business community has consistently pushed the Hodag legend for the last 100 years, carefully branding it and cultivating it as a tourist attraction.

Here is the giant Hodag outside the Rhinelander Chamber of Commerce:



The city and the monster are inseparable.  Besides being a mascot for businesses, schools and sports teams, the Hodag lends its name to events like the town's annual country music festival, marathons and snowmobile races.  There are Hodag statues all over town.  The Rhinelander gift shop has a nice selection of modern Hodag souvenirs.

(All this info comes from what I've seen online.  I've never visited Rhinelander.)

The Rhinelander Tourism Committee produced a series of slick videos in which actors pretend to be eyewitnesses describing their personal "Hodag sightings." 

http://www.hodagsightings.com/videos.php

I think you'd have to visit Loch Ness to find a community that sells its local monster as hard as Rhinelander does.

As with Loch Ness, people visit Rhinelander just to "see" the Hodag.  But unlike Loch Ness, there is no pretense that the Hodag is "real."  No one in Rhinelander seriously suggests there is or ever was such a creature.  The fact that people know it's not real, and yet they still visit the city to "see" the beast, is a testament to how well the city has marketed this character.  Heck, I want to visit Rhinelander!  Why?  Because it's the home of the Hodag.  I know there's no real monster, but I still want to go there.  That's some pretty good marketing.
Raymond Castile

raycastile

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Re: The Terrible Hodag (now extinct)
« Reply #8 on: February 07, 2012, 12:19:24 AM »
Like the Cardiff Giant, the Hodag began as a late 19th Century hoax.

Eugene Simeon Shepard, a local businessman and practical joker, reported seeing a Hodag in 1893.  His story was covered in the Rhinelander newspaper, the New North, which published this drawing by Shepard:




Shepard supposedly organized a hunting party to capture the beast.  Armed with rifles and poison squirt guns (seriously), a group of townspeople and lumberjacks used hunting dogs to locate and trap the Hodag.  The monster proved to be too ferocious to capture alive.  They finally resorted to throwing dynamite at the creature, burning it to a crisp.  Poor Hodag!

Luckily, there was more than one Hodag out there.  Indeed, there was a viable breeding population lurking in the rugged wilderness.

In 1896, Shepard and a team of lumberjacks again tried to capture a live Hodag.  This time...success!  They surprised the monster in its den and used chloroform to knock it out. 

This famous photo, taken in 1899, depicts the event:



(Strange how Shepard managed in 1899 to take a photo of an event that happened in 1896, but them Hodags is squirrely that way.)

The men transported the snoozing Hodag back to town, where they created an enclosure for it at the Rhinelander fairgrounds.  With Oneida County's first fair about to open, Shepard announced he would publicly display the live Hodag at the event.

The Hodag exhibit proved to be a smashing success.  Crowds filled the dark tent to get a glimpse of the Hodag.  They were not allowed to get too close, but they could see the creature moving and hear it growling.  The Hodag toured county fairs throughout the region, including the Wisconsin State Fair.  Finishing its run on the fair circuit, the Hodag continued to draw thousands of spectators as it was displayed in a shed at Shepard's home in Rhinelander.  The Hodag put the city on the map.

In time, Shepard revealed the Hodag was a hoax.  He had made up the stories of its sighting, hunt and capture.  The creature displayed at festivals and in Shepard's shed was an elaborate puppet controlled by hidden puppeteers and voiced by Shepard's growling son.  The dim lighting in the tent and shed helped conceal the trickery.

Instead of the revelation killing interest in the Hodag, it became more popular than ever, celebrated as a famous hoax.

But it was more than a practical joke.  Shepard had been working with local businessmen to find a way to save the city's economy after the collapse of the local lumber industry.  The Hodag was intended as a marketing ploy from Day One.  And it worked beyond anyone's wildest dreams.  A century later, the Hodag is still doing its job, helping to keep the city's economy chugging along.

There is some debate as to whether the Hodag was a legitimate lumberjack legend prior to Shepard's ruse.  I've read that he based his hoax on an existing legend, and I've read that he made it up from scratch.  I think the Hodag was part of lumberjack folklore prior to Shepard, but it wasn't much more than a "snipe" until Shepard turned it into a more elaborate legend.

In the 1920s, Rhinelander began issuing postcards featuring the monster.  These helped market the creature to the rest of the world.  Most of the older Hodag images you see today originally came from these postcards.

I have a pretty nifty collection of these postcards, along with other vintage Hodag memorabilia.  I will be posting pictures of these items shortly.

Raymond Castile

raycastile

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Re: The Terrible Hodag (now extinct)
« Reply #9 on: February 07, 2012, 12:27:15 AM »
The Rhinelander Logging Museum has a collection of Hodag statues and taxidermy Hodags.

http://www.wisconsinosity.com/Oneida/hodags.htm
Raymond Castile

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Re: The Terrible Hodag (now extinct)
« Reply #10 on: February 07, 2012, 01:34:29 AM »
Fascinating stuff. This past Christmas, I learned about the Eastern European tradition of the Krampus. Now, it's the Hodag. What other strange, frightening creatures of myth and folklore await our discovery? Vampires that don't sparkle or wear skintight neoprene? Werewolves that don't look like escapees from World of Warcraft? Sharks that don't snatch airplanes from the sky on Syfy?
« Last Edit: February 07, 2012, 01:38:47 AM by Count_Zirock »
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Re: The Terrible Hodag (now extinct)
« Reply #11 on: February 07, 2012, 02:16:56 AM »
Fascinating stuff. This past Christmas, I learned about the Eastern European tradition of the Krampus. Now, it's the Hodag. What other strange, frightening creatures of myth and folklore await our discovery? Vampires that don't sparkle or wear skintight neoprene? Werewolves that don't look like escapees from World of Warcraft? Sharks that don't snatch airplanes from the sky on Syfy?


Well, there is Phil. Lord of Insufficient Light and ruler of Heck.


Or the not elusive enough Haggis.



Or even this horrifying creature:




raycastile

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Re: The Terrible Hodag (now extinct)
« Reply #12 on: February 07, 2012, 03:10:00 AM »
Fascinating stuff. This past Christmas, I learned about the Eastern European tradition of the Krampus. Now, it's the Hodag. What other strange, frightening creatures of myth and folklore await our discovery? Vampires that don't sparkle or wear skintight neoprene? Werewolves that don't look like escapees from World of Warcraft? Sharks that don't snatch airplanes from the sky on Syfy?



I would love to have a vintage Krampus doll like the ones pictured on those turn-of-the-century postcards.  Google searches have turned up nothing.  I see modern dolls, but not vintage ones.  But they obviously made them, as multiple postcards show similar dolls.  I imagine antique dealers in Europe would know where to get them, but I don't have any contacts like that.  I want a big, fluffy Krampus doll with his tongue sticking out.
Raymond Castile

raycastile

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Re: The Terrible Hodag (now extinct)
« Reply #13 on: February 07, 2012, 03:30:01 AM »
OK, now for the collectibles.  Everything I'm going to show you is vintage.  I'll start with the postcards.  If that sounds boring, be patient.  There's some cool stuff coming later on.  But the cards first.

Here is my favorite Hodag postcard:



It was printed by the North Wisconsin Post Card Co. of Rhinelander and processed on Aug. 27, 1949.

This is the text from the card back:

“On the first night of the arrival of lumber camp novices, an Indian from the camp would go out in a nearby swamp and make the most blood-curdling and terrifying noises.  The tenderfeet were told that this was the “Hodag” wandering in his native wilds.  Many a tale was spun by the loggers about this mythical animal and a great number were taken in by the hoax.  This post card is the logger’s conception of the fearful animal.”
Raymond Castile

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Re: The Terrible Hodag (now extinct)
« Reply #14 on: February 07, 2012, 03:37:36 AM »
This is the most iconic Hodag postcard – The Capture of the Hodag.

I have two versions:





The top one seems to be the older of the two.  Neither have been mailed, but the top one indicates the postage would be one cent.  This postcard was originally issued in the 1920s.  If you were going to own just one Hodag card, this would be the one, the classic.
Raymond Castile

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Re: The Terrible Hodag (now extinct)
« Reply #14 on: February 07, 2012, 03:37:36 AM »
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