The Hodag

Wander Woman

The Hodag

(Rhinelander, Wisconsin USA)

Hello, inquisitive people. Wander Woman here. Go ahead and pull that camp chair a little closer to the fire… it’s chilly tonight, so hold out your hands to warm them. There, that’s better – now I can see the firelight flickering on your face.  Here, I’ve saved you a couple of marshmallows and a long, straight stick to roast them on. Once they’re done to perfection, brown and crinkly on the outside and gooey in the center, we’ll slap them between graham crackers, add a slab of chocolate, and have s’mores. But first, let me tell you a quick little folk story from hereabouts. That rustling in the trees, out past where the firelight can reach? Aw, it’s nothing to worry about. Probably just the breeze through the underbrush…. probably. 

Now, where was I?

Ah yes, the Hodag! This creature is a relatively obscure piece of American folklore, but it sure does make for a fun campfire story. The Hodag is said to reside deep in the woods that surround the town of Rhinelander, Wisconsin. Back in the late 1800’s, there was a lot of logging going on in the area; hardy outdoorsmen living in the woods in logging camps, working as lumberjacks. They spent their days engaged in heavy physical labor, cutting and hauling the trees so they could be processed into timber and paper products. The first alleged sighting of the Hodag was reported in 1893. The person who claimed to have discovered the beast was a well-known local prankster. He was unable to provide a photograph or any physical evidence of the creature, but he did provide a description. 

According to the report, the Hodag was a fearsome beast with the wide-mouthed head of a frog, an enormous pair of tusks, short legs set wide apart and tipped with enormous sharp claws, a long back with a ridge of spikes down the spine like a dinosaur, and a club-like tail with more spikes at the end of it. It was said to be approximately 7’ (a little over 2 m) long. Other Hodag sightings followed, but in 1896 the whole story was revealed to be a hoax.

Nevertheless, a legend had been born!

The Hodag now serves as the official Rhinelander town mascot. There are Hodag statues, Hodag murals, Hodag merchandise, and even a Hodag newsletter to which you can subscribe! My personal favorite Hodag statue is the one outside the Rhinelander Chamber of Commerce building. For generations, the residents of this town have been fiercely loyal to this spiky green emblem of American folklore. If you ever find yourself in the dense woods of northern Wisconsin, keep a sharp eye out. You never know what might be lurking just past the treeline. 

Well, it’s been a pleasure sharing this crackling fire with you. Careful now, walking back to your tent. Better hold that lantern high. Wouldn’t want to surprise anything lurking in the shadows. But then again, it’s only a silly campfire story…. right?


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