A distressingly ugly animal. The knobbledy head wears a pair of prominent, bulging eyes and two heavy lateral horns something after the fashion of a male stag-beetle. The claws are stout and powerful, the tail carries a terminal hook, while a row of jagged, stegosaurian dorsal spines complete the picture. The smaller front teeth were formerly often used for umbrella handles. The Hodag is fully aware of his upsetting appearance, and is given to frequent fits of bitter weeping. I once had a handful of the extremely rare crystallized Hodag tears, but an acquisitive lady friend collected them, believing them to be fine amber. She had them strung into a neck-yoke—and then went and spilled a Tom Collins on herself. Of course the lemon juice dissolved them instantly. This fellow can’t endure being laughed at. When angry, he is fierce and dangerously aggressive. But a pair of lemons is ample protection against a whole herd.
In 1893 newspapers reported the discovery of a Hodag in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. 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 and prankster Eugene Shepard, who rounded up a group of local people to capture the animal. The group reported that they needed to use dynamite to kill the 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 Hodag 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 be traveling 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.
The Hodag became the official symbol of Rhinelander, Wisconsin, is the mascot ofRhinelander High School, and lends its name to numerous Rhinelander area businesses and organizations. The city of Rhinelander's web site calls Rhinelander "The Home of the Hodag." A larger-than-life fiberglass sculpture of the Hodag, created by a local artist, resides on the grounds of the Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce where it draws thousands of visitors each year. The Hodag also lends its name and image to the Hodag Country Festival, an annual country music festival that is one of Rhinelander's largest community events. It attracts over 70,000 people per year and features singers such asCharlie Daniels, Neal McCoy, Little Big Town, Kellie Pickler, and Reba McEntire. The University of Wisconsin Men's Ultimate team calls itself the Hodags.
This animal has been variously described by woodsmen from Wisconsin and Minnesota. Opinions differ greatly as to the appearance of the beast, some claiming it to be covered with horns and spines and having a maniacal disposition. The description which seems most authentic and from which the sketch of the animal has been made is as follows: size about that of a rhinoceros and somewhat resembling that animal in general makeup. The creature is slow in motion, deliberate, and, unlike the rhinoceros, very intelligent. Its hairless body is mottled, striped, and checked in a striking manner, suggestive of the origin of the patterns upon Mackinaw clothing, now used in the lumber woods. On the hodag's nose, instead of a horn there is a large spade-shaped bony growth, with peculiar phalanges, extending up in front of the eye, so that he can see only straight up. This probably accounts for the deliberate disposition of the animal, which wanders through the spruce woods looking for suitable food. About the only living creature which the hodag can catch is the porcupine ; indeed, it would appear that the porcupine is its natural food. Upon sighting one rolled up in the branches of a spruce the hodag begins to blink his eyes, lick his chops, and spade around the roots and over goes the tree, knocking the breath out of the porcupine in its fall. The hodag then straddles the fallen tree, front feet crush the helpless porcupine, and then deliberately swallows him head first. In the autumn the hodag strips the bark off a number of spruce or pine trees and covers himself all over with pitch. He then searches out a patch of hardwood timber where dead leaves lie thick on the ground. Here he rolls about until completely encased in a thick, warm mantle of leaves, in which condition he spends the winter.