According to a newspaper report from the late 1800s, which detailed the capture of a live Hodag, the beast has “the head of a frog, the grinning face of a giant elephant [sans the trunk—ED; also, aren’t all elephants “giants”, unless you’re talking about a baby or a pygmy?], thick short legs set off by huge claws, the back of a dinosaur, and a long tail with spears at the end” and is “the fiercest, strangest, most frightening monster ever to set razor sharp claws on the earth!” There are those who claim that Rhinelander native Eugene Shepard, a “timber cruiser” and surveyor, was just fooling around when he claimed to have captured a Hodag in 1896, and that the specimen he displayed at the next County Fair (and later at his home) was just a gaffe. Either it was made of wood and had wires connected to it that would make it move, or it was a large dog dressed in cowhide and made up to look like a monster, depending on who you ask. But what was it *really*?
In reality, it was a gaffe. A gaffe that attracted the attention of P.T. Barnum, the Smithsonian Institute, and President Theodore Roosevelt, all of whom either wrote letters inquiring about the creature or, in the case of Barnum, made a trip to see it for himself. It was, then, a magnificent gaffe, the greatest kind of gaffe, one that overreaches its humble origins and takes on a life of its own. And the Hodag is still drawing people to Rhinelander, Wisconsin to this very day. It brought me into town, where I had a grand time visiting the Pioneer Park Historical Complex, learning about all things Hodag from the park supervisor, a cool guy named Kerry Bloedorn, and seeing some taxidermied Hodags in the flesh!
But does all that mean the Hodag is just a myth, albeit a clever one? Not so fast. Check out the next article in this series to learn about REAL Hodag encounters.