Nearly every culture has a mythical creature. Austria’s got its Krampus, the Chinese their dragons.
Wisconsin is in on the fun, too: meet the Hodag.
But what is a Hodag, you ask? Rooted in Rhinelander, in Wisconsin’s North Woods—about 250 miles north of downtown Milwaukee, a nearly four-hour drive—this fictitious critter is linked to the state’s folklore. And, as the tales go, you should be very afraid. (Look at those fangs!) With fine, green hair and standing about 30 inches tall, a Hodag subsists on a diet of water snakes, oxen, mud turtles and white bulldogs (you can see why Northern Wisconsin is prime real estate for this population). It is also a montage of commonly known animals, with a frog’s head, elephant’s face, dinosaur-like back and tail, and stout legs. Be warned: if you do get to Rhinelander you’re going to see as many Hodags as there are green-and-gold items in Green Bay. It’s that prevalent.
7 Things You Might Not Know About Hodags:
1: The Hodag’s discovery dates back to 1893, just 45 years after Wisconsin became a state in 1848. A Rhinelander newspaper reported that a beast (dubbed a Hodag) had been captured—complete with photos. (It was later determined to be a hoax.)
2: Greeting visitors to the Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce is the oh-so-welcoming fiberglass, larger-than-life Hodag. Many people arrive just to see the Hodag, which has spurred tourism in this little town (pop. 7,497).
3: If you can’t journey north, then simply order a “Hodag sandwich” at Koppa’s Fulbeli Deli on the East Side. The design-it-yourself breakfast sandwich was added to the menu by the deli’s first owner and features choices of meat, cheese, bread and other fixings.
4: Mythical lumberjack Paul Bunyan adored the Hodag so much that he wove it into many of his stories.
5: The Hodag is Rhinelander High School’s mascot for sporting and team-spirit events.
6: Since 1978, Rhinelander has hosted the “Hodag Country Festival.” This year’s dates are July 13-16. This is not just some rural fest with beer and corn-on-the-cob; country-music stars like Garth Brooks and Toby Keith have performed here (and it costs way less than a show at the American Family Insurance Amphitheater). This year’s line-up includes The Oak Ridge Boys and Locash.
7: J.K. Rowling—author of the Harry Potter series—included the Hodag in her spin-off book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them written under the pseudonym Newt Scamander. According to Scamander, “The Hodag is horned, with red, glowing eyes and long fangs, and the size of a large dog.”