Home of the Hodag
The fearsome Hodag, terror of the pine forests of northern Wisconsin, was first seen by a man named Eugene Shepard in 1893, in the woods outside of Rhinelander. Supposedly a resurrection of the restless spirit of dead lumber oxen, the Hodag reported by Shepard was a 200-pound, seven-foot-long, lizard-like beast covered with horns.
He tried to capture it, failed, and then blew it up with dynamite. His second attempt in 1896, with a backup crew of lumberjacks, was more successful. He cornered a Hodag in its den and knocked it out with a chloroform sponge on a pole.
Oddly enough, this was just before the opening of the Oneida County Fair -- in which the captured Hodag proved to be the most popular attraction, with Shepard offering glimpses of the creature for a dime a peek (from the far end of a dimly-lit tent). After the fair Shepard quit his job as timber cruiser, took up one as a real-estate broker, and spent the rest of his life promoting Rhinelander and the Hodag that had made it famous.
Flying in the face of conventional wisdom, people were drawn to Rhinelander because it had a monster.
The town continues to recognize its unusual appeal, sparing no opportunity to hype the fanged creature. Hodag banners flutter from street poles downtown. At least six statues and billboards of Hodags can be spotted along the main roads: one with cowboy boots and a guitar outside of a gas station on southbound Hwy 17; one on a pedestal in front of a real estate agency on Business US 8; and a 2-D Hodag across the street atop Judy's Hodag Bar.
The Rhinelander Chamber of Commerce, still at the forefront of monster marketing, has unveiled its own copyrighted and trademarked Hodag statue on the front lawn of its building.
For a glimpse at less-evolved Hodags of yore, drive down the street to the Rhinelander Logging Museum. It sells a selection of Hodag souvenirs (including photo postcards of the Hodag capture of 1896) and keeps two prime Hodags on display: a life-size replica in a glass case from 1951, and a smaller, furry Hodag, up near the rafters, which shows both the promise and limitation of modern monster taxidermy.