The United States of America founders built this great nation on the principles of faith freedom and laws for the common good, a government of the people, by the people, for the people, based the rights endowed by the Creator, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Noble ideas that have kept us strong, even through civil war, economic depressions, congressional squabbles, enemy attack…you name it..in the almost 240 years since the Declaration of Independence was signed.

As a new nation we had little history of noble deeds, heroes, heroines, cultural backdrops to fill in the gaps between us so that we a nation of immigrants could become the United States.

And we did it in part through our embellishments of historical figures, folk lore and legends…think of it: Annie Oakley, John Henry, Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Johnny Appleseed, Molly Brown, real folks immortalized in story and song, embellished, but still prominent in establishing the USA. And think of the fictional characters, Paul Bunyan, Molly Pitcher, and don’t forget Casey at the Bat.

And like all cultures, we needed counterpoints for our adventuresome heroes as if clearing the land, dealing with the very real dangers imposed by indigenous wild life and human life who opposed our frontiersman spirit were not enough to deal with. We certainly did not always handle that very well, so legends of bigger than life MONSTERS began to appear in our campfire tales.

Thus came Bigfoot or Sasquatch, Mothman, the Jersey Devil, Kipsy, the Jackalope, and the HODAG.

Let’s examine this Hodag creature!

imageThe Hodag came to my attention only recently as I was acquainting myself with Rhinelander, Wisconsin. A number of folks here at Walden Shores hail from Rhinelander, so I thought I would learn a little more about this small community in northern Wisconsin. You cannot read about Rhinelander (pop. near 8000) with its all-season outdoor activities. lakes, restaurants, without reading about the Hodag.

Who, What is the Hodag? In 1893, according to the story, land surveyor Eugene Shepard said he came upon a fearsome beast. While walking through the woods, he caught the whiff of a terrible smell and then he saw it, a creature with horns all the way down its back, a cluster of needle sharp points at the end of the tail, long fangs, talons, and claws. Shepard later said he captured the hodag and even had the picture to prove it.

Now think for a moment about all those photos of Bigfoot, shadowy, distant, indiscernible globs that you have seen on those TV documentaries?? where the narrator always speaks in whispered tones. Imagine the kind of shot Shepard had to display, but display he did until years later he fessed up that it was just a prank.

Good Gracious! Do you think the people of Rhinelander tarred and feathered Shepard, tore down all the signs about the Hodag, proclaimed the whole story as false. Heck no! They practically gave Shepard the keys to the city. Rhinelander had its Hodag.

The Hodag is the mascot at the local high school.

They organize sighting treks, a little like scouting the banks here in Florida for gators, or watching for that advertised Panther Crossing to produce a Panther actually crossing the road.

imageIn fact on their tourism site, http://www.explorerhinelander.com
the Hodag is the number 5 reason to visit Rhinelander:

“5. The Hodag – Some might say the Hodag has a face only a mother could love, but we disagree. The Hodag is an enchanting beast, a mysterious woodland creature purported to steal golf balls and snatch record-breaking fish right off your line. But perhaps he’s just misunderstood. Next time you see him in the Rhinelander Area, go ahead and give him a big hug.”

That is why I have adapted the late great Jim Croce’s hit, “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim.” (1972) to celebrate this remarkable beast and the Folks of Rhinelander, who love him:

Backyard got it’s gators
Northwest got Bigfoot
Rhinelander Folks got their Hodag
He’s a fire-breathin’ son of a gun
Yeah, he’s scaly green as monsters come
but he’s stronger than a country hoss
And when Rhinelander folks get together at night
You know they all call HoDAG BOSS,

And they say

You don’t tug on Superman’s cape
You don’t speed into a fog
You don’t pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger
And you don’t mess with Rhinelander’s Hodag

Try to get that tune out of your head.

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