Hodag? More Like Hoaxdag!
Hey Bookworms! April fools day is fast approaching us and, while I’m not a fan of the holiday myself, I thought this was a stellar time to talk about a famous folklore prank turned hoax turned country music hoedown.
Our story starts way back in 1893 with a guy named Eugene Shepard. Eugene lived in Rhinelander, Wisconsin and worked as a land surveyor and timber cruiser. I have no idea what a timber cruiser does and I’m loath to do research on anything other than Nirvana or Guy Fieri, so I’m choosing to assume that at least part of his job was hitting on trees. Maybe it’s true and maybe it’s not but thinking about it makes me real happy. Eugene was quite a prankster. Of course he was! He flirted with lumber professionally. You gotta be a whimsical dude to pull that off.
One day he decided that he was going to pull an epic prank on the whole dang town. So he got himself all disheveled and hauled himself into town where he told a story about encountering a horrifying beast in the forest. It had a head like a frog but also horns and this chubby grinning face and a body like a giant lizard covered with spikes all the way down it’s back. And long claws! What an absurd sounding animal.
Here’s what gets me folks, people kinda believed him. I want to pause and take a moment to shout out the audacity, the gosh darned temerity of this goof, for being able to tell this story with a straight face. Hats off, buddy. People were powerful excited and they asked him all kinds of questions. Eugene even came up with a great name for his imaginary monster. It was a Hodag! People kept on asking about the Hodag for months and a couple of years later Eugene decided it was high time for people to meet one. Of course, the Hodag was entirely made up so that presented a few problems, but he got everything ironed out eventually.
He pieced together the Hodag’s “body” with taxidermied animal parts like some kinda lumber lovin’ Dr. Frankenstein and he had a few friends come with him on an expedition where they could pretend to find it. They hauled their Hodag back down the mountain and people went cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs! He spun them a ridiculous tale about how they had tracked the beast to a cave and, once it settled down for a snoozle, they stuck a long stick with a chloroform soaked rag on the end into the cave and put that sucker out like a light. This sounds like something the Scooby Doo gang would do to capture creepy Old Man Whaley who was pretending to haunt a bowling alley. The people of Rhinelander were apparently hella gullible because they loved the whole story.
They loved it so much that Eugene started charging a small fee to have a look at his Hodag (phrasing!). He made so much money he was able to quit his day job and devote all of his energy to Hodag related enterprises. He was rolling hard for a while, but then some folks from the Smithsonian went and ruined everything. They had heard of his famous Hodag and wanted to come examine the body. Zoinks!
Eugene had no choice but to come clean about the hinky Hodag happenings. Obviously people stopped paying to come see it and he had to go back to tree smooching and land surveying to pay the bills. Nobody could really be mad at him though. The whole adventure had been really fun after all. It was so much fun that the town decided to keep on celebrating the Hodag. It’s the official critter of Rhinelander to this day. Heck, they even have a Hodag country music festival every year.
When you get right down to it, there isn’t a moral to this story guys. I guess if I had to pick a message it’s that, if any of you are the prank loving kind, I hope that one day you pull a prank as successful as Eugene’s. I believe there’s a Hodag inside each and every one of you just waiting to be invented and released into the world. Get out there this April fools day and make it happen y’all! Don’t forget me when you hit the big time!