Tea’s Weird Week: Hodag vs Snallygaster
It’s so thrilling to have the podcast back on the air for a “season 2.” We kicked things off this season with an epic showdown between two local legend contenders. As I say in the intro to this podcast episode, we love folklore and legends at Tea’s Weird Week. There’s so many small towns across the country that have some story about a monster lurking in the forest, creeping a country lane, or swimming in the local pond. For many of these towns, their monster story is their main claim to fame– consider, for example, Mothman– who has made Point Pleasant, West Virginia a tourist destination.
This episode talks about the Hodag, monster celebrity of Rhinelander, Wisconsin, and the Snallygaster of Fredrick County, Maryland.
I’m very well familiar with the Hodag. My parents took me to Rhinelander during a trip “Up North,” just so I could see photos and a sculpture of the monster in the Lumberjack Museum and they got me a t-shirt and a plush Hodag. People are still make a pilgrimage to Rhinelander to get souvenirs, as I found when I talked to Ben Brunell, proprietor of the Hodag Store (thehodagstore.com) for this episode. But what the heck is a Hodag? Well, I wrote an entry on it for my book Wisconsin Legends & Lore (2020, History Press) and here’s an excerpt:
Perhaps the most uniquely Wisconsin monster in this list is the Hodag, a fearsome animal with giant horns, fangs, and a row of spines down its back. It’s frightening and yet also a sign of civic pride in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, where the Hodag story originates.
The Hodag, I hate to spoil so quickly, was a hoax. It was created by one of Wisconsin history’s most colorful characters, Eugene Shepard, who worked in the timber industry as a land surveyor and later in life ran a resort near Rhinelander. He hung around lumberjack camps, and as you might recall from the last chapter, claims to be the originator of Paul Bunyan folklore. He was an early circulator of the tall tales, but taking his word on anything would be hard to do as he was also a well known practical joker.
Among his many pranks were fooling people at a resort he ran into believing he had a unique, rare breed of scented moss on the property (which was regular moss doused in perfume) and a fake muskie he had rigged up to leap out of the water to entice guests into taking fishing trips. He liked to enlist a friend to pinch people’s legs on public transportation while he imitated a growling dog to fool them into thinking they had been bitten. To be in Shepard’s vicinity was to be a practical joke victim in waiting.
Shepard’s hoax with the longest-lasting impact began in 1893 when he claimed he had encountered a Hodag, a beast based on lumberjack folklore. A Hodag, lumberjacks believed, was the ghost of a disgruntled ox. In 1896, Shepard claimed he had captured the beast (by putting chloroform at the end of a long pole and knocking the monster unconscious). Several other details about the life of the Hodag were embellished and reported by Shepard and others—the Hodag preferred to dine on white bulldogs, for example, or that its young were delivered from a set of 13 eggs.
While scrolling through Instagram, I discovered the American Snallygaster Museum and was delighted by the story. The Snallygaster is a weird bird/octopus/dragon hybrid– depictions have varied slightly, some show it with one eye or three eyes, tentacles on it’s mouth or body, etc. The legend came with German immigrants who settled in Frederick County, Maryland. It’s not a story as well known as the Hodag or Mothman, but Sarah Cooper, creator of the American Snallygaster Museum (snallygastermuseum.com) is hoping to change that. She’s assembled art and other artifacts that’s she’s been displaying as a pop-up, but is working on a permanent location.
The Hodag Store and the American Snallygaster Museum– two spots to add to your monster road trip!
Tea’s Weird Week, S2, Ep02: Hodag vs Snallygaster: In addition to talking to Ben Brunell (Hodag Store) and Sarah Cooper (American Snallygaster Museum), me and Heidi had a lot of catching up to do on weird news– Miss Information is back with a trivia question (answer to win fabulous prizes), and we close the episode out with a beautiful track from Mere of Light, “Moon from a Well.” Additional music: “Mecha vs Titan” by Kaijusonic/T.Reed/ Tao X Productions and “Demon Business” by Android138.
Listen here: Tea’s Weird Week S2 ep01: Hodag vs Snallygaster (podbean.com)
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