The Story of Us: The Hodag - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

The Story of Us: The Hodag

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RHINELANDER (WAOW) - In a brand new feature called "The Story of Us" Newsline 9 is looking at what makes a community special.

In Rhinelander, it's the legend of a fearsome beast living in the woods.

That monster still thrives in that city today.

"Does it have the allure and notoriety of the Sasquatch, Bigfoot or the Yeti?" said Jerry Shidell, Rhinelander resident and Hodag enthusiast. "No, not quite, but we're going to get there."

As the story goes, back in 1893, Rhinelander land surveyor Eugene Shepard said he came upon a fearsome beast.

"He was walking through the woods, this stench assaulted his nostrils and then he came upon this creature with horns all the way down its back and a fist full of needle sharp points at the end of its tail and long fangs and talons and claws that could rip the belly from the biggest bear," said Shidell.

Shepard later said he captured the hodag and even had the picture to prove it.

"So he showed it at county fairs, he showed it at his house, but never so you could really get a good look at it," said Shidell. "For years, he kept this going, but finally he had to fess up that it was a prank."

But even after the truth came out, the people of Rhinelander took to the furry green monster.

"There's nothing unique out there like the Hodag," said Shidell. "It exists only in Rhinelander and only in this area and it's ours and we're very possessive of it."

The Hodag has sprung out of the pages of history books to street corners, business names and store shelves, becoming a tradition deeply woven into the community.

"I really enjoy it, it makes my days go by really fast," said Diane Pilat, owner of Best Embroideries in Rhinelander.

Pilat's store specializes in Hodag apparel.

She spends hours every day embroidering the green monster.

"There are just all kinds of things that people come up with," said Pilat. "He's fun. I like to experiment with him. I like to get different artists and try to do a different version of a Hodag."

A way for Hodag lovers to wear their pride on their sleeve or jersey.

"Our kids really take a lot of pride into it," said Brian Paulson, the Rhinelander High School Athletic Director.

The Hodag is the mascot of Rhinelander School District.

"All the community takes pride in it makes our kids believe growing up as Hodags, they will always be Hodags and when they come back as alumni they really take a lot of pride in it," said Paulson.

The beast watches hockey games from its ice cave at the arena, striking fear into the team's opponents.

"When our mascot comes out for the little kids and the fans everyone wants to take their picture with him," said Paulson. "It's a very unique mascot we have here in Rhinelander."

But the Hodag's appeal is beginning to extend beyond the city limits.

Last year, Scooby-Doo and the gang encountered the fearsome beast in "The Hodag of Horror" episode.

He continues to tread places he's never been before.

Last summer, Bontrager, a Trek Bicycles company, released a fat bike tire named after the Hodag.

"I like to think they were thinking something representative of Wisconsin and unique and that's pretty much the Hodag, with a lot of claws for traction I guess," said Mitch Mode, the owner of Mel's Trading Post, a Rhinelander sporting goods store that carries the tire.

The tire is now sold worldwide.

"A lot of people looking at the tire are going to be 'What in the world is a hodag?' and they'll probably go online and find out," said Mode. "I think it's really exciting. It's really fun."

The future of the beast with the long fangs and the devilish grin holds no bounds.

"People play on it," said Shidell. "It promotes you and it builds some civic pride."

But one thing about the Hodag is sure to remain the same.

"It's Rhinelander pure and simple," said Shidell.

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