An accurate, 1-page story of the Hodag, relating its Star Lake origin.
- Bookwood Historical Collection, Star Lake
The singularly ugly beast pictured above is no less that Rhinelnader's official mascot.
Legend has it that on the first night of the arrival of lumber camp novices, an Indian from the camp would go out in a nearby swamp and make the most blood-curdling and terrifying noises. The tenderfeet were told that this was the Hodag wandering in the native wilds. Many a tale was spun by the loggers about the mythical animal and a great many were taken in by the hoax.
The scruffy, behorned animal whose name is associated with everything in Rhinelander from the annual country music festival, a weekly shopper, a park and a water ski show to a muskie challenge, and a high school team did not actually original in Rhinelander. Shocking, but true. The Hodag’s original humble home was a little further north in a secluded cave on Ballard Lake in Star Lake.
It all began in the late 1800's when Gene Shepard, a timber cruiser for lumber companies purchased the Ferncroft Inn, a popular early vacation spot on Ballard lake. A known prankster, he had lumberjacks fashion the original Hodag from a log, a calf skin and cattle horns. He chained the creature in a dim cave dug into a bank at the end of the Inn and delighted in terrifying guests with its very presence. He claimed he himself led a party of fearless loggers who captured the monster in a cave, putting him to sleep with a chloroform-soaked sponge tied to the end of a 30-foot bamboo pole.
The “creature” was shown at the Oneida County Fair and sometimes taken to the winter home of the Shepard’s in Rhinelander which most likely accounts for the misconception that it was a native “Rhinelandian”. So the truth is out, the Hodag is from Star Lake. But its legend is kept alive and well today in Rhinelander which is probably the only place you’ll ever see one. The local Logging Museum features a cage containing a black Hodag, supposedly a genuine replica of the original beast, and small Hodags can be purchased in the Museum’s souvenir shop to perpetuate its memory.