Wisconsin’s most fearsome folk monster been in Harry Potter and tangled with the Scooby Gang, and now it’s here. Today is the start of the Hodag Country Festival in Rhinelander, Wisconsin.

If your first thought hearing that is, “what the heck is a Hodag?” I can explain.

It started with a guy called Gene Shepard (a different guy than the Jean Shepard who wrote “A Christmas Story”). This Gene Shepard worked in northern Wisconsin’s lumber industry, and he was known for his pranks and practical jokes.

The biggest of these started in 1893, when he claimed he’d caught a wild hodag in the woods. It was sort of like an oxen mixed with the wild things from the Maurice Sendak book. It had horns on its head, spikes on its back, giant teeth and terrifying, bulging eyes.

He said he caught it with dynamite, and so all he could show people were what he claimed were charred remains. Later, he caught another one alive, which was actually a kind of puppet controlled by strings.

Shepard’s Hodags became a tourist draw for Rhinelander – funny how the town with the monster got more visitors – and even after investigators from the Smithsonian got Shepard to admit the whole thing was a hoax, the community fell in love with its new attraction, and Rhinelander became the home of the Hodag.

Not only does the town have a festival, but there are multiple Hodags on display in town. It’s also the official town mascot, and the team name for Rhinelander High School is the Rhinelander Hodags.

Today is a big day in the community of Joensuu, Finland: the first-ever World Heavy Metal… Knitting Championships! Imagine an air guitar contest, only as the participants rock out, they hold and use knitting needles. The organizers say Finland has one of the highest rates of membership in metal bands per capita, and a lot of crafters! And the winner gets the most metal prize of all time, quote “a hotel weekend in authentic Finnish scenery.”

Knitter of puppets, I’m pulling your strings, Twisting your mind and stitching your dreams…

The Legend Of The Hodag (Wisconsin Life)

World Heavy Metal Knitting Championships 

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Hodag statue photo by Marc Buehler via Flickr/Creative Commons