What lurks deep in the dark woods of Wisconsin? What kind of creatures are swimming in the state’s many lakes? Who are the lost souls that have been haunting residents decade after decade?
Here at WhooNEW, we did a little research to find out about the legendary monsters who’ve made Wisconsin home. Our state certainly has its fair share of run-ins with Sasquatch and UFO sightings. However, there are also some unique stories of unexplained beasts and more.
Many of the following stories come out of a book called Wisconsin Lore by Robert E. Gard and L.G. Sorden. About 50 years ago, they sat down and listened tales told by the people of Wisconsin. These unusual anecdotes may have been lost if it weren’t for the authors. The book includes the adventures of lumberjacks, legends from Wisconsin’s Indian tribes and even incredible stories about the circus.
Of course, for every tale of heroism and inspiration there are extraordinary accounts of horror and the bizarre. How true are they? We leave that decision up to you…
1. The Hodag of Rhinelander
The Hodag is without a doubt the most well-known Wisconsin monster.
This story is often discredited due to the fact that the strange animal was discovered, and eventually captured, by Eugene Shepard – a man with a reputation for being a jokester.
Shepard was walking in the woods just after sunset in the early 1890s when a foul smell and noises in the brush caught his attention. He came face to face with a monstrosity that stared back at him with glowing eyes. The odor seemed to be the beast’s breath.
Here is what he apparently saw according to the authors of Wisconsin Lore…
“The animal’s back resembled that of a dinosaur, and his tail, which extended to an enormous length, had a spear-like end….The legs were short and massive and the claws were thick and curved denoting great strength…From the broad muscular mouth, sharp, glistening white teeth protruded.”
- Find out More About the Hodag
Shepard would go on to gather together a group of locals who formed a search party that allegedly killed a Hodag. And Hodags don’t die easily. The group claimed they had to use dynamite to take it out.
This photo of the brave men surrounding the Hodag’s charred remains was published in a local newspaper.
A couple of years later, Shepard captured a live Hodag. He then took it on tour with him to various county fairs. Visitors would run screaming from the tent after seeing the animal suddenly move inside its cage.
Word of the beast began spreading across the country, and the Smithsonian Institute announced it planned to investigate. This is when Shepard finally admitted it was all an elaborate prank.
Hoax or not, the Hodag has become a permanent symbol of Rhinelander. You’ll find a larger-than-life fiberglass sculpture of the beast in the city, which also hosts a yearly country music fest known as the Hodag Festival.
Even Scooby-Doo and those meddling kids have had run-ins withe a Hodag as well as Eugene Shepard himself. Check out the video clip.
2. The Lake Winnebago Water Monster
Next time you’re camping at High Cliff State park or hanging on to an inner-tube behind a boat on Lake Winnebago, think about this story.
When the Winnebago Tribe had its villages on the shores of the lake, they would tell stories of a very large fish – which most people assume was a sturgeon. In Wisconsin, we’ve seen some pretty big sturgeon, like the one shown here.
But this one was monstrous, and it had an appetite to match.
The legend tells of how the freakish fish would wait along the channel into the Fox River snatching up deer, elk and even moose who stopped at the edge of the water to drink. It would eat them “horns, hide, hoofs and all.” None of the Winnebago would cross the channel or swim near it for fear of this monster in the lake.
Years went by, and then one day, some men spotted a dark form floating in the water. It was the monster.
They hauled it to shore and found the cause of death to be antlers that had pierced the fish’s belly. It seems the monster’s prey had its revenge in the end.
Many believe descendants of the Lake Winnebago Water Monster still live in the lake.
3. The Beast of Bray Road
A lot of people around Elkhorn, Wisconsin – that’s who. Yes, Wisconsin has it’s very own werewolf legend, and it’s one of the most well-documented in North America.
The Beast of Bray Road was first reported in 1949. It is typically described as a large wolf or doglike creature with human features. For instance, this beast often stands up on its hind legs and has been spotted eating with its front paws turned upward like human palms.
It’s unclear whether this is a standard werewolf or some other monster breed of dog. No one has ever seen it transforming. There are theories calling it a prehistoric wolf known as a Waheela.
The foremost authority on The Beast of Bray Road is journalist Linda Godfrey. She was assigned to report on the wolfman for the newspaper Walworth County Week. At first she was skeptical, but there were so many similar accounts from different people, that she found it hard not to believe them.
- Visit Linda Godfrey’s website
Godfrey would go on to make a career out of tracking and documenting the Beast of Bray Road. She was interviewed in this segment on the monster, which aired on The Sean Hannity Show. And if it was on Hannity – it’s gotta be true!
4. The Haunchies of Muskego
Imagine being brutally beaten by a bunch of angry little people before being hung from a tree and set on fire.
Doesn’t sound like much fun, does it? But according to Linda Godfrey’s book Monsters of Wisconsin, that’s what happened to at least one man who dared to venture down Mystic Road in Muskego. The image of his body was burned on the side of a barn.
As the story goes, Mystic Road was home to an ornery colony of people with dwarfism who may have been former circus performers.
They were known as Haunchies. Some called them goblins.
They lived in miniature buildings, and could never be caught by authorities because they also constructed elaborate underground tunnels beneath “Haunchyville” to help them get away.
- Read more at Muskego,Patch.com
Those who remember say an averaged size man in a black truck would fire a warning shot with a shotgun if you were getting too close. If you went further, the so-called Haunchies would attack you with little baseball bats.
Some say the Haunchies would cut you off at the knees so you were the same size as them.
5. The Devil’s Lake Monster
With a name like Devil’s Lake – there has to be something creepy in the water, right?
The Ho-Chunk Tribe actually called the body of water “Da-wa-kah-char-gra” or Spirit Lake because they said voices of the dead could be heard during celebrations.
According to the site Unknown Explorers, it was actually the Nakota Tribe that told missionaries about a year with a massive drought when Devil’s Lake started drying up.
One day, members of the Nakota noticed a strange-looking fish stranded on a sandbar. It was humongous and had a long neck with a small head. The creature struggled in the mud for a few days before eventually wiggling its way back into the water.
The Nakota’s description have caused some to wonder if the creature could have been a plesiosaur (pictured above) – a prehistoric marine lizard – of which fossils have been found in North America. This theory is strengthened by the fact that Devil’s Lake was formed by a melting glacier after the last Ice Age. Is it possible that a frozen plesiosaur survived and came back to life after thawing in the lake?
Another Native American legend tells of a chief who took warriors out on a midnight hunting expedition on Devil’s Lake only to be attacked by something like a freshwater octopus. None of the men survived. Each year after that, the tribe (believed to be Sioux) would throw animals into the lake to appease the beast.
6. Bozho – The Sea Serpent in Lake Mendota
Yet another strange story from a Wisconsin lake centers around a monster known as Bozho. This creature, however, seems to have a sense of humor.
One of the most frequently told stories centers around a boyfriend and girlfriend. The two UW students were sunbathing on Lake Mendota with their feet dangling in the water.
The girl repeatedly felt something tickling the soles of her feet and assumed it was her boyfriend. But then she noticed he was asleep.
She peered into the water and saw the head of a huge snake looking back at her with what almost looked like a mischievous grin on its face. The young lady quickly woke up her date and the two took off running.
According to the Wisconsin State Journal, numerous students reported seeing the creature during the 1940s. It was given the nickname Bozho after an Ojibwe folk hero – Winnebozho.
Apparently, Bozho liked to play tricks – overturning canoes and startling swimmers – but never harming any human.
Like the Devil’s Lake Monster, some have thought Bozho might be another type of plesiosaur known as a pliosaur. Notice the tell-tale grin in the illustration above.
7. The Ridgeway Ghost
The Ridgeway Ghost appeared as many different things to many different people over the course of many years – including pigs, dogs, balls of fire and a man with a whip.
However, nearly every story takes place along one apparently very haunted stretch of road in the town of Dodgeville in Iowa County.
Quite a few of those stories are known pranks – such as a man covering himself in flour and frightening neighbors, or another man who scared off a friend by putting a white rooster on his head. Coincidentally, there were also many taverns in Dodgeville back in the day.
As the authors of Wisconsin Lore put it…
“He has been seen by many persons, some of whom were sober.”
It is believed this phantom was the manifestation of the spirits of two teenage brothers who were murdered by other unruly youngsters. One was thrown in a fire, and the other boy froze to death while trying to leave town and escape his tormenters.
One of the most interesting stories about the Ridgeway Ghost in Wisconsin Lore is about a spooky poker game. Three men sat down at a table in a local bar to play cards. There was a fourth, empty chair as well. After several hands, a lot of money was on the table.
Suddenly a ghost hand began dealing from the empty chair and a man appeared sitting in it.
“The stranger began to play and the cards performed all sorts of peculiar tricks as he cast them down. When a player tried to pick up a card it would instantly leave his grasp and fly around the room.”
It didn’t take long before the three men had enough. They scrambled out of the place, leaving their cash on the table and the bartender cowering behind the bar drinking up his stock in fear. The money was never seen again.
Bonus – The Paulding Light, Watersmeet, Michigan
The Paulding Light (sometimes referred to as the Dog Meadow Light) can be seen across a valley facing north towards Paulding, Michigan. But you actually view it from a location in the town of Watersmeet. The light is believed to be a sort of will-o’-the-wisp, which is an atmospheric ghost that looks like a flickering lamp.
Many say the Paulding Light is the lantern of a railroad brakeman who was killed trying to stop an oncoming train from colliding with railway cars. Skeptics say it is only the headlights of cars from a nearby highway. Some students from Michigan Tech claim they’re sure its headlights, and say they replicated the light themselves. (Read the story)
However, some have told of the light getting very close the them, dancing along the power lines that cross the valley.
An extensive 2010 investigation that was part of the SyFy network show Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files could not reproduce or explain the phenomenon.
I checked out the Paulding Light for myself back in 2004. A group of friends and I were actually trying to produce a documentary about it and other Upper Michigan oddities – like the Ontonagon Triangle.
Check out a clip from our incomplete documentary below. I had to go to my Myspace account to find it.
Let’s Hear Your Stories!
Have anything to add to these tales of Wisconsin monsters?
Ever had any close encounters of your own?
Do you know of any other scary stories from Wisconsin? Leave us a comment and tell us all about it!