USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Wisconsin’
Legends
Narrative

Beast of Bray Road – Legend

Piece: 

“Okay, uhm aight so first thing is the beast of Bray road, sooo it takes place in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, on bray road, and they say that the road is cursed and haunted, and that a strange wolf like creature roams the area, and if you go there at night with ill intent, you’ll see him and it will try to attack you but it only shows itself to bad people. The first sighting was in the 1930’s but there have also been sightings reported in the 1980’s and 1990’s”

 

Background information: The informant is a close friend of mine from back home. (Wisconsin) He lives in the town adjacent to Elkhorn, Wisconsin, so he is very familiar with the area.

Context: This legend is usually shared during bonfires. Being from Elkhorn myself, people like to bring this up in order to frighten those who are extremely scared of local beasts. The informant shared that he’s heard of this legend multiple times as a kid.

Background Information: I was browsing my phone last semester when I stumbled upon a facebook post that a friend from back home had shared. I clicked on the article and found out that there was a new Netflix documentary on the Beast of Bray road. A Netflix documentary. For those not familiar with Elkhorn, it’s a super small town in the middle of nowhere. A city folk would chuckle at its population size of only 9,000. I didn’t know much about Bray road until I decided to look it up on google maps. Turns out, Bray road is 3 minutes away from where I live. I’ve actually driven on bray road before, not knowing of the “beast” that resided in it. I never saw the beast, but then again, I’ve only been on the road during the daytime.

Legends
Narrative
Protection

“Bozho” the lake monster – Tale

Piece:Uhm think about this, my dad told me this story about this one monster and I’ll tell you what the name of it is, so lake Mendota, its called Bozho, so its like a serpentine snake like creature, its like the monster of lake Mendota, my dad said that in all lakes of Wisconsin. Delavan lake, Lake Geneva, whatever, theres a monster that has access to all the lakes,  so if you swim past the designated area like the buoys and shit. It can get you, its too shallow near the shore so it cant swim there, he told me this so that I would stay within the buoys.

Background information:The informant is a close friend of mine from back home. (Wisconsin) He lives in the town adjacent to Elkhorn, Wisconsin, so he is very familiar with the area.

Context: The informant first heard this tale as a kid. His dad used it to scare him from swimming outside the buoys. The informant remembers it because he lives on the lake, so he always has a reminder.

Personal Analysis: I’ve never heard of this lake monster, but I can definitely see why it was used to prevent kids from swimming past the buoys. What scared me from swimming in the lake as a kid was a short story a person had told me. A man had said that if you swim out past the piers, the seaweed wraps itself around your legs and drowns you. Although it’s not a sea monster, seeing the sea weed sway with the current certainly personified it enough to scare me.

 

Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

St. Nick’s Day

Informant is a theatre student at USC who was raised in Wisconsin and comes from 65% German heritage. 

St Nick’s Day is kind of a tradition that it isn’t anywhere else. Just because we’re so so German in roots. Everyone does it a little differently, but I know a few people who do it just like we do.

What is St. Nick’s Day?

It’s initially a German tradition. St. Nicholas, or Santa, whatever would – ‘cause Christmas is actually the birth of Christ. So St Nick would actually come around the 6th of December. And he would leave presents in the kids’ stockings. That’s kinda how all that really started. But how we do it, my family, is you leave your stocking – you leave your note for Christmas in your stocking, and Santa – or St. Nick – will come by and he’ll take the note out of your stocking and he’ll leave presents in your stockings. On the 6th of December. And then he has your list, for the rest of Christmas. Most other people around the US will mail their notes to Santa, which – I did not know that was a thing for the longest time. I was so shocked when I found out that people actually mailed their lists to Santa. I was just like “How does he actually sift through all of that? How does he know where it’s all coming from? At least with us he picked it up straight from the house and he knew where it was.” Childhood logic. And then I had a German teacher who would also celebrate it with us, and we would leave our little dance shoes on our desks at school, and she would put a clementine, which is kind of like a tradition – like a fruit, fruit in stockings is a tradition. And then she’d leave a couple little chocolates or something. Cute, fun little things. That one I know is initially a German tradition – ‘cause they also have Krampus, who’s hilarious. But yeah.

With St. Nick’s Day, it’s not just your family – it’s people in the area.

Its not just us. I’m not sure if it’s the whole area, but anyone with enough German roots knows what it is. Or at least has an idea about it. They may not actually practice it, but they know it.

[The people who learned about it through school were] anybody who wasn’t German enough. There were a few people who were like “What is happening?” But for the most part they all accepted it and moved on or already knew about it. I know there were at least two other kids who were super German, like one whose father was actually in Germany and the other whose father had immigrated from Germany and they definitely knew what it was.

It’s not just our family that does it. Everybody practices it a little bit differently.

What are some other versions?

Some people he just puts things in their stockings and moves on, I think my mom came up with the list part. I think that was all her. Everything else – like the leaving the little bit of toys in the stocking, that is the German tradition. Because the story of St. Nick, is like – he basically threw money in this guy’s window so his daughters would get married. That was essentially the story of St. Nick. And then somehow he became a saint. And now he goes around giving gifts to kids on the 6th of December. And apparently Christmas. I don’t know how that one came around.
Informant described this pleasantly and excitedly. It is a holiday and tradition I was completely unaware of. I had heard of St. Nick, but didn’t know that he had a day to himself many days before Christmas.
Legends
Narrative

Madison Sword Murder

My informant related to me a story from her hometown in Madison, Wisconsin about a man in a gang of some sort who was bothering his neighbor. The neighbor killed the gang member with an ornamental sword and left his body on a playground near the informant’s house. The informant never saw any kind of official report on it, but remembers everyone at school talking about this “sword guy.”

This story speaks to a fascination with murder, crime, and dark happenings in settings once thought innocent. I feel like I hear a lot of stories of someone utilizing a katana that was meant to be ornamental in a more practical fashion, but the notion of a skewered corpse left on a playground is a macabre little twist on the idea.

Folk Beliefs

The Hodag

In western Wisconsin lives the Hodag, a creature of folk legend native to Stephen’s Point that the informant described as their version of Bigfoot, but more evocative of a mongoose-like creature. It lives in the woods, and people frequently report sightings.

The informant claims most people don’t truly believe in the Hodag, treating it more as a tongue-in-cheek part of the culture. I suspect folk proliferation of the creature thrives largely due to the way the informant told me it bolsters the local tourism industry, with the Hodag plastered all over merchandise and used to entice outsiders to give the town a closer look and, by proxy, help out their business. Informant seemed dismissive of the local superstition, but still amused by it, as most Wisconsin natives probably are.

A bit of independent research revealed the Hodag is actually most closely associated with Rhinelander, Wisconsin, where it was “discovered.” That the informant didn’t know exactly where the creature is most popular despite living in Wisconsin indicates that general awareness of the creature greatly diminishes the farther out of Rhinelander one travels. I suspect it started out as some sort of hoax and proliferated from there, with locals becoming attached to the first accounts of the creature’s existence.

Folk Beliefs

The Beast of Bray Road

Interview with informant:

“Okay: Beast of Bray Road. It’s like, I think it’s more in the UP of Wisconsin, I don’t think it’s as far south as me, but like, it’s basically like a werewolf story in which like if you go down Bray Road at midnight or whatever and certain conditions are met, like I think it has to be in like October, November, like on a misty night or whatever and if you go down Bray Road, and if you flash your headlights three times then there’s like a wolf thing that stands on the side of the road. Like sort of one of those ghost stories. Like combine ghost stories with a regular werewolf myth and, you know, that like many people have seen it and taken sketches or whatever, like it stands like a man but it has the body of a wolf. So there’s Bray Road. I don’t know if it’s ever attacked people or if you just see it as you go by and go ‘Oh my God, there’s a wolf. We’re going to die.'”

Any number of ways this folk creature could have come to be. Perhaps there was a wolf once, or a frightening-looking man, or just someone thinking they’d seen either of those things or some combination of the two. Story gets spread around, people start daring each other to look for it, the rule of three gets thrown in there and presto: Bray Road has its very own Beast. Most people probably don’t take it very seriously, but some do, and the rest have no problem sharing their knowledge of it with each other.

Annotation: Airing on Animal Planet, the faux-documentary horror series Lost Tapes features found footage-style accounts of people encountering cryptozoological creatures. The penultimate episode of the show that aired in November of 2010, a militia group encounters with the Beast of Bray Road.

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