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.
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.