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Entertaining life story of a charming trickster

Midwest Bookreview - October 7, 2006

Now in a revised second edition with previously unpublished black-and-white historic photographs and new archival research, Long Live The Hodag: The Life And Legacy Of Eugene Simeon Shepard 1854-1923 by Kurt Kortenhof (teaches history at Saint Paul College) is the true life story of Wisconsin's great prankster, Eugene Shepard, perhaps best known for his legendary "capture of the Hodag" in 1896. Shepard spread his Hodag myth with tall tales, photographs, the aid of a skillfully carved and decorated wooden prop, and even exhibitions of the fake "Hodag" at county fairs and similar events. An appendix of three of Shepard's lengthy writings rounds out this entertaining life story of a charming trickster and the Rhinelander area legend he created.

Long Live the Hodag!

Reading Between the Lines - by Kris Adams Wendt - May 14, 2006

Readers of this column will recall that Carolyn Arnold’s latest picture book, The Terrible Hodag and the Animal Catchers, featuring lumberjack Olee (spelling not a typo) Swenson and an embarrassing creature resembling a holicowgatordag, gathered a poor review in this space back in March. That’s why it’s a relief to know that a second edition of Long Live the Hodag! The Life and Legacy of Eugene Simeon Shepard by Kurt Kortenhof is now available after ten years. The revised and updated volume highlights Shepard’s talents as a humorist and includes previously unpublished photographs, cartoons drawn by the trickster lumberjack, and new material from the Shepard family. Loyal fans of the one and only true hodag are invited to meet Kortenhof at the Rhinelander District Library on Monday, May 15. His program at 6:30 p.m. features a multi-media presentation including contemporary and historic photographs. The book will be available for sale and autograph. Kurt Kortenhof is an entertaining speaker who appreciates the hodag legend from a Rhinelander point of view. Raised in Sugar Camp, he currently teaches history at Saint Paul College in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is also a contributing editor for The History Channel Magazine and the author of Sugar Camp, 1891-1941; the Origin and Early History of a Northern Wisconsin Community. Kortenhof recognizes that the hodag has value as more than just another tall story. He writes, “In addition to comprising a known jokester’s most successful ploy, Rhinelander’s Hodag was, and continues to be, a very serious, preconceived promotional project. To be sure, the Hodag played an important role in making Rhinelander what it is today – the regional industrial center of Northern Wisconsin with an odd twist of local color.” Rhinelander’s favorite beastie has become imbedded in our community culture and is defended with fierce pride. Thank goodness there’s a native son interested in getting the hodag story right. Shepard’s beast was no holicowgatordag.

Those of us who lived through the terrible Michigan Hodag Crisis of 1984 know how important it is that an accurate account of the beast’s true legend and lore is maintained and promoted. That fiasco began when a misguided soul named Russell McKee, then editor of the Michigan Natural Resources Magazine, brazenly declared Michigan to be the original and only true home of the hodag. Nobody hijacks our hodag! To add insult to injury, McKee’s dopey, schmoo-like creature looked like the love child of an illicit union between a smiley face and a peanut with a treble clef tattooed on its tummy. McKee maintained that musical hodags came from the Orient by way of a hole in the earth located somewhere near Bruce Crossing and spent their time singing and playing harmonicas. No way! McKee even went so far as to send Rhinelander’s Mayor Joe Bloom a conch shell that was supposed to contain two humming hodags named Bill and Ezmay. All that any of us on the Rhinelander side of the barricades ever found in the shell was lint. The sniping continued from February to September 1984. We librarians had a good time because the media recognized us early on as an official source of hodag information. I even did a hilarious live interview by telephone for a Detroit radio station. Toward the end of August, Wisconsin Governor Tony Earl and Governor James Blanchard of Michigan discussed the hodag situation while fishing together in Minocqua and declared a truce.  Meanwhile, Russell McKee resigned his editorial position with the magazine that started the whole mess after an audit revealed he had violated Michigan state hiring practices. Associated Press articles about the controversy circulated across the United States through the end of September.  However, once deprived of their head cheerleader, the singing goobers crawled back into their hole and have thankfully not resurfaced.

Q-Mail: What exactly is a hodag?

Northwest Herald - by Joe Grace - December 10, 2006

QUESTION: I recently read about someone who enjoyed hunting hodag. What exactly is a hodag?

The tale of the hodag is anything but a pleasant bedtime story. This formidable beast lives in northern Wisconsin, just like other terrible creatures such as badgers and Green Bay Packers fans. It’s 7 feet long, has spikes along its back, two bull-like horns on its head, and a sharp-toothed smile built for something tougher than your average cheese, something more like, oh, I don’t know, human bones. And while it might not technically exist, it’s real to the residents of Rhinelander, Wis., the self-proclaimed “Home of the Hodag!” Just ask former Rhinelander resident Kurt Kortenhof, author of “Long Live the Hodag” – a book that, despite having a second edition, ranked No. 4,541,317 on “Theoretically, [the hodag] is the reborn spirit of a lumber oxen after he’s been dead seven years and the carcass has been burned,” the 35-year-old father of two said. And according to the “discoverer” of the hodag, Eugene Simeon Shepard, the beast smelled like a “combination of buzzard meat and skunk perfume.” Eau de hodag. Mmmm. Kortenhof’s 7-year-old daughter also knows that a hodag is nothing to trifle with. “My daughter is scared and she has categorically disallowed any bedtime stories dealing with the hodag,” Kortenhof said. “Regardless of how nice I try to make him.”

It is a wonderful tale of the GREAT NORTHWOODS!!! Review - November 22, 1998 (for first edition)

It it a fun loving, re-creation of growing up in the great area of Rhinelander. Regardless where you go in the State of Wisconsin, every one knows about the HODAG. It is the only one in the entire World, let alone in the State of WISCONSIN. LONG LIVE THE HODAG!!!!!!

An entertaining overview of the tragic Hodag creator Review - April 19, 1998 (for first edition)

A careful and caring overview of the tragic life and times of the man who started the Hodag myth. Very entertaining, but a little dry at times. Vivid proof that truth is stranger (and more fun) than fiction. A must-read for any student of Wisconsin history.