Three Legendary Monsters of Wisconsin
A hoax, a scam, and the things that nightmares are made of.
Wisconsin has a well earned reputation for weirdness. It ranges from cheesehead hats at Green Bay Packer games to truly horrific ( the story behind Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho was based on a person and event in Wisconsin ). I’ve wanted to uncover this story for years but felt I needed one more monster to round out the tale. This fall, I finally found it.
I’ll give you varying details of their whereabouts, maybe as a warning, maybe to leave you a bit of fun should you wish to track these monsters down yourself. It’s a quest that could be completed in one day – if you start early enough to travel the miles. I’d suggest not doing that and taking a bit of time. There is lots to see and enjoy besides monsters in Wisconsin and two of these beasts are in areas that have many other attractions close by.
Perhaps, we should start our quest.
Our first monster is an import to Wisconsin. It is also the only one you would need to pay to see – and I suggest that you not make it the only thing you pay to see when you go. It is surrounded but much more impressive things.
The Giant of Cardiff was a scam from the start. It’s creator, George Hull, came up with a brilliant plan to get people to part with their money. He bought a block of stone, had a stonecutter shape it into the form of a giant in a secret warehouse, and then shipped it secretly to the Village of Cardiff and buried it. A year later, his cousin, who owned the farm where it was buried, hired two men to dig a well right where it was buried. He then sold ticket for people to see the giant.
Brilliant? Maybe. Till P.T. Barnum decided he wanted it for his show. After being refused, Barnum made his own copy and declared the original a fake. According to Wikipedia, David Hannum who headed the organization that then owned the giant said “There’s a sucker born every minute.” in regards to the authenticity of Barnum’s giant. A quote often mis-attributed to P.T. Barnum who is thought not to ever have regarded his customers in that way. In declaring Barnum’s giant a fake, a judge required Hannum to prove his was real and the whole scam fell apart.
While this story takes place for the most part in New York, what does it have to do with Wisconsin? I found a display featuring the Cardiff Giant in the elephant building at the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, WI. Is it P.T. Barnum’s original version? I don’t know – probably not. I am not sure it is even stone. However, since it is in Wisconsin, we know it has to be the real thing, right?
The Circus World Museum is worth a trip and the admisson. There is lots of history to see and the shows are good. If I were you, I would go to see the circus and not the giant (which was never worth the price of admission).
Anyone who has been to Rhinelander, WI has probably seen the legendary Hodag. It’s image is all over the city, from lampposts to school mascots. I’ve even owned a sweatshirt with one on it. It’s even in some Paul Bunyan stories.
The Hodag was first spotted in the late 1800’s by Eugene Shepard, a land surveyor. He took a group back to try and capture it. They ended supposedly killing it with dynamite. A photograph of the dead beast was shown.
As luck would have it, Shepard managed to capture a live Hodag just before the county fair for everyone to see. This hoax fell apart after serious scientific interest was known. Shepard, eventually became a real estate broker and spent much effort promoting Rhinelander, Wisconsin as well as the legendary Hodag.
The Hodag is a proud part of Rhinelander. It is however, blamed for everything from lost golf balls to that large fish that got away. It’s name is used all over Rhinelander including for the Hodag Country Music Festival. You’ll find it everywhere in Rhinelander. There is supposed to be a very good early specimen at the Logging Museum. If your a visitor, and looking for information, you might see the one I managed to catch with my camera.
Finally, the Stuff that Nightmares are Made From.
The Green Three Legged Monster of Monico Wisconsin
Of the monsters on this page, there is only one that I ever found frightening. I still remember the first time I saw it. The green 3-legged monster stood in stark contrast from the pink painted bar is stood in front of. It was huge. It had huge claws. As much as I wanted to look away, I had to keep looking, to make sure it was not following as we drove down the highway away from it. And, unlike the other two monsters, this one was not man made. It was real. It was ugly. Even the green color was an ugly color – or is it that it made me afraid of that particular shade of green?
You could not miss it. To me it became a landmark, signaling the last stretch of road to Rhinelander where my grandparents lived. It stood right at the top of the “T” where highways 8, 47, and 45 all meet going north in Monico, Wisconsin. On, of all places, Venus Lake. I kid you not.
A few years ago, I made a trip north and wanted to see it again. I found that the monster had moved! The pink bar was gone. It took me a while to find it. Surprising, since Monico, WI is not very big. I’ll let you do a bit of hunting yourself in the area if you wish to find it. I’ll just warn you to stay away from the lake if you are afraid of sea-monsters.
The beast has a name – Rhinelapus. It’s discoverer thought it looked like a cross between a rhinoceros, elephant, and octopus. Personally, of those three creatures, only an octopus really seems close. Something like the giant octopus or squid from 20000 Leagues Under the Sea. It’s a monster right from the start.
They say the Rhinelapus was a tree trunk or tree root pulled out of the water. They say it was originally painted yellow before it got the sickly green color. They have tried to camouflage it now with much more comfortable coloring. They have tried to imply it is safe by putting a pitiful chain fence around it. I don’t believe it.
I know. I know that fence does not contain that car sized demon. I know that when I hear a loud thump in the night that it is near. I know that when no one is looking it searches for prey to fend off it voracious appetite.
It is the stuff nightmares wish they could be.
So, as I publish this in October when so many idiots are looking for a scare, I suggest you take some time to hunt these beasts in Wisconsin. I’d suggest a day for the Circus World Museum and Baraboo, WI. The trees will be changing into their fall costumes and the countryside in the area is beautiful – especially this time of year. There are lots of things to do and see in the area and you can always check out Wisconsin Dells just a bit to the north.
Rhinelander will always be one of my favorite places to visit. Fishing during the summer, snowmobiling during winter are some of it’s biggest attractions (in addition to the Hodag ). Eagle River, Wisconsin is not too far north of Rhinelander and is also a favorite Wisconsin getaway.
But should you take a route to Rhinelander that goes through Monico, WI, beware and warn your children. The Rhinelapus comes to get little children in the night. It will forever haunt their dreams.
Google Map to Baraboo, Wisconsin
Google Map to Rhinelander, Wisconsin
Google Map to Monico, Wisconsin – If you dare: