Exploring American Monsters: Wisconsin

Wisconsin, America’s Dairyland, is a state in the Upper Midwest bordered by Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and two of the Great Lakes, Superior and Michigan. It’s called America’s Dairyland for a reason. The state of Wisconsin produces more than 13.5 billion kilograms of milk per year, which is equivalent to the milk production of the United Kingdom. It also produces cheese, lots and lots of cheese; more than 1 billion kilograms per year. Fans of Wisconsin’s National Football League team the Green Bay Packers are affectionately called “cheeseheads.” In terms of size and population, Wisconsin hovers around the middle of the United States for both. It’s the 23rd largest state with the 20th largest population. The state is composed of plains, and hills covered with farms. There are forests, though, a lot of them; roughly 16 million acres that cover 46 percent of the state. Famous people from Wisconsin include inventor John Bardeen, the only person to win the Nobel Prize in Physics twice, magician Harry Houdini, pianist Liberace, musician Les Paul, who invented the solid body electric guitar, producer/actor/director Orson Welles, painter Georgia O’Keeffe, circus owners Charles and John Ringling, authors Laura Ingalls Wilder and Thornton Wilder, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and actors William Defoe, Chris Farley, and Spencer Tracy. And monsters. Lots and lots of monsters. Actually, probably more than its fair share.

Werewolves

Although werewolves in Wisconsin may seem out of place, or even a bit silly (go ahead. Say it three times and see if you don’t giggle), looking at it from a historical perspective it begins to make sense.

Some of the first Europeans to settle this lush state in the mid-1800s were Germans, and Germany has a long and deep tradition of these manlike wolfish beasts. Quick to follow the Germans to Wisconsin were Scandinavians, Belgians, the Dutch, Swiss and the Irish – most of these cultures tell tales of werewolves. When people settle in different parts of the world, they bring with them their language, traditions, stories, and their monsters. Of course, the American Indians of the area had similar monsters.

Werewolf sightings in Wisconsin were first catalogued in print in the 1930s.

A man driving in Jefferson County saw a man was digging in a field. The driver slowed to watch the man when the figure stood to its full height, and stared at him. It was not a man. The driver claimed the man-like creature was covered in hair, and looked like a cross between a dog and an ape. The driver got a good enough look at the monster to see that its hands were shaped like human hands.

Similar stories of a man-wolf dot Wisconsin’s history. In 1964, another driver, Dennis Fewless, saw the same monster run across the road in front of his car. The encounter was in the same county. The creature was tall, covered in brown hair, and ran like a man, but its head looked like a dog’s. The wolfman sprinted in front of Fewless’ car, leapt a fence, and vanished into a field.

The monster continued to stalk rural Wisconsin throughout the 1970s, but it wasn’t until 1989 that the sightings escalated, this time near the town of Elkhorn, just south of Jefferson County.

Much like the previous encounters, Lorianne Endrizzi saw a dark figure on the side of the road she mistook for a person. When she drove closer she saw it was a tall, hairy monster with the face of a dog, with prominent fangs and glowing yellow eyes. A local dairy farmer also saw the creature on his property that year, as did another driver on nearby Bray Road, and an 11-year-old girl who saw a dog walking on two legs across her family’s property near that road.

Similar sightings continued through the 1990s, but it wasn’t until 1999 that the beast made national news.

On Halloween night when Doristine Gipson, 18, drove down Bray Road when she hit something with her car. When she got out to check, she saw that she’d hit a werewolf – and it was not happy. The huge, shaggy creature bolted toward her. She dove back into her car, and sped away. The werewolf jumped onto the vehicle, but could not hold on. Gipson reported the incident to the police, who then told local reporter Linda Godfrey who covered the incident. Godfrey has gone on to write books about the werewolves of the Upper Midwest, including “The Beast of Bray Road: Tailing Wisconsin’s Werewolf.”

 

Lake Koshkonong Monster

Jefferson County is apparently a monstrous place. It’s not only home to numerous werewolf sightings, it’s also home to the Lake Koshkonong monster.

Although this 10,595-acre lake is a natural body of water, the Indianford Dam on Rock River turned it into one of the state’s larger lakes. Even so, it’s only seven feet deep at its deepest. Fishermen come to the lake for bass, northern pike, catfish and walleye, but sometimes they come for the monster.

According to a November 1887 article in the Watertown Republican, duck hunters A. I. Sherman, of Fort Atkinson, and Charles Bartlett of Milwaukee, rowed in a bay in the northeastern part of the lake when they saw an enormous serpent swimming about 150 feet from their boat. The creature stuck its head above water on a neck at least ten feet long and eight inches thick. The two estimated the beast to be at least forty feet long.

This is where the story gets weird. The duck hunters, instead of rowing as fast as they could away from a large, unknown animal, they rowed forward trying to kill it. Before they could reach it, the Lake Koshkonong Monster slipped under the water and disappeared.

 

Jenny

Geneva Lake, a 7.5-mile long, 144-feet deep body of water in southeastern Wisconsin, is home to a monster similar to the Lake Koshkonong Monster. Locals call her Jenny.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the first recorded sighting of Jenny was in July 1892, when two boys fishing saw an enormous snake. It was 100 feet long, and three-feet thick. The creature burst from the water thirty yards away from the boys, and started swimming toward them. The creature then turned back toward the deeper parts of the lake, and dove under.

People from the town of Lake Geneva, which is on the shores of Geneva Lake, reported seeing Jenny numerous times by 1902, although sightings are now rare.

Creatures similar to Jenny and the Lake Koshkonong Monster have been reported in Devil’s Lake, Pewaukee Lake, Lake Mendota, and Rock Lake.

 

Hogsback Road.

Goatman of Hogsback Road

Hogsback Road is a short stretch of pavement near Hubertus, Wisconsin. According to locals, the drive is dangerous, but maybe not so dangerous as Hogsback Road’s most famous resident – the Goatman.

Witnesses have described this creature as a satyr from Greek mythology – a horned man with the lower body of a goat. This entity has appeared in the folklore of this area of rural Wisconsin since the late 1800s. However, unlike lake monsters, there are recent sightings, such as a 2003 encounter when two men saw what looked like a two-legged goat walk across the road in front of their car. The creature was the size of a man with large, muscular legs and tiny arms.

 

Mineral Point Vampire

A lanky, white-faced apparition dressed in a cape terrorized the area around Mineral Point, Wisconsin, from 1981 to 2008. Although the vampire never attacked anyone, his appearance made the locals nervous.

The first sighting of the vampire occurred when police were called to Graceland Cemetery in Mineral Point to investigate a trespassing. Officers found a dark figure lurking amongst the tombstones and attempted to approach it. This figure evaded them, easily climbed a fence and escaped. This was the first of many cemetery encounters between police and the “vampire.”

In March 2008, police received numerous calls about a man in a tree. When they arrived at the tree, the Mineral Point vampire leapt to the ground, easily climbed a ten-foot-high concrete wall, and disappeared into the night.

The last encounter was in July 2008, when a young couple went fishing at night on a dock at Ludden Lake. In the silence of the night they caught the sound of something climbing below them on the planks where they sat. When the boyfriend stood and stomped on the dock, something splashed into the water. Nervous, he began to shine his flashlight toward the splashing to find a tall, thin man with a white face and black hair dressed in a cape climbing onto the dock. The young man threw his flashlight at the figure, and the couple rushed to their car. As they sped away, the girlfriend witnessed the Mineral Point vampire running toward them.

 

Trolls and gnomes

The Devil’s Punch Bowl near Menomonie, Wisconsin, was carved by glaciers from sandstone during the last ice age, and boasts beautiful rock formations. It is home to strange balls of light, and ghosts, but the most interesting are the legends of gnomes and trolls.

According to legend, shy, but vengeful trolls live in hiding in the Punch Bowl. Visitors who joke about the trolls often walk back to their vehicle to find it won’t start. However, those who leave Skittles for the trolls have no problem starting their vehicles, and heading home.

Only one sighting of a gnome, and unconfirmed at that, tells of a little man with a white beard, and pointed hat who scampered up the side of a rock, and disappeared into a tunnel.

Although eyewitnesses to these creatures are scarce, trolls and gnomes are worth a mention.

 

Hodag

In the 1890s, folks around the town of Rhinelander began talking about a beast the size of a bear with the head and face of a grinning frog, stumpy legs, and the tail of a stegosaurus.

The monster was first reported by Eugene Shepard, a local surveyor who liked to pull pranks. He organized a party armed with dynamite, and hunted the beast, which apparently only ate white bulldogs. He claimed they killed it, producing a picture of scorched remains.

A few years after, Shepard said he’d captured a Hodag using bear wrestlers and chloroform. He then displayed it at county fairs throughout Wisconsin. As attention toward the Hodag grew nationally, Shepard admitted the animal was a hoax.

 

Bigfoot

With forty-six per cent of the state covered in forestland, Wisconsin is a perfect home for Bigfoot. Here’s one encounter from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

James Hughes, a newspaper delivery driver in Clark County, Wisconsin, encountered an eight-foot-tall human-like creature covered in dark gray hair. The monster stepped across the road in front of Hughes. Oddly, it was carrying a goat.

“It was walking on two legs, and it was mighty, mighty big,” Hughes told the Journal-Sentinel. “You better believe I was scared.”

But he still got a good look at the goat-carrying creature. It was at least 500 pounds, had an ape-like face, and honey-colored spots on its fur. One look was all he needed. Hughes sped away from the scene, and reported his sighting to the Clark County Sheriff’s Department.

 

Up next: Wyoming.