Camping season is in full bloom. Many of us are packing up and heading into the great outdoors for a fun array of activities like swimming, biking, hiking, hammock napping, and… scary campfire stories. Whether you are a believer of these mythical accounts or not, it always makes for a spine-tingling good time when you round up your friends for a story around the fire. Today we are going to look at some of Wisconsin’s most interesting cryptid stories from around the state that you can use to add to your catalogue of spooky tales.
The Beast of Bray Road – Elkhorn
This is one of the two most well-known creatures on our list. The elusive aberration is said to roam the area of Bray Road located just outside of the town of Elkhorn. This werewolf cryptid has had several sightings in the 1990s with local newspapers reporting on the topic and even eventually gaining some national news attention as the most popular werewolf sighting in the U.S. Many are skeptical of its existence and others say that it has been confused as other folklore monsters such as a Wisconsin Bigfoot or a wendigo. If you are interested yourself then maybe you’ll have to take a trip over to Bray Road at night and see for yourself.
2. Lake Winnebago Water Monster – Lake Winnebago
Ever take a good look at a sturgeon before? They are some massive prehistoric fish that can be very intimidating up close and in person. This combination of its size and roots make for some creative folklore, such as inspiration for the Lake Winnebago Water Monster. Some say it’s a sea serpent. Others say it’s a colossal sturgeon. If there’s one thing we do know it’s that there is a lot of mystery shrouded in this beast, many fishermen continue to track the creature in hopes of catching it one day and proving its existence.
3. Thunderbirds – Northern Wisconsin
Thunderbirds have been described as massive avian raptors by the Menominee tribe. The native story tells of a great mountain that floats in the western sky where thunderbirds gather. These giant birds are also one of the more applauded monsters on this list according to their legends, which tell how the birds were the enemies of the great horned snakes. They would prevent the snakes from overrunning the earth and devouring mankind, according to Menominee folklore. Strong evidence shows these creatures no longer exist but fossil records say massive birds were likely residing in North America during the early periods of human history.
4. Devil’s Lake Monster – Baraboo
You don’t earn the name “Devil’s Lake” for no reason. Originally the lake was referred to as “M’de Wakan” or “Bad Spirit” Lake by the local Nakota Sioux for its deep, cold, and salt-infested waters. Native Americans would send out scouts and warriors onto the lake for hunting trips only to hear screams with other tribesmen telling how they saw the hunters dragged underneath into the brackish waters by octopus-like tentacles. Other sightings by the Nakota reported huge, Loch Ness-like fish monster in the lake as well. Festivals quickly became an annual tradition to appease these giant monsters and continue to be held to this day.
Photo by Bobby Light
5. Hodag – Rhinelander
Perhaps one of the most unique and famous beasts on this list is the Rhinelander Hodag. This creature is so famous among northern Wisconsinites that it even has its own monument and country music festival. It was first reported in 1893 to have had “the head of a frog, the grinning face of a giant elephant, thick short legs set off by huge claws, the back of a dinosaur, and a long tail with spears at the end”. Sadly, the creature was soon to be revealed as a hoax by the man who claimed to discover it but the legend of the Hodag still carries on to this day.
6. Rocky of Rock Lake – Lake Mills
Moving just east of Madison lies the community of Lake Mills and Rock Lake. The curious thing about Rock Lake is that if you dive down in certain parts of the lake you can find small pyramid like structures. These mounds were believed to have been created by the Aztalan natives when the lake’s water levels were much lower. Amongst these ruins and the vegetation, one can supposedly discover Rocky, a large serpentine reptile. Rocky is said to dwell amongst the deeper sections of the lake and reappear near the surface occasionally. Many reports occurred during the late 1800s of fishermen who would have violent encounters with the beast. These locals would encounter Rocky by their boats and along the shore where they would be traumatized once sighting the incognito beast hissing at them.
BONUS: Whitewater, WI
Yes, the entire city of Whitewater is considered one whole hot spot for the paranormal and unusual. While not exactly dealing with cryptids, the “Second Salem” town of Whitewater is known for its stories of witches and spirits. It all begin with Morris Pratt in 1889 where he built the Pratt Institute, which dealt with topics of spiritual studies long before the existence of UW-Whitewater. There exist many local stories of the “Witches Triangle” intersecting graveyards, the “Witches Tower” barricaded water tower, and a mysterious locked book that is said to be in the special collections section of the Anderson Library, which according to hearsay, leads to the deaths of those who read it. These spooky tales passed down through generations of Whitewater residents and UW-Whitewater students continue to be a part of the town’s unique culture.
With Wisconsin’s creepy history, there is sure to never be a shortage of scary monsters to tell of. Each one containing its own mystery of what might be lurking out there in the unknown.
Ken Virden is a member of the Discover Wisconsin team. He spends his recreational time with family and friends going camping, attending rock festivals, and running his own podcast ‘Virden Interviews’. Watch Discover Wisconsin TV Saturday mornings at 10 on Fox Sports Wisconsin. (Twitter: @DiscoverWI)
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