For over a century, ever since infamous prankster Gene Shepard claimed to have seen a fearsome green beast roaming local forests in search of white bulldogs, the Hodag has endured as a symbol of the city of Rhinelander.
Shepard's monster story turned out to be an elaborate hoax but that didn't stop the community from adopting the beast as its mascot.
Fast forward to the Oct. 14 Rhinelander Common Council meeting when city administrator Daniel Guild announced that a community in Michigan had reached out to Rhinelander officials about a possible partnership related to the infamous legend of the Hodag.
In his report to the council, Guild announced that the municipality, which he declined to name, reached out to him to express an interest in the creature.
According to Guild, leaders in the Michigan community found stories in their city's history that mention a hodag. This discovery led them to consider holding a hodag festival next fall. The representatives from the other community wanted to know if Rhinelander would be interested in a "sister city" relationship and partner in the event.
Guild explained that he was bringing this unique inquiry to the council for feedback.
"The invitation also presents some concern. The Hodag is obviously a huge part of our community's heritage. It's part of our brand; it's part of our identity," Guild explained. "There is some concern that I have, and with some others that I have spoken with, that if this brand gets out, that we will never be able to put it back in the bottle and claim that it's ours. And, if we do want to keep it in a bottle and protect it, claim that it's ours, what are we doing to protect that brand, to protect the identity, to protect the legend and the history as being something exclusive to this community as opposed to anyone who could just co-opt the legend."
To illustrate the point, he used the legend of Paul Bunyan as an example of folklore that has been claimed by multiple communities.
Guild went on to say that he spoke with Lauren Sackett, executive director of the Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce, and was told the chamber has taken some steps towards "trademarking the current iteration of the logo that's used at the chamber, the city website, the school district, but there's a lot of different facets to copyright law and intellectual property and I'm not sure that this alone sufficiently protects this story and this identity from being borrowed by other communities going foward in the future."
Guild said he also spoke with new city attorney Steve Sorenson who referred him to an attorney who specializes in intellectual property law. In conferring with that attorney, who was not named, Guild said he learned that "to put the work in to fully review the chamber documents and fill in the other trademark and intellectual property protections would probably take about $5,000 in legal time and paperwork to lock that in."
He then asked for feedback as to whether the alderpersons were interested in further exploring, and spending money, on this matter.
Alderman Tom Kelly offered a quick response.
"I would protect the Hodag, it's been here for over 100 years," he said. "It's ours."
Alderperson Dawn Rog noted the topic was not on the council's agenda as an action item and requested more time to consider the information.
Alderman David Holt concurred. "I agree with Dawn here. I think that's a lot of information and it's something that I personally never thought of," he said. "So I think it would be good for us to be able to sit on this and think about it and then deliver concise feedback to Daniel."
Alderman Lee Emmer wanted to know why Guild had not identified the community.
"I'll be honest, I'm afraid that if we have this conversation and if that city is identified, that some people will run to that community and say 'hey, we're having this conversation' and then they will make an effort to, rather than work with us, circumvent us before we have an opportunity to fully consider the implications of any decision," Guild replied. "And so, to that end, I think discretion is warranted in this circumstance."
The council ultimately agreed to revisit this issue after the alderpersons have an opportunity to consider it fully.
Heather Schaefer may be reached at heather@rivernews online.com.
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