A Field Guide to the Impossible

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Scientific Nonsense

Folklorist Richard Dorson, in his posthumously published: Man and Beast in American Comic Legend, refuted a claim that the American people had no folklore to call their own by remarking that, “some of America’s folklore differs from that of the rest of the world.” Dorson elaborated that, in contrast to other regions, America had what he referred to as a “comic mythology.” Rather than a saga of epic narratives, he held the defining trait of “American comic mythology” was an atmosphere of brief anecdotes, humor and horseplay.1

Dorson first toyed with this idea in Davy Crocket: American Comic Legend, comprised of material from the Crockett Almanac’s that ceased publication in the 1850s.2 However, much of the phenomenon Dorson describes in his later work centers around the turn of the twentieth century. Whereas there can be no doubt that there are shared characteristics between the two, the later tradition has unique facets that stand completely on their own. While both are highly satirical, the later work is more mock naturalistic than owing its inspiration to medieval bestiaries, rumors of New World explorers and the Munchausen cycle as Dorson suggests. Moreover such naturalist satire is by no means limited to the collectivity of folklore and is often the product of single individuals.

For example, the celebrated American ornithographer John James Audubon, himself, was not unaccustomed to this sort of horseplay. A Time magazine article recounts how in 1818 an incident occurred between Audubon and Franco-German naturalist Constantine Samuel Rafinesque. Audubon had given Rafinesque board at his Kentucky home delighted for the company. However, one night Audubon was disturbed by a loud, thrashing sound. He ran downstairs to find Rafinesque, quite naked, with Audubon's prized violin attempting to swat a bat, on the assumption that it was a new species. Returning the “favor,” Audubon then described to Rafinesque several new species which never existed.3 A full of description of these can be found in Rafinesque’s serious, albeit excessively-titled, scientific work: Ichthyologia Ohiensis, or Natural History of the Fishes Inhabiting the River Ohio and its Tributary Streams, Preceded by a Physical Description of the Ohio and its Branches. Among these “natural” wonders are the Buffalo Carp Sucker, reportedly a delicacy of sorts, and the Devil-Jack Diamond-Fish, posessing flint-like scales that give off sparks when struck.4

Moreover, German zoologist, Gerolf Steiner’s 1961 work Bau und Leben der Rhinogradentia (The Snouters: Form and Life of the Rhinogrades) was published under the pseudonym “Harald Stümpke.” The book offers an in-depth analysis on fourteen families of mammals belonging to the order of Rhinogrades inhabiting the fictious islands of Heieiei in the South Pacific. Referred to as “snouters,” the defining trait of these remarkable animals is that they develop their noses in particular fashions with varying applications. To illustrate, snout leapers (Phyllohopla bambola) are a semi-aquatic variety that use their incredible, nasal appendage to hang from cliffs and other ledges.5 At the same time the snout leaper uses its tail, with great flexibility, to secure food. Steiner’s text is full of naturalist language and contains all the motifs one would come to expect from any serious, zoological work.

Taking Steiner’s infamous hoax as an inspiration I myself made snouters the subject for a college presentation I did as a final for my German 3202 course. Entitled: “Ich bin ein Naslinge Heute” (“I am a Snouter Today”), I related an alleged trip I took to the islands of Heieiei back in 2007 (Hidudity, Nawissy and Mara respectfully). In the spirit of Steiner, the presentation was designed to convey his fantasy as entirely factual and was complete with falsified map, flag, photos, signs, travel references, etc. In the end, I even had my professor convinced that such a place as Heieiei existed, albeit even if she did not accord snouters with a similar conviction. The offshoot of which imbued me with a new, profound respect for geography majors.

[A couple of slides from my presentation below.]



1 Dorson, Richard M. “The Sources of ‘Davy Crockett, American Comic Legend’” Midwest Folklore 8.3 (1958): 143-49. JSTOR. Web.
2 Dorson, Richard M. Man and Beast in American Comic Legend. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1982. Print.
3 Life (1951, January 29). “Audubon Continued, His Phony Fish.” Life, Vol. 30, No. 5, pp. 51.
4 Rafinesque, C. S. Ichthyologia ohiensis, or Natural history of the fishes inhabiting the river Ohio and its tributary streams, preceded by a physical description of the Ohio and its branches. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1820.)
5 Stümpke, H. 1967. The Snouters: form and life of the Rhinogrades. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois.
◇ Snouter Photo Credit: "Musée zoologique de Strasbourg-Rhinograde" from the Zoological Museum of City of Strasbourg (Musée zoologique de la ville de Strasbourg) CC-BY Kürschner



Almost Legends: Conclusion

Here follows the conclusion of the blog series, “Almost Legends”—

Australians are not alone in hoodwinking international travelers, for the Scots likewise are not to be outdone. While the Loch Ness Monster is certainly Scotland’s biggest myth it is not to be outmatched by their smallest—the wild haggis. It customarily occurs that when learning about another culture, food is one things by which it is first introduced to outsiders. Foreign delicacies can vary widely in form, taste and texture and to those unfamiliar might even garner a certain degree of astonishment. Perhaps visitors to the Scottish lands should open their minds next time they are confronted with the minced organs of a sheep combined with oatmeal, onions and seasoning. For it appears Scottish citizens have taken a non-culinary twist on an old highland favorite, by coaxing international tourists that the dish comes from a wholly remarkable animal. The wild haggis is said to be a minute animal from which the meaty mash is made. An online poll conducted by haggis manufacturers discovered that approximately a third of American tourists to Scotland believed the wild haggis to be a real animal.1 Ironically, this same idea of culinary confusion bears remarkable similarities to a bit of dialog from a well-known book that reads:

Then the Queen left off, quite out of breath, and said to Alice,
‘Have you seen the Mock Turtle yet?’
‘No,’ said Alice. 'I don't even know what a Mock Turtle is.’
‘It’s the thing Mock Turtle Soup is made from,’ said the Queen.2

These lines are quoted, of course, from none other than Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. It is hard to say whether this is merely a coincidence or if forgotten-lore has come full circle and returned to the original ideas that brought it life in the first place.

These, “almost legends,” there ongoing, as well as historic, use in social recreation, marketing and political commentary must certainly attest to their credibility as something which continues to baffle many who come across it. Perhaps it is this very sense of bafflement what continues to endure such stories to so many today. While much forgotten-lore probably disappeared from existence as abruptly as it came, a good ammount not only survived, but continues to make lasting impressions, even growing into celebrated traditions.

Moreover, such imaginings help to strengthen local pride and foster a sense of wonderment into the mundane everyday. While outwardly simple they consist of a varied mixture of nonsense, natural history, legend and modernism. Forgotten-lore continues to draw much of its strength from its ability to change and adapt within local customs no matter wherever it may resurface. Despite the individual peculiarities of such stories they have manage to developed a degree of commonality which make them not only identifiable with other similar tales locally, but across national boundaries as well.

While perhaps none of these farfetched tales ever received widespread global recognition, they have become powerful symbols of local and regional pride. The hodag has become synonymous with the city of Rhinelander, adorning numerous business and clubs, as well the dahu has become a recognizable icon of French alpine culture. Perhaps in the end it matters not whether the creatures of forgotten-lore take their proper place alongside customary legends nor whether their international significance is fully affirmed or not. One powerful aspect that such creatures have over traditional legends is their continued appeal as essentially, “mythological underdogs” and even if one favors the popular team—

In truth, one cannot help but root for the underdog.

1John Carvel, “Majestic Haggis of the Glens Proves Elusive for US Tourists,” The Guardian (London), Nov. 26, 2003, http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2003/nov/27/travelnews.travel.
2 Carroll and Gardner, 94.



Almost Legends: Kangaroo Feathers!

Unfortunately, I was too tied up in festivities yesterday to submit this week's blog entry on its usual day. However, I am pleased to be ringing in 2016 with another thrilling addition of the series “Almost Legends.”

To say nothing of the many modern occasions wherein foreign nationalities have been specifically singled out as the targets for naturalist jokes would hardly prove sufficient for the purposes of this blog. For the common desire to experience something different draws travelers from across the globe, but as many would guess some counties have devise special, initiation rites for their international visitors. Perhaps this is no more true than in a country that has prided itself as a must-see destination, incidentally, Australia.

The continent contains particularities that lend itself more aptly to these sort of hijinks than perhaps anywhere else. The fact that ninety percent of the population lives on only ten percent of the continent surely attests to the mysteriousness of its frontier. Besides its geography, one must not overshadow the uniqueness of Australian flora and fauna. Australia is home to most of the world’s marsupials, poisonous snakes and other animals unlike those seen elsewhere. As alluded to by RAAF airmen seventy years earlier, the continent’s vast expanses and incomparable fauna seem ripe for imagination and exaggeration.

Australian citizens inform international travelers to spread Vegemite or toothpaste behind their ears to deter attacks by drop bears. Drop bears are fictitious marsupials rumored to swoop down and tackle foreign tourists.1 The animal is so renowned in its native land that it has its own faux, awareness campaign entitled, “Look up, stay alive!”

Similarly the oomi-doodle bird is likewise as infamous. This bird is capable of flight, but has no legs for landing. Rather the unfortunate animal merely skids on the ground declaring, “Oomi-doodle! Oomi-doodle!,” from where it obtains its namesake.2 An authority on Australian English, the Macquaire Dictionary offers some interesting insight on the subject. The dictionary discusses a meeting that occurred between American soldiers and an Australian serviceman. In the the area of Townsville, an intrepid “Digger” offered the American soldiers a small booklet. The book described dangerous animals, rumored to exist in the country, such as ommi-doodle birds, drop bears as well as hoop snakes. Unnerved by, “Beware of the Wild and Ferocious Animals Found in the Australian Bush,” the troops, purchased some rare, “Kangaroo Feathers” for their protection.3 Although one must infer that they were unfamiliar with the Australian colloquialism for nonsense.

1Chris, Hosking. "Drop Bear." Australian Museum. August 26, 2014. http://australianmuseum.net.au/drop-bear..
2 UQ Hockey Club. Queensland University (St. Lucia) Hockey Club Song Book. Brisbane: 1960. Text e-book. http://tinyurl.com/nh8qgaz.
3 Macquarie Dictionary, s.v. “hoop snake.” E-book. http://tinyurl.com/jwr3kmr.



Almost Legends: Of Gremlins and Goanna Farms, Some Wartime Myths

Today's instalment of “Almost Legends” divulges on the role of heightened imagination in wartime situations.

During War World II many new, curious terms entered the world’s vocabulary. But perhaps none of them can hold a candle to the bewilderment brought on by a singular, peculiar phrase— “gremlin.” It is difficult to say whether the gremlin was a practical joke, a means of passing blame or a serious consequence of increased wartime paranoia. What is for certain, however, is that reports of little sprites causing malfunction to military equipment were relatively common. According to one W. E. Woosnam-Jones, the first reports of Gremlins circulated through the British Royal Air Force around 1917. Thoroughly detailed, Woosnam-Jones’ article goes on to described the little imps and their, “wicked sense of humour.” In appearance Gremlins wear clothes much like people do and favor red windbreakers with green trousers. They were particularly infamous for their great thirst for airplane fuel and often enjoyed drinking the petrol of planes nearly dry. Other times Gremlins mixed up signal lights confusing pilots, swiped spark plugs or even went as far as to hang on an aircraft’s wings throwing it off balance.1 Despite commanders regarding Gremlins as a distraction from the genuine war effort, the mischievous creatures were inevitably to become a part of it.

In the midst of the second world war the American Curtiss-Wright Corporation's airplane division devised a campaign to increase their war effort without decreasing workers’ morale. In April of 1943 the company teased its initiative, entitled, “Back Up Our Battleskies,” with letters bearing, “BUOB” painted on walls, floors and parking lots.2 A parade of Gremlins, a key motif of the campaign, portrayed by little people and children in costume marked the campaign’s inception. On the whole the campaign owed much of its strength to a system of honors and privileges. Workers who earned the mark of being a “100% Production Soldier” could obtain anything from country club memberships, reserve parking spaces, tennis court and bowling alley privileges as well as special consideration for promotions.3 Other workers earned honors such as pin or leader flags that distinguished their section as especially productive.4

Aside from its reward system, posters hung throughout the plant stressed the importance of safety and attendance. Such posters varied in their appearance and message, but still retained Gremlins as a central theme. Lavishly illustrated, the posters carried such slogans as, “Gremlins LOVE to pitch things at your EYES! Wear safety Goggles!”5 or “Gremlins are floor greasers! Watch your step!”6 Within the campaign itself workers were encouraged to make safety displays highlighting varied concerns. One noted entry featured a mock-up Gremlin dangling from a noose, underneath with letters reading, “We got Gremlins by the neck.”7 Overall, the campaign was highly successful. After six months, Aviation magazine determined that time saved by eliminating absences and boosting efficiency was enough to build three-hundred, new fighter planes.8 While Gremlins rose in popularity across several forms of media they were by no means the only topical myth among airmen of the World War II era.

Within the vast archives of the Australian War Memorial item number P09658.001 could easily be overlooked as just another in the thousands of outdoor portraits. The photograph depicts three smiling Australian Airmen, in front of an unmarked building, right after graduating from the Canadian Bombing and Gunnery School. The scene is a mundane one and nothing about it seems to invite further interest, excepting one marginal detail, that the airmen proudly display a small newspaper clipping. The text is almost too small to read, but upon closer inspection the blurry characters come to form the heading, “Canada Learns about Bunyip Hunts and Goanna Farms.”9

Common among RAAF members training in Canada at the time was a host of gags played on their foreign counterparts. Throughout their training period, Australian airmen would tell Canadian service members and journalists fantastic stories of drungos, goannas and bunyips. Drungos were animals that slept with their heads under waterfalls. Reportedly these animals were exceedingly high jumpers and worst than termites in their feeding on wooden structures. But the creature’s most unusual attribute, akin to the myths concerning lemmings, is their habit of committing suicide. The animal once tired of its bored existence repeatedly bashes its head against mountain peaks putting itself out of its misery.

The goanna was another animal frequently mentioned, but which actually has basis in fact. Despite the fact that goannas are real lizards, of the monitor family, and are fairly common throughout Australia, this did not stop Canadian newspapers from writing them off as entirely fictitious. The newspaper article “Spoiled Good Stories,” published April 2, 1942, asserts in no uncertain terms that, “It appears that the drungo, the bunyip and the goanna are mythical Australian fauna on a par with those Western Canadian beasties, the side-hill gouger and the Alberta kiwi-bird.” While the goanna is a real animal the stories RAAF members tell of it is far from the truth. The airmen reported that goannas could be milked and were raised on ranches for this express purpose. Moreover they conveyed that goanna milk had medicinal properties and could cure even the toughest hangover.

The last of the airmen’s myths was the bunyip. The bunyip is actually an authentic legend, featured prominently in stories told by the Australian Aborigines throughout the centuries. But, much like the factual goanna, the stories told to the Canadian populace did not necessarily reflect established conventions. In the RAAF members’ version the whimsical bunyip only resemble its mythical counterpart in that it was depicted as a large, aquatic mammal. The airmen took liberties to give the bunyip a pair of sizable horns that protrude from the creature’s, “posterior.”10 All in all, it can be asserted that, if naught else, wartime fantasy has surely had a colorful and full existence.

1W. E. Woosnam-Jones, “Gremlins,” The Spectator (London), January 01, 1943. http://archive.spectator.co.uk/article/1st-january-1943/7/gremlins.
2 Benjamin W. Corrado, “Curtiss-Wright Drive Boosts Employees Morale,” American Machinist 88, no. 3 (1944): 385, https://books.google.com/books?id=10BQAAAAYAAJ&q.
3Corrado, 388, 385.
4 “C-W Airplane Division's Year- Round War Production Drive,” Aero Digest 42, June (1944): 237-239, https://books.google.com/books?id=10BQAAAAYAAJ&q.
5 War Production Board, “Gremlins love to pitch things at your eyes. Wear safety goggles. Back up our battleskies!” 1944, National Archives, 535379, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, http://research.archives.gov/description/535379.
6 War Production Board, “Gremlins are floor greasers! Watch your step! Back up our battleskies!” 1944, National Archives, 535378, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, http://research.archives.gov/description/535378.
7Corrado, 388.
8 “Curtiss-Wright Reports BUOB Campaign Results,” Aviation 43, (1944): 250, https://books.google.com/books?id=Ui1QAAAAYAAJ&q.
9“Outdoor portrait of three Australian RAAF observers...” 1942, Australian War Memorial: Collections, P09658.001, Australian War Memorial, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P09658.001.
10 "Spoiled Good Stories." The Carbon Chronicle, April 2, 1942, 3. Peel's Prairie Provinces http://peel.library.ualberta.ca/newspapers/ (Ar00305).



Almost Legends: Political Monsters

Just a year after the U.S. led invasion of Iraq, Spanish writer and literary critic Juan Manuel de Prada commented on the continue search for Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction by remarking that it seemed increasingly like a typical hunt for, “gamusinos.”1 Such seems a fitting analogy for one the most infamous controversies of the U.S. occupation. But the method of using political commentary in conjunction with this genre of folk practices by no means started with de Prada.

Author and folklorist Vance Randolph in his 1951 work, We Always Lie to Strangers, described a peculiar animal dubbed, “the bear-behind.” The bear-behind, he tells, is a strange beast that is repeatedly denounced in the Ozark region for its theft of tobacco. The creature is nearly identical to a bear excepting for the head. This latter attribute, Randolph asserts, bears a closer and more considerable resemblance to that of a Missouri politician. Randolph concludes this squib by saying, “there are several allegedly funny stories about it.”2

But roughly twenty years earlier Lake Shore Kearney published a poem entitled, “I Do Not Choose to Run” in The Hodag and Other Tales of the Logging Camps. The author of the poem is a logger by the name “Shan T. Boy,” a pseudonym used by Wisconsin balladeer William N. Allen, and revolves around former U.S. President Calvin Coolidge’s infamous, “I do not choose to run” statement.3 The poem is composed of several stanzas, each leaving off with the note, “He does not choose to run.” Throughout the poem the line, reiterated again and again, leads up to the following envoy:

“When Calvin roams the northern wood,
On Lake Superior's shore,
Should meet a Hodag seeking food
And hear his awful roar.
He'll throw away his fishing rod,
His reel and fancy gun
And whisper to himself, ‘My God,
I think I choose to run.’”4

The above is just one of the many loggers’ poems featured throughout Kearney’s book. All poems are by the same author, but none other touch on similar political sentiments.

Oftentimes the triviality of war, with its occasional futility, has long been a spark of clever and unusual reactions from the public at home. But more so, those who have proven no less immune to a similar, witty spontaneity are none other than the servicemen themselves. Servicemen have always been remarkable in their inventive imagination as well as in their practical jokery. Phillip Sharpe, former U.S. Navy electrician's mate, recounted many such instances during his time aboard the U.S.S. Kearsarge in 2006. Hijinks of American sailors involved such gags as having U.S. Marines stand in lines to nowhere and sending new recruits to retrieve, “fallopian tubes.” The latter gag often involved new arrivals being redirected, again and again, from section to section. This cycle would repeat itself until their fellow crewmates would offer the “victim” a quick lesson in female anatomy. In a similar vein sailors were also sent on occasion to fetch “fuse chargers,” “PU 55 Yankee forms” and a “MM Punch.” To obtain the last one, a seaman had to go down to boiler room and demand one from the Machinist's mate (I.E. MM) at the request of which their fellow crewman would simply punch them.5

However even in the contemporary era gags akin to those of prior eras are no less unheard of. Among the myriad myths aboard U.S. naval vessels there exists open discussion on the subject of sea bats. Sea bats are reportedly similar to the common family of vesper bats excepting they only inhabit seafaring ships. Sea bats stowaway in chain lockers and subside on rodents and algae that forms along the bulkheads. They are notably fierce and extreme caution must be taken when encountering them.6

A recurring joke is played by placing a ball in a large box or other container. The rolling tides cause the ball to move back and forth giving the impression of an animal trapped just underneath.7 Any sailor wanting to get a closer look has to bend over, as the container can only be lifted a couple of inches off the ground to prevent the “animal” from escaping. They are however considerably cautioned and told that the sea bat has a painful bite. Once the victim is in position, a designated “broom custodian” would then give them a swift, hard whack from behind.8 Sea bats real or imaginary comprise an interesting piece of naval heritage. It might be surmised that the name comes from any of a host of naval aerial vehicles bearing the same name. “Sea bat,” was the U.S. Navy’s moniker for the Sikorsky H-34 helicopter. The very same aircraft is known as the, “Sea Horse,” in the Marine Corps and “Choctaw” among U.S. soldiers.9 Other possible origins within the U.S. military include the unarmed drone PA-4 Sea-Bat10 as well as the MH-6 helicopter due to its design for nighttime operations.11 Surely, the myth of the sea bat is one that will always hold its place in the chronicles military antics.

1 Juan Manuel de Prada, “Armas de Destrucción Masiva,” ABC (Madrid), April 07, 2003. http://tinyurl.com/prn9lfu.
2 Vance Randolph, We Always Lie to Strangers (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1974), 60.
3 Kearney, 89.
4 Kearney, 93.
5 Phillip Sharpe (U.S. Navy GWOT Veteran) in discussion with the author, March 2015.
6 Gary W. Halsey Sr., “Sea Bats Are Indigenous To the West Pacific,” Booksie, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/nzqmznk.
7 Ken Groom, “Sea Bats - A Story of Mystery and Intrigue,” U.S.S. Hancock: Oral History, February 15, 2002, http://usshancockcv19.com/oralhistory/kengroom/seabats.htm.
8 Ellie Kay, Heroes at Home: Help and Hope for America's Military Families. (Bloomington: Bethany House Publishers, 2012). PDF e-book.
9 Bill Maloney, “Sikorsky UH-34J Sea Bat Helicopter,” Delaware Valley Historical Aircraft Association Museum, February 5, 2008, http://tinyurl.com/lgaf969.
10 U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Propelled Lighter-Than-Air Vehicles (Honolulu: University Press of the Pacific, 2001), 69. PDF e-book. https://books.google.com/books?id=zvmERfp7hXYC&dq.
11 Craig L. Symonds, Decision at Sea: Five Naval Battles That Shaped American History (New York:Oxford University Press, 2005), 290-291. PDF e-book. https://books.google.com/books?id=3Te8UfCpV7MC&dq.



Almost Legends: The Uncatchable Le Dahu, El Gamusino and Tamarro

Earlier in this study, I remarked upon the snipe, an animal of the imagination, and of the fruitless pursuit of it by would-be hunters. Today, I will tell about its extended family from Europe and abroad. What follows is the continuation of the blog series: “Almost Legends.”

In 2009 Alpine skier Nicolas Frey grew dissatisfied with conventional ski boots. He found that his feet grew especially weary after long use of the footwear. From his observances Frey developed a new type of ski boot for 24 hour wear. He created the first prototype in his garage and in 2009 founded DAHU Sports Company Ltd.1 Frey named his company for the dahu, of French tradition. The dahu, comparable to the North American side-hill gouger, is purported to be an animal akin to an ibex except with legs on one side of its body in disproportion to the other. While this permits the extraordinary animal perfect footing along unleveled slopes it consequently traps it in an never ending, winding path. The dahu can go but in one direction, uphill, until eventually it dies. Certainly the dahu’s ability to gracefully transcend uneven terrain made it an obvious choice for the name of Frey’s new invention.

Tales of the dahu originate in the lofty, alpine communities contained high within the mountains of France, the Alps and Jura Mountains in particular. However the dahu is fairly widespread throughout Western and Southern Europe as well. Its extent reaches as near as the Pyrenees and as far away as Switzerland and Northern Italy. It is known by a varying assortment of monikers, most of which closely resemble its French namesake. Yet it is unclear whether these regional variations differ significantly enough to constitute stand alone traditions.

In the Alps signs can be found reading “Les Alpes ne seraient pas vraiment les Alpes sans le légendaire Dahu!” (The Alps are not really the Alps without the legendary Dahu!) and like the Rhinelander hodag local institutions display their affinity for the creature in no uncertain terms. Hôtel Le Dahu, located in Morzine, France seems to borrow even more from the animal than just its namesake. The architectural foundations of the structure themselves echo the dahu’s asymmetric hold on receding slopes.2 Similar in design is the restaurant le Dahu in Verbier, Switzerland, which even boasts an impressive, life-size wood carving of the animal.3 Of course, one must not overlook the dahu’s many appearances in more modest merchandising and promotion. The dahu functions as the official mascot of the HC Dahu Hockey Club headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland. In Savoy, France, part of the western Alps near the Italian and Swiss borders, one can even purchase a slap-on label to transform Red Bull brand energy drinks into “Red Dahu.”4 But perhaps most curious of all is that the beast, in fact, headlines its very own brand of Swiss chocolates.5

Nevertheless, the Dahu would not be complete if not for the certain social ritual that surrounds the creature. Throughout the year citizens young and old participate on an uncertain quest to seek out the elusive brute. “La chasse au dahu,” involves parties of sack-holders and guides as they embark into the forest to capture the creature. An acoustic melody by Parisian singer Mai Lan describes such a hunt in considerable detail under the creature’s Jura name, “Le Dahut.” The lyrics follow, “Ho we are the best best hunters! Not afraid to go! We made our wooden swords and hatchets! Strong from head to toe.” It continues, “And now we come and whistle whistle. We are getting hot. It runs because we beat the bushes. We will spare it not!”6 Naturally it does not take much effort to begin to draw parallels between the French la chasse au dahu and the North American snipe hunt.

Both animals are rumored to be unseen and rather elusive creatures that turn out to be completely imaginary. But more striking than the cross-cultural similarities between these two better exemplars of forgotten-lore is the emerging pattern set by three. For in Spain, Cuba, Portugal and areas of Latin America discussion of yet another beast, that continues to frustrate hunters, likewise emerges. The gamusino as it is called is variously physically described, at times contradictingly. But yet this does not seem to hinder large numbers of wouldbe animals trackers from attempting to corner the imaginary animal. “Ir a cazar gamusinos” is undoubtedly a fool’s errand, much in the vein of the snipe or dahu, as a prank on those who are not yet acquainted with the game. While it may inherently lend to some regional variations it is still very much the same activity under a different name.

The gamusino has surely grow into a phenomenon within the country of Spain as a whole. However, there is one particular region that might suggest that the rest of Spain can keep their gamusino. For in four provinces centered in northeastern Spain, as well as in neighboring Andorra, it is not the gamusino that is so eagerly coveted. Les Patjades Mysterioses (Mysterious Footprints) by M. Àngels Bogunyà may very well be viewed as another in a host of Catalan reading-development books for small children.

However, in addition to developing increased reading and work values, the book nonetheless offer a small lesson in Catalan culture in the form of the tamarro. The tamarro is a bit of forgotten-lore, albeit remembered, of Catalan tradition that directly parallels that of the gamusino, dahu or snipe. The book leads up to none other than the children attempting to trap the virtually, uncatchable creature. Les Patjades Mysterioses comes in conjunction with a teaching guide developed by department of education for the Generalitat of Catalonia which encourages engagement with Bogunyà’s material.7 The tammaro certainly makes an interesting case in the potential of utilizing forgotten-lore to further the purposes of reinforcing cultural identity among a particular people.

1 “L'Histoire,” Dahu: La Chaussure de Ski qui Va Partout, http://www.dahusports.com/?a=217.
2 “Le Dahu : Hotel Morzine, Historique, Morzine,” Hôtel le Dahu,http://www.dahu.com/fr/hotel_morzine/histoire.php.
3 “Le Restaurant : Mets Délicieux,” Le Dahu, http://www.ledahu.ch/restaurant.
4 “Red Dahu,” La Boutique Savoyarde, http://tinyurl.com/l5tgloq.
5 “Crottes de Dahu,” Le Refuge de Marie-Louise, http://tinyurl.com/gv7y94y.
6 “MAI LAN - Le Dahut (session acoustique),” YouTube video, 4:06, posted by “MailanOfficiel,” August 28, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0mVNN4di08cl.
7 Dolors Berenguer, M. Dels Àngels Sellés and Mercè Sendrós. Les Petjades Misterioses, M. Àngels Bogunyà : Quadern per a l’Alumnat. Barcelona: Generalitat de Catalunya, Departament d’Educació, 2009. PDF e-book.



Almost Legends: A Synopsis

Arriving at a crucial point on the study of forgotten-lore, it becomes necessary at this juncture to review the groundwork previously set forth and finally begin to break apart the key components that tie it as a distinct tradition.

◇ FIRSTLY, there is the incorporation of Modernism that brings with it an open challenge to established tradition, opposition to realism, experimentation and cultural catastrophe that forgotten-lore owes much of its uniqueness to.
◇ SECONDLY, natural history imbues forgotten-lore with a pseudo-scientificness that lends just enough credibility to it that such stories might be believed by a select population of novices.
◇ THIRDLY, characteristics diffused from legends into forgotten-lore make the two appear similar enough to constitute opposing concepts. Yet, not too alike that they must be equated with one another nor too different as to be incomparable.
◇ LASTLY, nonsense provides for the right touch of absurdity to ensure that forgotten-lore will not garner too much credibility that it will lose its humorous touch.

Taking the aforesaid into account one may best begin to compare and contrast forgotten-lore to classical legends.


WHAT: Tells of a human character with exceptional qualities that captivates the listener.
HOW: Contains the illusion of realism and the story is more often passed down.
WHEN: Takes place long ago.
WHY: Imparts a lesson to the listener.

WHAT: Tells of an animal character with exceptional qualities that captivates the listener.
HOW: Contains the illusion of realism and the story is more often passed from person to person.
WHEN: Takes place in a contemporary period.
WHY: Imparts a practical joke on the listener.

Concluding the analysis of the socio-cultural backdrop behind forgotten-lore, it seems appropriate at this point to divulged further into greater implication forgotten-lore has to the world at large.

Cradled between the Scottish Grampian Mountains and the Northern Highlands a twenty-three mile long body of water pulls in tourist from all across the globe. Loch Ness is not Scotland’s biggest lake by area and nor is it particularly noted for its nightlife or sunny weather. Rather there exists the extraordinary claim that somewhere beneath its murky depths lives an actual, one-of-a-kind, honest-to-goodness— monster. At least in Scottish popular consciousness that is. Affectionately dubbed, “Nessie,” the monster appears on everything from nicnac jewelry to plush toys complete with bagpipes and traditional, Celtic garb.

Unquestionably, the monster plays no small role in the Scottish tourism industry. Last year the University of the Highlands partnered with Scotland's national tourism organization to create a business seminar entitled, “Monster Marketing.” The seminar reviewed the importance of Nessie to the tourism industry and opened discussion on how to best capitalize on other regional attractions.1 Later the that year, the World Bank released, “The Loch Ness Model: Can ICTs Bridge the Accountability Gap?” a working paper on how communication technologies are useful in filling inconsistencies between supply and demand actors using the monster as a metaphor.2 But even more recently the fabled animal is the focus of a £2m, government-funded campaign to draw in more sightseers.

Of course, if there is anything about the legend of the Loch Ness monster that can be asserted as fact it would have to be that the monster is in fact a genuine legend. The story is one time honored, and lends to itself a certain creditably. But where does this leave other localities lacking a centuries old legend? In the absence of a bonafide myth more and more localities are coming forth with the next best thing.

In the American Northwoods, the quaint city Rhinelander, Wisconsin, exhibits a most peculiar statue. The effigy, of immense scale, resembles a monstrous quadruped covered with jagged horns and spines. Perhaps more peculiar than the appearance of the statue itself is its location. For directly behind the enormous figure stands the Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce. The beast is none other the fabled “hodag,” and features prominently on the city’s seal as well as in the motto: “Home of the Hodag!” No matter what corner one turns, the horned beast rears its head as the official mascot of local cafés, athletic teams, utility services, clubs, car dealerships, etc. Taken together, this makes Rhinelander one of the better exemplars of what truly should be dubbed, “monster marketing.”

But by far the Hodag’s most significant contribution to the local economy occurs once every year in an outdoor extravaganza held in its honor. The Hodag Country Festival is by no means an isolated or modest venture. This country music festival has been running for nearly forty years and has featured such A-list musicians as Conway Twitty, Stella Parton, Reba McEntire, George Jones, Kenny Rogers, George Strait, etc.3 But certainly the city of Rhinelander is not the only one to profit from such an example.

1 “Free Business Seminar to Explore ‘Monster Marketing’” VisitScotland, December 2013, http://www.visitscotland.org/media_centre/explore_monster_marketing.aspx.
2 Björn-Sören Gigler, Savita Bailur, and Nicole Anand, “The Loch Ness Model: Can ICTs Bridge the ‘Accountability Gap’?” (working paper, The World Bank, Washington, 2014). http://elibrary.worldbank.org/doi/abs/10.1596/978-1-4648-0191-4_ch9
3 “Hodag History & Past Performers,” Hodag Country Festival, July 2014, https://www.hodag.com/history.shtml.



Almost Legends: Fact meets Fantasy

"IT is not often that a man can be in at the birth, the flourishing maturity and the apparent death of a complete mythology." - W. E. Woosnam-Jones, RAF, on the rise and fall of Gremlins (January 1, 1943)

The following is a continuation of the first, world-embracing investigation on strange imaginings that first appeared at the turn of the last century. Last week’s article expounded on their bizarre characteristics and influence by Modernist thought. It is the purpose of this week’s entry to finally round up other possible influences and set the stage for a remarkable journey through the world of, “forgotten-lore.”

In 1859 Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species triggered a fervor throughout the international community. His ideas of evolution and natural selection sparked intense debates from all walks of life and disciplines. Moreover, his ideas brought with them a renewed interest in the natural world and its lifeforms. This pushed forward a cavalcade of publications relating to natural history. Natural histories were nothing new at the time and had existed since the time of Pliny the Elder. But it became evident with the advent of evolutionary and natural-selection theories that public expectations had increased significantly. Existing texts fell well behind increasing knowledge and became outdated rapidly. Publishers work diligently to create natural histories that met the public demand and cater to the academic philosophy of the era.

Concurrently, as the earthly realm was being reinvestigated so was one less worldly. Classical legends began to receive renewed focus around the same time. However, unlike natural history, mythology under the new lens of modernism tended to be more criticized than appreciated. Renowned English anthropologist, Edward Burnett Tylor frequently referred to myths in such terms as “primitive,” “childlike,” and “savage.”1 Nonetheless, it was this overt scrutinization that developed the first academic analysis of traditional legends. While forgotten-lore did not attempt to mimic classical legends by design, it was perhaps inevitable that a certain resemblance between the two would emerge. Many creatures such as the wolpertinger of Bavaria or the jackalope of the American Southwest follow the same formula of design established by the Greek chimera. What is more, non-physical parallels, as well, were perhaps the unavoidable consequence of the sheer similarity surrounding the formation of each. But it should not go without mentioning that at anytime when something becomes topical it is for certained to be parodied and satirized in some fashion. It is readily evident from political cartoons depicting an ape-like Darwin and others drawing mythological parallels that neither natural history nor legends were exempt from the arrival of another product of nineteenth-century culture.

Only six years after Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and in the wake of academic mythological studies, a single, particular book was released via the London pushing-house Macmillan. The author was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known to readers as Lewis Carroll, and the book was none other than Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Another six year later, Carroll would follow up with a sequel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There and his works, together with those of fellow English writer Edward Lear, comprise the definitive archetypes for literary nonsense. In both the works of Carroll and Lear there can be found numerous spoofs on both mythology and natural history. In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland one of the first anthropomorphic animal characters Alice meets is none other than the dodo. Dodo birds had already become extinct by the mid-seventeenth century and even though Carroll incorporated the character in order to represent himself, the author only thought to add the character after he saw a stuffed specimen at the Oxford University Museum.2 Another key instance of such satire occurs when Alice encounters the Mock Turtle. The character of the Mock Turtle, inspired by the stew of the same name, is comprised of parts from an assortment of different animals. But more remarkable is that in the same scene the readers are also introduced to the character of the Gryphon, based on the legendary creature.3 The Gryphon and the Mock Turtle are literary foils with two distinct personas. While the author makes no explicit references to each representing classical legend and natural history respectively, it is not too far off to surmise this may have been in the back of Carroll’s mind. But Carroll as previously mentioned was not the only nonsense author spoofing booth contemporary and traditional ideas.

Edward Lear, best known for his nonsense limericks, authored a hefty volume of nonsense works. Two of his short works in particular “The Story of the Four Little Children Who Went Around the World” and “Nonsense Botany” are direct parodies of legend and natural history respectively. “The Story of the Four Little Children Who Went Around the World” would appear written with Homer’s Odyssey as a frame of reference. The story relates four children, and an “elderly Quangle-Wangle,” who embark on a journey across the globe and back home again. The children have many adventures in strange, exotic lands and even at one point have their ship devoured by a sea serpent dubbed the, “Seeze Pyder.”4

Conversely, “Nonsense Botany,” published in 1888, on the other hand lacks any story, structure or characters. Rather each page is divided among four faux, botanical illustrations each accorded with mock binomial nomenclature. The work features crude drawings such as “Manypeople upsidownia” displaying a plant with people dangling down from it, or “Guittara Pensilis,” showing a weed sprouting guitars. Unquestionably, neither mythology nor natural history was spared in the writings of Carroll and Lear. Nonsense, while much influenced by Modernism itself, prove to be just as critical against Modernist philosophies as it was against traditional ideas. This seeming contradiction makes nonsense a very peculiar addition to the fusion of ideas that produced the first forgotten-lore.

1 Edward Burnett Tylor, Primitive Culture: Researches Into the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Art, and Custom. (London: John Murray, 1871). PDF e-book.
2 Lewis Carroll and Martin Gardner, The Annotated Alice: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass. (New York: C.N. Potter, 1960), 27.
3 Carroll and Gardner, 94.
4 Edward Lear and Holbrook Jackson, ed., The Complete Nonsense of Edward Lear. (New York: Dover Publications, 1951), 91-106.



Almost Legends: A Natural History of the Unnatural World

            To begin, I should note that superstition, folklore, tall tale, mythology, legend and fairytale for most carry roughly the same connotation. However, in an academic context they differ as much as a wolf might differ from a coyote, that is to say they are different breeds of a similar animal. Most of what you encounter on this site is traditionally classified as folklore. However, if one were to browse several dictionary they are most likely encounter diverging definitions.

So begins the problem.

At the turn of the twentieth century hundreds of local rumors of natural absurdities came into existence. These imaginings were neither legendary in their proportions like Norse or Greek epics, nor at any time were they ever intended to inspire any sincere or moral convictions. Rather they existed mostly in practical jokes practiced among people of a particular trade. Despite their facetious tone, they were always presented as a matter of fact and bear the distinct markings of a rich tradition.

But such stories appear with characteristics that in many ways provide an antithesis to traditional folklore, mythology or legend. Although they may have started out among a particular people they can be found all the way from North America to Australia. While they might have been passed from person to person, many did not live on in oral tradition and are known only through supplementary writings and other evidence.

To borrow a phrase from Poe, and for lack of a better term, they will be ascribed the working classification of “forgotten-lore.” This forgotten-lore arrived at a time when people adamantly challenged established traditions and conventions. This mindset can be attributed to Modernism which sought to create new approaches to society and culture in the newly industrialized world. Modernism is a multifaceted philosophy that promotes creative independence with the aim of originating something decisively new and different.

Modernism is in direct opposition to realism and within it are pervasive themes of experimentation and cultural catastrophe.1 Yet, Modernism is as much a way of seeing as it is a method of creating. Modernism imbues its supporters with a new manner of understanding. As the “new” broke from mold of the “old,” Modernists found that the “old” no longer held up to the new measures set forth by Modernism. Accordingly, many of the facets associated with traditional legends run contrary to the Modernist vision. Modernists find them to be formulaic and limited by the rules dictated by the societies of their day. Essentially, Modernists feel that old works are far too impeded by tradition to constitute anything worthwhile.2

Modernism has been adapted into so many different forms, such as art, architecture, music, poetry, literature, spirituality, etc., that it was perhaps unavoidable it would extend its reach to realm of folklore and legend as well. However, the interesting distinction to make is that unlike art or literature, one does not simply go about trying originate, “new legends.” Accordingly, forgotten-lore cannot be the direct product of Modernism alone. Tradition is seldom the intentional aim of those who help form it, but rather the byproduct of chance. Accordingly, this forgotten-lore is the unintentional consequence of traditional folklore radically transformed through the innovative perspectives of the industrial generation.

Forgotten-lore developed in and around industries where people were relatively isolated for long periods of time. This relative isolation provides conditions consistent with the development of folklore in general. In particular, forgotten-lore stories flourished at the turn of the twentieth century within logging camps near North America's Great Lakes region. However, at the time, immigrant presence in the region had practically established the industry as an international affair. Folklorist Charles E. Brown recorded loggers who described the camps as a, “babel of tongues.”3 Luke Sylvester “Lake Shore” Kearney in his book, The Hodag and Other Tales of the Logging Camps, upholds this characterization by stating that of the Scandinavian, Irish and French loggers, “Each, in his turn, goaded and cursed in his native tongue, using the blasphemy characteristic of his nationality.”4 A 1880s census taken in Wisconsin showed that foreign born loggers comprised over half of the entire industry, the greater majority being Canadian.5

Logging camps were separated from mainstream society for months at a time. There loggers, of multiple nationalities, would entertain each other through story, song and practical joke. Woodsmen would often invent colorful ways in which to induct new arrivals to camp. A common initiation right for inexperienced loggers was the snipe hunt. This task involved novice woodsmen, referred to as “greenhorns,” being led deep into the woods at dusk. Subsequently, each participant is given a bag and directed to go out, with their primitive tools, to catch the elusive animal. The joke is that the snipe, which bears no relation to the wading bird, is purely a fictitious animal and exists only in the imagination of those pursuing it. Afterwards those who were the participants would eventually become those who would induct later recruits in the ritual and so forth.

Additionally, forgotten-lore enjoyed much popularity in tall tales told aloud in logging-camp bunkhouses. After a hard day’s work, loggers would spin tales to regale their fellow woodsmen. Unbeknownst to storytellers at the time these anecdotes would be retold over and over again eventually coming to form this rich tradition. It is this same tradition which came to incorporate the modern perspective of the storytellers. To illustrate, the hodag of the North Woods is described as having, “stegosaurian dorsal spines,”6 the salvager sucker, of the Puget Sound vicinity, is reported to be able to do the work of “a steam derrick,”8 just as well the snow wasset, of Canada, is reported to “hibernate” during the warmer seasons. At the same time, loggers were quick to distance themselves from creating stories that were too overly true to life.9 The goofus was a bird that flew backwards as it was more interested in seeing where it was going than where it had been. The tripodero was an animal that had retractable, telescope-like legs much like a photographer's tripod. This marvel of evolution granted the tripodero easy access across rough terrain. The funeral mountain terrashot was another strange beast, whose instinctive migration caused it to explode on contact with the hot sands of the desert.9

Each one of these cases demonstrate facets closely linked to modernism. All suggests a decisive opposition to realism, the salvager sucker and tripodero demonstrate biomechanical experimentation, and as well the goofus and terrashot are prime metaphors of cultural catastrophe. Over time this incorporation of thought began to form the tradition as it is known today. However, the Modernist lens was not the only contemporary influence that shaped its early formation. In fact, another concept, which would prove nearly inseparable, would rapidly come to be absorbed into the already convoluted mixture.

To be continued.

1 Peter Childs, Modernism (Oxfordshire: Taylor & Francis Ltd., 2000), 2. eBook Collection, EBSCOhost. (16988496).
2 Ortega y Gasset Jose, "The Dehumanization of Art and Other Essays on Art, Culture, and Literature," (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968), 65-71. PDF ebook.
3 Michael Edmonds, Out of the Northwoods: The Many Lives of Paul Bunyan (Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2009), 163.
4 Lake Shore Kearney, The Hodag and Other Tales of the Logging Camps (Wausau: Democrat Printing Company, 1928), 10.
5 Edmonds, 34-35.
6 Henry H. Tryon, Fearsome Critters (Cornwall, NY: Idlewild Press, 1939), 23.
7 The Seattle Star, “Speaking of Fish, Old Reader of Star Writes of Salvager Sucker, Which Does the Work of Steam Derrick.” April 08, 1913. 3. From Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Library of Congress. http://tinyurl.com/m39m8lp.
8 William T. Cox, Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods (Washington: Press of Judd & Detweiler, Inc., 1910), 39.
9 Cox, 19.

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