Monday, April 26, 2010

The Michigan Dog Man

In March of 1987 WTCM morning radio personality Jack O'Malley thought it would be fun to create a Michigan monster as an April Fool's joke. An avid folklorist, O'Malley cobbled together various local legends into a composite creature he dubbed "the Michigan Dog Man."

Half dog, half man, the creature O'Malley imagined was a kind of modern day werewolf that stood on two feet like Bigfoot or the Boggy Creek Monster, and had a glowing red eyes like the Jersey Devil. O'Malley wrote a poem about his invented creature that morphed into a song, and then put the whole thing on the air as an April Fool's joke.

Then the calls and sightings started to trickle in.

At first, O'Malley assumed that the sightings were hoaxes or misidentifications triggered by his April Fool's joke, but the sightings kept coming. When a cabin in Luther, MI was attacked by what appeared to be an unnaturally large, vicious dog, (the creature attempted to chew right through the doors and windows and left blood and saliva samples), the story went national.

To O'Malley's astonishment, the Ojibway tribe native to the Michigan area had long believed in a shapeshifting half dog, half man creature. The early French trappers who visited Michigan in the 1700s also reported a half dog, half man creature they called the loup garou, (which is French for 'wolfman').

A record of sightings stretching back over 250 years soon emerged, all authentic, all carefully documented.

How is it that O'Malley's prank turned out to be based on a real local legend after all? Maybe he'd heard of the creature and just forgotten it--although, considering his rabid interest in legends and cryptids that isn't very likely. Maybe all such shapeshifting creatures share common features that make them 'fit' almost any made-up story. Certainly he took features from several other shapeshifting entities to create this one.

Or maybe there really are 'spirits of place'--creatures that are neither all-spirit nor all-flesh--creatures that move between the spirit world and the 'real' world without impediment.

Whatever the reason, the next time you are walking through the Michigan woods and you think you hear the howl of a wolf, don't doubt yourself.

But do bar the door.

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