April Fool's Joke Turned Urban Legend; The Michigan Dogman
Here in Northern Michigan there is an urban legend that is well known and shared at many campfires on warm summer nights. It is the legend of the Michigan Dogman. It was a simple poem spoken and set to music, with the purpose of playing on local radio, and then was to disappear. This was a coordinated effort between a morning show personality named Jack O’Malley, and WTCM radio production director Steve Cook. O’Malley was looking for an April Fool’s Day prank to play on his listeners, and Cook was eager because he had a fascination for unusual animals and anything haunting. As an avid folklore collector since his younger years, Cook chose characteristics of Bigfoot, the Boggy Creek Monster from Arkansas, the Jersey Devil, and several other “cryptids”, and created a mythical half-man, half –dog, and wrote a few verses about haunting appearances of the creature. He placed the events in Northern Michigan towns, and gave the dogman a mysterious chronological nature. Each sighting occurs in the seventh year of the decade. Cook chose the seventh year because the current year was 1987. After the poem took shape, Cook began sampling different ways of recording it for broadcast. The best option featured a simple drum rhythm derived from a Casio keyboard. Cook developed a melody and chord structure that vaguely sounded Native American. And after running it through several cycles of on an Eventide harmonizer to give it depth and presence, “The Legend” was born.
Here are the lyrics to “The Legend of the Michigan Dogman” by Steve Cook:
A cool summer morning in early June, is when the legend began, at a nameless logging camp in Wexford County, where the Manistee River ran.
Eleven lumberjacks near the Garland swamp found an animal they thought was a dog. In a playful mood they chased it around till it ran inside a hollow log. A logger named Johnson grabbed him a stick and poked around inside. Then the thing let out an unearthly scream and came out and stood upright.
None of those men ever said very much, ‘bout what ever happened then. They just packed up their belongings and left that night, were never heard from again. It was ten years later in ’97, when a farmer near Buckley was found. Slumped over his plow, his heart had stopped, there were dog tracks all around.
Seven years passed with the turn of the century, they say a crazy old widow had a dream, of dogs that circled her house at night that walked like men and screamed. In 1917, a sheriff who was out walking found a driverless wagon and tracks in the dust, like wolves had been a stalkin’. Near the roadside a four-horse team lay dead with their eyes open wide. When the vet finished up his examination, he said it looked like they died of fright.
In ’37 a schooner captain said, several crew members had reported a pack of wild dogs roaming Bowers Harbor. His story was never reported. In ’57 a man of the cloth found claw marks on an old church door. The newspaper said they’d been made by a dog, he’d a had to stood 7’4”. In ’67 a van-load of hippies, told a park-ranger named Quinlinn, they’d been awakened in the night by a scratch at the window, there was a dogman looking in and grinning.
In ’77 there were screams in the night, near the village of Bellaire. Could’ve been a bobcat, could’ve been the wind, nobody looked up there. Then in the summer of ’87, near Luther, it happened again…at a cabin in the woods it looked like maybe, someone had tried to break in. There were cuts around the doors that could only been made by very sharp teeth and claws. He didn’t wear shoes cuz he didn’t have feet. He walked on just two paws. So far this year, no stories have appeared. Have the dogmen gone away? Have they disappeared? Soon enough I guess we’ll know, cuz this is the time to fear, for another ten years has come around, the seventh year is here and somewhere in the north-woods darkness, a creature walks upright. And the best advice you may ever get is never to go out….at night.
A very strange thing happened after the poem was aired on radio on April 1, 1987, and it became obvious the story was not going to fade away. The first two times the song was played; there was no viewer reaction or calls. Cook and O’Malley were prepared to let the failed prank die, when the phone lines started lighting up. People were calling in asking about that “weird” song. Listeners asked, “Who did that song on the dogman thing?” and “when are you going to play it again?” O’Malley took a call from an elderly man who stated that he was chilled to the bone after hearing the song because he had actually seen a similar creature years before. That was the first of many sighting reports that would pour into the station over the next few weeks. Scores of people told of stories and encounters with a creature that was very much like Cook’s fabricated dogman. Within one month, “The Legend of the Dogman” became the most requested song on the air and for a short time was added into the regular rotation of the music.
Other stories began to surface and be compared to the Michigan Dogman story. A century old, mysterious Indian legend revealed shocking similarities. A French fur trader’s diary from 1804 told of an encounter with “loup garou.” A letter from 1857 described a creature that stood upright like a man, yet “bore the countenance of a grey wolf.” A real “dogman” sighting investigated by Lake County Sheriff’s deputy Jeff Chamberlain who was accompanied by DNR officer Ron McCarty was picked up and reported on by Mark Marantette, a reporter for the Cadillac Evening News, and then other news outlets picked up the story and it was later fed down the Associated Press newswire, and thus was picked up by newspapers all across America. It was even mentioned as a strange coincidence in Paul Harvey’s national “News and Comments” broadcast. McCarty called WTCM, stating that he and Chamberlain had openly joked about how this sighting would fit in with the seventh year prophecy made in the song. (McCarty’s voice would later appear in the beginning of the 10th anniversary version of the song, “The Legend 97”) Suddenly, “The Legend” soared into national prominence, and became a hit song once again, only this time on a much larger scale. Requests for copies came in from all 50 states and around the world. Eventually, the master tape, never considered to be of real value, had been destroyed, and Steve Cook went into the studio again, this time with an upgraded keyboard, and recorded the song a second time. A few changes were made to the lyrics to update “The Legend” for summer. When it was finished, the second master recording was shipped to Southfield Michigan for mass production. The first 500 copies arrived a week later, and sold out in 12 days.
“The Legend” had quickly become hot property with record stores and radio stations across the country calling the station requesting copies. A large record company offered to record and promotes the song and Steve Cook faced the difficult decision of whether to release “The Legend” on a national scale, or to keep it local and manageable. Steve chose to keep it local. The music and lyrics were copyrighted by Mindstage Productions, Cook’s marketing and advertising company. More and more copies of the tape, which was originally priced at $3.00, were sold and in the fall of 1987, WTCM held an art contest which allowed amateur artists the chance to submit works depicting what they thought the dogman looked like. There were over a hundred entries. Some were exceptional, but by far the most chilling and dramatic was an 11” by 17” charcoal sketch done by Brian Rosinski who was only 23 years old at the time and had never had a formal art lesson.
The song was never intended to be a marketable vehicle for profit and Cook made the decision early on that any profits earned derived from its sale would be donated to charity. The first charity was the Traverse City Cherryland Humane Society which scored $2,500 towards drilling a new water well and the remodeling of the adult dog facility which included new floor tile and pens. In 2001, Cook was introduced to Brian Manley founder of AC Paw, a no-kill animal rescue program that specializes in lost causes. AC Paw takes in animals that have been injured, abused, or neglected; or that have used up the maximum boarding time in traditional facilities and are about to be euthanized. They rehabilitate animals through a unique foster care network, and eventually place them in a loving home. Cook was so impressed with the AC Paw program; he shifted all donations from the proceeds of “The Legend” to their cause and thus the “The Legend of the Dogman’s” legacy lives on for animals in need.
While “The Legend” has never been formally distributed for airplay on other radio stations, it’s been heard across the USA and the world. Many young adults grew up hearing it and remember it scaring them at summer campfire story telling sessions. “The Legend” has inspired movie screenplays, stage productions, numerous books, term papers at least one Master’s thesis, and countless classroom projects at all grade levels.
In spite of the initial belief that the song would be a radio bit designed to run one day only, interest in The Legend continues to grow. Steve Cook receives 10 to 20 sighting reports each year, many supported by dramatic evidence.
Perhaps the best description of the legacy of “The Legend” came from WTCM morning host Jack O’Malley: “This song has been firmly woven into the fabric of Northern Michigan. It is part of the culture now, part of the folklore. The Legend will be here long after we are gone.”
I hope you enjoyed learning about The Legend of the Michigan Dogman. I was very intrigued and certainly scared the first time I heard the song while camping in the woods as a young adult. It is now a campfire story that is told at all of our camping trips. It continues to put fear in young ones and provokes thoughts from older people. Just remember, “Don’t go out at night!”