That one time in Michigan: When the Dogman became real


By Karel Vega

October 26, 2023

…Or did he?

Have you ever pulled a fact out of thin air, only to be astonished when that fact turned out to be correct? Well, the subject of today’s story must have had that exact feeling—just multiplied by about 1,000.

It’s the remarkable tale of how a radio DJ created an urban legend as a prank, only for Michiganders all across the state to later claim they saw the creature he’d made up. Let’s dive in.

Creating a legend

The year is 1987, and Traverse City DJ Steve Cook is working at WTCM-FM. It’s nearly April Fool’s Day.

Inspired by his interest in folklore and history, Cook decides to play a fun April Fool’s Day prank on his listeners. He makes up a song about a cryptid living in the state. He titles his song The Legend.

“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…”

The song tells the story of how a bipedal dog-like creature terrorizes Northern Michigan every decade on years ending in seven. According to the lyrics, the first sighting of the “Dogman” was in 1887, by a group of loggers.

“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.”

The song describes how the creature returns every ten years and is spotted in places across Northern Michigan, including in Buckley and Bellaire. It’s a fun and creepy little tune. I’ve linked to it below so you can hear the full thing.

“None of those men ever said very much, ’bout what ever happened then.”

The Dogman comes to life

That one time in Michigan: When the Dogman became real

(Photo via Neil Rosenstech on Unsplash)

Imagine Cook’s surprise when The Legend not only became the most requested song at the station, but people began to call in to share their own experiences with his fictional character.

Speaking to the Detroit Free Press in 2011, Cook said: “I made it up completely from my own imagination as an April Fools’ prank for the radio and stumbled my way to a legend that goes back all the way to Native American times.”

To add to the mystery, the same year that Cook released The Legend, there was a reported instance of a menacing large creature in the Lake County town of Luther: “A frantic 9-1-1 call in 1987 by an SUV driver in Luther described a creature that resembled a large wolf.”

Notable examples

That one time in Michigan: When the Dogman became real

(Source: The Gable Film on Youtube)

In the decades since the release of his song, Cook has said he’s received hundreds of reports of the Dogman in Michigan.

One notable 1993 report involved a teenage girl who snuck out of her house late at night, only to witness a massive creature with a dog head inside of a barn—and it was staring right at her. She quickly ran back home.

These days, the Dogman has also become a popular media fixture in Michigan, being featured in books, movies and even fan pages on social media.

In 2007, the Dogman had a viral resurgence on the internet when a supposed video of it was released online.

The Gable Film is a three-and-a-half-minute, soundless video that looks like a collection of old home movie clips. There are shots of woods, a pet dog, someone fixing up a truck. And then, as the video ends, it captures a strange creature ambling towards whoever is filming, until they run away.

The video was later proven to be a hoax.

Although Cook considers himself a skeptic, he was quoted in a 2012 HuffPost article as saying that some of the reports he’s received “seem plausible and credible and just a little too weird to explain away.”

Regardless of whether the Dogman exists out in the wild, the creature is now firmly cemented in Michigan’s lore. Have you heard of the Dogman before?


  • Karel Vega

    Coming from a long background in public radio, Karel Vega strives to find stories that inform and inspire local communities. Before joining The ‘Gander, Karel served as managing editor at WKAR, the NPR affiliate in East Lansing, Michigan.


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