Go down to Hernandez Hideaway at rural Lake Drive in Del Dios and people will swear up and down the long wooden bar that Hodgee, the friendly Lake Hodges monster, really truly — well, almost definitely exists.
“The Lake Hodges Hodgee monster is kind of like the Loch Ness monster,” said Stan Smith, a long-time Del Dios resident. Smith, a cowboy poet and man about town, lives near the top of the hill overlooking the scenic 1,234-acre city of San Diego reservoir which was completed in 1918.
“Several people are saying they think they’ve seen it,” Smith continued. “Sometimes, when you look at the lake it looks like something is moving the water, some currents or something. The fact is it is a mystery.”
Although Smith was quick to add that “maybe the people were a little liquored up,” he wasn’t the only one around the venerable country-western venue to say a Hodgee monster was more than mere rural myth or product of some overactive imaginations.
“Not a day goes by they don’t talk about the Hodgee monster,” said Mickey Basulka, a seven-year Del Dios resident and local patron.
The bartender who identified himself only as Mikey V., added: “They even used to have a Hodgee sandwich here when we were open for breakfast in the morning. They say there’s a giant catfish, or something, out there.”
Hodgee’s fame has spread near and quite far. In fact, a mysterious Webmaster purporting to be a representative of the Lake Hodges Scientific Research Center —- a seemingly fictional organization —- has created a detailed Internet site giving a seven-page history of the monster dating back to 7000 B.C. as well as extensive documentation of the monster including photographs of it said to be taken in 1932, 1941 and 1958.
State of the Lake Hodges Monster 3/16/16
The www.hodgee.com site also contains a mixture of fact and possible fantasy that may appear virtually indistinguishable to the casual observer. Stories from local newspapers are mixed with updates on items such as a Lake Hodges Interpretative Center —- still in the planning stages —- as well as the fabled Lake Hodges Scientific Research Center itself that features a picture of a very earnest scientist with some kind of scientific measuring-type equipment.
“The LHSRC is a not-for-profit research organization that is dedicated to learning more about the unexplained phenomena related to Lake Hodges,” the site says. “In particular, we are focused on the so-called ‘Lake Hodges Monster,’ known locally as Hodgee.”
Hodgee.com says the monster dates back to a “river creature” of Indian lore that was said to be in the San Dieguito River that was dammed and used to create the Lake Hodges Reservoir.
“Researchers (in 1929) found no conclusive evidence of any sort although one assistant did report seeing a ‘…lizard-like…head…’ protruding from the surface…’ This prompts an internal memo in Scripps (UCSD Institute of Oceanography) to look at (it,)” the site said.
Hodgee through time
The site includes a “timeline” noting that police found piers destroyed without footprints, buoy cameras were used to record some kind of creature, underwater trip-wires are set to capture Hodgee and even, in 1956 thousands of pounds of highly toxic chemicals were used to kill all the fish in the lake and restock it.
“An anonymous statement written on city of San Diego letterhead stated that officials were attempting to kill any creature in the lake —- including the monster,” the site says.
Actually, officials did stage an early 1956 fish kill at the reservoir but news accounts at the time said the effort was made to kill invasive carp and allow the lake to be re-stocked with bass.
A final picture on the hodgee.com Web site dated 1999 showed two men with mechanical equipment at the lake. “LSHRC researchers using sophisticated equipment trying to detect Hodgee,” the caption reads.
A mystery that suffices
The Hodgee mystery, however, extends to the Hodgee Web site. The site is registered to Corey Krell of Apex. N.C. He has an unlisted telephone number and did not respond to numerous e-mail requests for an interview.
Krell is unknown to the residents of Del Dios although Pete Ayotte, manager of Hernandez Hideaway, another Del Dios institution down the road from the country store, said he had seen the Web site.
“It’s pretty neat, interesting,” Ayotte said.
Sitting at Hernandez Hideaway’s classy bar, Dave Bark’s ears perked up when he heard mention of Hodgee, the Lake Hodges monster. A former denizen of Haight-Ashbury in the 1960s and Del Dios resident since 1969, Bark nodded knowingly at the image.
“We’ve had numerous sightings before, and rumors,” Bark said. “Myself, I’ve many times seen ripples from his passing down the water. People say they’ve seen something in the water but I’ve never actually seen him.”
But how did this Hodgee thing all start?
Bark recalled first hearing about Hodgee through the long-time Del Dios newsletter “As the Dam Drips,” that he said was “a one-sheet thing and all it was rumors and innuendoes.”
The newsletter, which no longer circulates, was passed out in the 1970s around the unincorporated community along the north edge of the lake.
Morgan A. “Matt” Tidwell, retired Lake Hodges reservoir keeper, also mentioned the newslettter as the originator of the Hodgee story.
After “As the Dam Drips” broke the Hodgee story sometime in the mid-to-late 1970s, a television reporter went out to the dam and spoke with him about Hodgee’s authenticity, Tidwell said.
Then, the real Hodgee magic ensued.
“It all started at the Del Dios Store when someone put out a joke newspaper,” said Tidwell, reservoir keeper since 1972 through his retirement in 1984.
“It had a spoof monster that sure looked like a Loch Ness monster east of the freeway and it was the Hodgee monster.
“A reporter from Channel 8 News came up on the top of the dam,” Tidwell continued. “We had a diesel engine pumping air into the lake. These bubbles were coming up. She asked me what this was and I said this is where Hodgee, the monster, sleeps.
“Another reporter from the station came out to do the story and asked me what the monster ate,” Tidwell said. “I told him the ranchers were a little upset because he ate a steer, or heifer, once in a while up there and then came back for a bale of hay for a salad.”
So hatched a legend, seemingly.
Hodgee became so popular that, as Mickey V. said, a breakfast sandwich was named after it. A friend of Tidwell’s who was an Escondido ceramics instructor made a clay sculpture of Hodgee that Tidwell still keeps.
Several print articles in the 1980s referred to Tidwell’s earlier confirmation of the Hodgee legend on television.
“First there were tell-tale bubbles in the water, as if some creature were surviving in the depths of the lake,” North County Panorama said in January, 1985. “Then came the tales of mysterious disappearances of cattle and bales of hay being snatched from passing farm trucks.
Tidwell confirmed everyone’s unspoken fears with straight-faced accounts on local television newscasts of a Loch Ness-style monster paddling around Lake Hodges.”
Standing tall near the reservoir he once managed with Hodgee, the clay monster replica statue in tow, Tidwell again stood straight faced before dissolving into a sly smile.
“It was just a bunch of spoof,” Tidwell said. “I don’t know if anybody would believe something like that but it’s a good story.”
“Never let the truth get in the way of a good story” — Mark Twain
It’s an especially good story when facts aren’t allowed to get in the way, Del Dios residents said last week.
Walking her beagle Samson near the abandoned Del Dios Store shortly after Tidwell’s departure, Linda Hull, a newcomer to Del Dios, faithfully repeated what locals had told her of Hodgee, the friendly Lake Hodges monster.
“I’ve heard of it and I would love to know more,” Hull said. “They say that there’s a Loch Ness monster there that lives in the bottom of the lake.
“I believe them,” Hull said. “But, then again, I believe in the tooth fairy.”
Perhaps speaking for many in Del Dios and North County, Hull added: “With everything else going on in the world these days, why not believe in Hodgee?”