Dec 052011
Marsh's Jackalope

The Flying Jackalope at Marsh's Free Museum, Long Beach, Washington

The jackalope is a mythical animal of North American folklore described as a jackrabbit with antelope horns or deer antlers and sometimes a pheasant’s tail (and often hind legs). The word “jackalope” is a portmanteau of “jackrabbit” and “antalope”, an archaic spelling of “antelope”. It is said to be a species of killer rabbit. Wikipedia

The first time I saw a jackalope was at Marsh’s Free Museum, a Long Beach, Washington, roadside attraction, whose main attraction is Jake the Alligator Man and that also features an eight-legged lamb and a two-headed calf. The oddity store actually features two jackalopes: the Wyoming jackalope mounted on a shield and a taxidermied flying jackalope. Inasmuch reality is what’s in our heads, the animal is for real.

Though by the simple virtue of a short history, the jackalope lore is just as shallow as all of American folklore, jackalopes have captured many people’s imagination: witness the dedicated Flickr group Jackalopes Rule! The combining of elements to form a unique entity is a quintessentially American process. All of American culture is a tapestry of threads, homegrown and imported.

Of course, the folklore and mythology of Central and Eastern European countries feature many mythical animals, many of which combine different animals or elements: a variety of dragons and werewolves (Czech/Slovak “vlkodlak”), the Fire-bird (Russian “Zhar Ptitsa”, Czech/Slovak “Vtak ohnivák”), the Slovenian zlatorog (chamois with golden horns), or the Hungarian turul (eagle-like bird wielding a flaming sword). In fact, the jackalope appears to have a counterpart in Swedish and German folklore (skvader and wolperdinger, respectively).

Where American folklore differs, as in the case of the jackalope, is in the ongoing creation of the myth. European mythical animals or other creatures are the object of fairy tales, sayings, or expressions. American folklore continues to develop and evolve and grow even today. For example, the jackalope was allegedly first sighted in 1839 in Wyoming; in 2005, the state proclaimed the jackalope its state mythical animal; and jackalope trophies appear in many locations around the West.

Jackalope the White


Jackalope the White, by Shelby Davis and Crystal Schenk, at "When the Mystery Is Too Overpowering One Dare Not Disobey", Wieden+Kennedy, Portland, Oregon, 12/1/2011

The latest jackalope sighting took place on Thursday, December 1st, at Wieden+Kennedy headquarters here in Portland, Oregon. The advertising powerhouse commissioned local artists Shelby Davis and Crystal Schenk to create a series of mystical animals, including a jackalope, a unicorn, a yeti, the Nessie, and a narwhal, to create a magical holiday experience. The foam pieces, painted pure white, will appear in the agency’s spacious offices throughout December.

The narrative from the exhibition brochure not only underlines the jackalope’s, and other creature’s, role in the perpetuation of American myths, it invites you to participate in their communal co-creation:

Literally everything about the holidays is magical. What captivates us the most are the legends. Here in the Northwest a group of creatures came to live–inspiring an enchanted tale of a holiday where unicorns, narwhals, white wolves with wings and more come together, under one roof that holds earth, water, and sky.

We invite you to add new chapters to old mythologies and have the experience become part of your own magical holiday story.

And so it goes: the jackalope continues its hop through American lore. Wildlife watchers welcome.

Post Scriptum

More photos from the exhibition:

  3 Responses to “The Jackalope and the Evolving American Folklore”

  1. I remember my first jackalope sighting – on a postcard my step-grandmother mailed me from Montana. I was probably 6 or 7 and the jackalope fascinated and bewildered me. Why had I never seen or heard of this great horned beast? Obviously their natural habitat was Montana, but did they live elsewhere? The foothills of California, perhaps, where I might chance to see one? My parents egged me on. “Maybe we’ll spot a Jackalope next time we go camping. There are only a few thousand left in the US!” My little heart was enchanted and every hike, every camping trip, every summer adventure, I longed to see one darting behind a tree or perched on a rock. I carried that postcard with me everywhere.

    But really, if there are only a thousand in the United States, it would be very, very rare to actually see a real one in the wild. So rare that no one has. Yet. Doesn’t mean they don’t exist, though.

    • @Lindsay: Parents, they make up the weirdest stories, messing us up for the rest of our days. Makes me think that U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” could easily be about Bono’s search for a jackalope.

      • …and then Bono found jackalope after all and wrote “With or without you” and “One”, reflections on their relationship :-)

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