We would drive to the edge of Lake Michigan and go down Beach Drive to look at the little, rundown house with the high fence protecting strange looking concrete and stone statues. The story was the witch who lived there had killed her family. The bizarre looking statues were supposed to resemble the strange, psychotic forms of how the witch remembered the family members she had killed or something like that. There was always a spooky story to be told on the way to the Witch’s House.
The truth about the house is it was owned by Mary Nohl, an artist. From the time she built the first concrete sculptures, stories began circulating about the curious person responsible. By the 1960s, most of the property along this private enclave of beach had been subdivided into acre lots, expensive suburban homes replacing the original quaint cottages like the one Mary lived in. She lived alone at the end of Beach Drive in a home inherited from her wealthy parents.
Over four decades, Mary Nohl kept creating sculptures and other items that didn’t fit well in the quiet, well-trimmed neighborhood. Stories took hold, about how she’d murdered her family, or how her husband had been lost in the lake and the sculptures were to beckon him home. All the stories inserted the “missing” husband and children. The cottage became a frequent late-night stop for teens drawn to the counterculture strangeness of the place.
Nohl was born in 1912 and died in 2001. She left nearly $10 million dollars (her attorney father had invested well) to a foundation to award yearly fellowships to individual artists in Milwaukee and nearby counties. She donated her house and all of its contents to the Kohler Foundation, which preserves art environments. The property is now known as the Mary Nohl Environment and it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.