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November 2019 Newsletter: Murder, Monsters, and Chocolate

Another trip down the weird back roads of Wisconsin in search of Satan and other wholesome family activities.

Entrance to the demolished Mirro Manufacturing Company in Manitowoc

The entrance still stands to the demolished Mirro Manufacturing Company in Manitowoc, once one of the world’s largest manufacturers of aluminum cooking utensils, whose early offerings were showcased at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

Windigo Fest is an annual Halloween gathering held in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. With three days of live music, sideshow performances, haunted cemetery tours, celebrity guests and more, it’s become the largest Halloween festival in the state. Predictably, it sparked controversy from Manitowoc’s Christian community in it’s first year. One local business owner in particular seemed to have made it her mission to save everyone’s souls from eternal damnation.

“Jody Dubinsky, owner of Treasures in downtown Manitowoc, said this festival is darker than it seems on the surface,” the Herald Times Reporter wrote. “She became concerned when her own research turned up old Native American tales of a creature called the windigo, sometimes spelled wendigo, which eats human beings and devours their souls, particularly young children.”

But that’s not all. The festival was held on the first weekend of the Halloween season that year, October 6th and 7th. 6 plus 7 woefully equals the unlucky number 13. And if that’s not bad enough, the costume parade was planned to go backward up a one way street.

Clearly the work of the devil himself.

In addition to holding meetings to pray over the festival, Dubinsky and several others made their plea to the city council that allowing Windigo Fest to happen would be welcoming Satan into the community.

That’s when I decided I needed to be involved in Windigo Fest any way I could.

When my friend Matt Lombard, curator of the Heart of Darkness dark art exhibition at Windigo Fest, invited me to show my work this year, I knew I had to bring some Cult of Weird-brand history and lore to Manitowoc. Not to mention it would be an honor to have my work hanging alongside other amazing local and international artists including Matt himself, whose portfolio includes work with Cradle of Filth and Combichrist.

I chose photos of three Wisconsin locations seemingly cursed by their past and the legends that have grown around them. Places I’ve been researching for years and continue to find endlessly fascinating for their history and mythology. If you’ve been following my work for a while, you’ve no doubt read about them at some point.

But just showing poorly composed photos of a house, some graves, and a crypt without context was out of the question. The stories of each location’s significance had to be told, so I included cards with brief write-ups to hang beside each print.

I’ll only include a glimpse of that here because the experience of showing my work publicly (in real life, for better or worse) for the first time is not the point of this post.

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Windigo Fest is billed as a “festival of folklore, freaks, and all things Halloween,” so when @matt.lombard invited me to submit something for the dark art exhibition this year, I knew right away I wanted to show photos of local places cursed by years of sinister folklore. The photos I picked weren't chosen for composition but rather the disturbing legends surrounding them, and the fact that each location has long and very real histories of tragedy and mysterious happenings. These are places I've been visiting, photographing, and researching for years, and though I've posted much of it online in various forms, it was exciting to bring them together here in the real world for the first time among so many other amazing artists. . . . #cultofweird #windigofest #windigofest2019 #wifrights #darkart #wisconsin #weirdwisconsin #wisconsinlore #onlyinwisconsin #wisconsinhistory #lore #folklore #haunted #hauntedplaces #abandonedwisconsin #abandonedplaces #cemetery #cemeterylovers #cemeteryphotography #oddities #curiosities #wunderkammer #cabinetofcuriosities #halloween #creepy #horror #occult #paranormal

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What I’m actually working up to here is that while some fret that Windigo Fest brings Satan to Manitowoc, the city is no stranger to weird and evil. It is, of course, the setting of the controversial true crime docuseries “Making a Murderer” on Netflix, and, if this guy is to be believed, may even be home to a secret Satanic club comprised of Manitowoc’s elite who hold their rituals in an abandoned haunted school in St. Nazianz.

I decided to forgo dragging my kids to murder houses during our trip to California, but all bets were off in Manitowoc.

Place of the Spirits

Manitowoc, Wisconsin
Manitowoc, Wisconsin

“In other countries, over the years, people recognized the places of power,” Neil Gaiman wrote in his 2001 novel American Gods. “Sometimes it would be a natural formation, sometimes it would just be a place that was, somehow, special. They knew something important was happening there, that there was some focusing point, some channel, some window to the Immanent. And so they would build temples or cathedrals, or erect stone circles, or…well, you get the idea.”

That particular passage was in reference to roadside attractions like Wisconsin’s own House on the Rock, but it’s an idea that can fit into a slightly more broad perspective, as well.

Dotted with effigy burial mounds and brimming with ancient lore, the physical and spiritual landscape of Wisconsin is largely shaped by its Native American heritage and their mystical places of power. The name Manitowoc, for example, is said to derive from an Anishinaabe word for the area that translates roughly to dwelling of the great spirit, or a similar word from the Menominee language meaning place of the spirits.

Is there something intangible about certain places that stirs up concentrated levels of strange activity? If so, the Manitowoc area may be one such vortex of weird.

The city sits on the shore of Lake Michigan and has its roots in Great Lakes shipping and shipbuilding. But for explorers of the strange and unusual like you and me, Manitowoc is significant for a few more peculiar points of interest which I vowed to visit next time I was in town.

But first, chocolate.

Beersten's candy shop in Manitowoc
Beersten’s Confectionary

If you’re familiar with Making a Murderer and the Steven Avery case, you’ll know why this candy shop is significant to that story. But more importantly, Beersten’s Confectionary is the eastern point of the so-called Wisconsin Candy Delta.

In this Devil’s Triangle of chocolate you’ll find sweets “made from 100-year-old recipes and sold in 50-year-old mom-and-pop bastions — heirloom chocolates fresh from the source” according to a 2008 New York Times article.

Beersten’s in particular feels like stepping back in time, with antique cases displaying a vast assortment of chocolate in unbelievable shapes and sizes. I was so in awe of the place that I apparently only managed to snap a single photo while inside:

A life size chocolate telephone at Beersten's in Manitowoc

That’s right, a life size chocolate telephone.

We purchased strange and wondrous treats (several of them cow-shaped) from the mystical cases at Beersten’s and departed for the next destination, where the quiet streets of Manitowoc were bombarded nearly 60 years ago by cosmic Russian junk.

Sputnik Crashed Here

Sputnik crashed here in Manitowoc, Wisconsin

The Sputnik IV spacecraft was launched into space on May 15, 1960 to study life-support systems that were later used in the manned Vostok craft. Four days later, when it was suppose to return to Earth, the reentry procedure was botched and Sputnik went off course.

The craft ascended into a higher orbit from which it would not return for over two years. The descent module finally reentered Earth’s atmosphere on September 5, 1962, breaking up and scattering chunks of smoldering metal for miles.

Residents of Manitowoc reported seeing as many as 24 pieces falling from the sky that morning, some plummeting toward the ground with a sound like thunder. At the intersection of North 8th and Park, just feet from the Rahr-West Art Museum, a 20-pound piece of debris embedded itself in the street.

Two police officers on patrol spotted the chunk of metal in the street and, believing it fell off a truck, decided to leave it. It wasn’t until later, when they heard the news about Sputnik, that they realized what they had found.

A brass ring marks where Sputnik crashed
A brass ring in the street marks the exact location where a chunk of Sputnik landed

A brass ring in the middle of the street marks the spot where the debris was found. The nearby Rahr-West Art Museum displays a replica of the debris cast from the original. The annual Sputnikfest is held here, where visitors can enjoy a humorous, vodka-fueled reenactment of the Sputnik control room when things went wrong, the Miss Space Debris pageant, and other “wacky tacky” festivities.

Not far from Rahr-West is a WWII relic that seems to have a lingering member of the crew still aboard.

Haunted WWII Sub

USS Cobia haunted submarine in Manitowoc
USS Cobia submarine at the Manitowoc Maritime Museum

The USS Cobia was launched in 1943 and sank 13 Japanese vessels during it’s World War II duty. Today, the Cobia serves as an international memorial to submariners at Manitowoc’s Maritime Museum.

And it may still be the home of one particular crewman who didn’t leave his post alive.

“The Cobia did see some action in WW2 and a gentleman was killed on one of the guns,” a Cult of Weird reader said in an email a few years ago. “To this day they say he haunts the submarine. My pastor’s daughter used to be a tour guide on the submarine and can tell you stories about dropping keys through the grate on the floor and returning with them hanging on the wall.”

Making a Murderer

Avery's Auto Salvage
Avery’s Auto Salvage

A few miles outside of Manitowoc is Avery’s Auto Salvage, where the events documented in the Netflix series Making a Murderer played out. Whether the land where Steven Avery’s family still resides is the site of a brutal murder or an appalling miscarriage of justice, once a place has been marked with stigma, the curse doesn’t go away.

Much like the residents of Ed Gein’s hometown, locals here mostly seem to regard the unwanted attention as a wound on their community.

“I’d say the overwhelming opinion is it was just fabrication and just a pain in the butt,” one man told the Green Bay Press Gazette about the series in 2018, “giving the area a bad name through twisted facts.”

Avery's Auto Salvage sign

But, just like Plainfield, true crime enthusiasts and dark tourists make great pilgrimages to glimpse the infamous salvage yard. Out-of-state visitors frequently stop for selfies with the auto salvage sign, and the town has been forced to explore alternative methods of attaching the Avery Road sign to its post to prevent it being stolen again.

Avery's Auto Salvage

Avery's Auto Salvage

Avery's Auto Salvage

Bonus Weird Thing

Soon after returning from Manitowoc I found an email in my inbox from a couple who encountered a wendigo-ish sort of creature in nearby Two Rivers. I wrote about it here: A Wendigo Encounter in Manitowoc County?

My conversation with the witness began in the comments of something I had previously written about wendigo encounters in Wisconsin. But was it actually wendigo? Does the description even remotely match a wendigo? I dunno. Sometimes writing post titles is hard, man.

Weird News

A selection of the strangest and most fascinating headlines in science, history, archaeology, travel, and more from last month:

November Observances

November 1-2 – Dia de los Muertos
November 2 – All Souls Day
November 19 – World Toilet Day
November 21 – World Television Day
November 22 – Anniversary of the mysterious Max Headroom hack
November 30 – Saint Andrew’s Day

From the Cult of Weird Community

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Send questions, photos of your favorite oddities, or share share your strange or unexplained experiences to be included in the next newsletter. Use the contact form or email info@cultofweird.com

Previous Newsletter: Cult of Weird goes to Hollywood

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Weird Hollywood

October 2019 Newsletter: Cult of Weird Goes to Hollywood

Cult of Weird goes west, has mildly interesting adventures, and almost joins a real cult.

It’s been nearly 20 years since I visited the West Coast, so the moment I learned I would be spending time in and around Los Angeles to stand up in my best friend’s wedding at the end of September (it was beautiful and amazing, but I had to wear white, so don’t expect any photos of that), I began mapping out all the murder houses, oddities shops, and disturbing museums I’ve spent the last two decades researching and dreaming about seeing in person.

By the time I boarded the tiny metal sky tube bound for California with my kids, however, I decided they would probably enjoy the touristy things a bit more than gawking from the sidewalk at the Sowden House where some believe Elizabeth Short (the “Black Dahlia”) was murdered and mutilated.

I mean, my kids spend every day of their lives surrounded by skulls, taxidermy, and death ephemera. I drag them on detours to find graves of murderers and exorcists on the way to the grocery store. This is supposed to be a vacation—I’ll cut them some slack.

We’ll take some photos by the Hollywood sign – where an actress committed suicide by throwing herself from the top of the “H” in 1932. We’ll stroll down the Walk of Fame past buildings haunted by the stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age, like the Roosevelt Hotel. Since they’re missing school, we’ll get some prehistoric education at the La Brea tar pits – there’s nothing weird about educational dead things, right? We’ll hit the arcade on the Santa Monica pier where my favorite part of my last visit in 2000 was a one-legged seagull with a twitchy nub where the other should have been.

Back in 2000 I also stumbled into the filming of an MTV game show I don’t remember the name of and can’t seem to find any evidence of online. The female host was getting covered in cockroaches or something, and I had a conversation with the male host in which I confessed I didn’t watch his show. Charming, as always. I have a knack of inadvertently insulting famous people.

If that show wasn’t just a figment of my imagination, if it actually exists and that moment really happened…there might be footage out there somewhere of a 20-year-old goth kid from the desolate wastes of Wisconsin with hair bleached, dyed red, and gelled into insect-like antennae, hanging out on the Santa Monica pier.

I didn’t manage to get into much weirdness this time around. But I did almost get recruited into Scientology, so it wasn’t a total loss.

Photos From the Trip

Nessy Burger in Fallbrook, California

The wedding was held at a remote, fantastical private castle high in the mountains near Fallbrook, which my vegan readers or guacamole enthusiasts will be interested to know is the self-proclaimed “Avocado Capital of the World” according to the sign with a smiling, dancing avocado in a hat.

But more importantly, Fallbrook is the home of Nessy Burgers.

This is why no one has found the Loch Ness Monster. The food was great, but I’m still picking scales out of my teeth.

Nessy Burger

Nessy burgers are better enjoyed in a kilt, of course.

Fallbrook roadside memorial

A roadside memorial near our hotel.

Chocorooms

What the…? They didn’t even have any hallucinatory properties…

Dispensary in Fallbrook

This dispensary had a bit of a Breaking Bad vibe, but we survived.

Swami's Beach in Encinitas

Swami’s Beach in Encinitas.

Easter Island heads at Swami's Beach in Encinitas

Easter Island Heads carved by artist Tim Richards at Swami’s Beach in Encinitas.

Joy's Memorial at Swami's Beach

Joy's Memorial at Swami's Beach

Joy Froding, a jewelry designer, painter, sculptor, and beloved member of Swami’s surf community, succumbed to a heart attack after riding “one of the best waves of her life” in 2015. Her friends felt that she was the heart of Swami’s.

“It made me happy to know that she stuck with surfing and really made it her lifestyle and that a beautiful wave was her last memory of her life,” a friend who taught Joy to surf wrote after her death.

Now you can’t get down to the beach without passing by this memorial.

Crabs at Swami's Beach at Low Tide

Found some crabs. They weren’t nearly as excited to see me as I was to see them.

Digideroo on the beach

A guy casually blowing his digideroo on the beach. And a guy wearing a reverse t-shirt in the background?

Self-Realization Fellowship in Encinitas

This is probably a cult.

Inside the Scientology Information Center on Hollywood Boulevard

This is definitely a cult.

Church of Scientology Information Center in Hollywood

They gave me pamphlets and showed me a video about how Scientology isn’t bad. I took this photo from the sidewalk. Once I was inside they wouldn’t allow any photos.

I regret to inform you all that it seems I have body thetans. But don’t worry, once I start paying for auditing I’ll be clear in no time.

Statue of Robert Wadlow at Guinness World Records Museum in Hollywood

Statue of Robert Wadlow, the tallest man ever in recorded history, at Guinness World Records Museum in Hollywood.

Elvis in Hollywood

Where did his fingers go?

Rattlesnakes in Hollywood park

Rattlesnakes. In a children’s play area. This was at Hollywood Lake Park where everyone goes to get a good photo of themselves pretending to hold the Hollywood sign.

Mammoth statues at La Brea Tar Pits

Columbian mammoth sculptures at the La Brea Tar Pits. Created by Howard Ball and transported from his studio to the La Brea Lake Pit in a trailer pulled by his Volkswagen Beetle in 1968.

Road cones mark areas where asphalt has bubbled up

Road cones mark new spots where asphalt has bubbled up from the pits below.

La Brea tar pits tree graffiti

Tar pit tree graffiti.

Dire wolf skulls on display at the La Brea Tar Pits Museum

404 dire wolf skulls found in the La Brea tar pits.

Stork skeleton at the La Brea Tar Pits Museum

Articulated skeleton of a La Brea stork.

A face painted on a tree with asphalt at the La Brea tar pits

Tar art

Ancient corkscrew fossil at the La Brea Tar Pits

Fossil of an ancient corkscrew that became trapped in the tar pits hundreds of thousands of years ago.

The Evolution of Life on Earth at the La Brea Tar Pits Museum

“Time Ribbon” or “The Evolution of Life on Earth” at the La Brea Tar Pits Museum is a mural of an 83-foot-long ribbon depicting the entire history of life on Earth beginning with the origin of the planet five billion years ago. Each inch represents about five million years. The story of primitive man to astronaut happens only within the last half inch.

Levitated Mass art installation at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

“Levitated Mass,” a 340-ton granite boulder art installation by Michael Heizer at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Map of movie star home and crime scenes on the Santa Monica pier

“The kids will thank you forever and definitely won’t be traumatized by a Hollywood murder tour,” that smiling star told me.

Beneath the Santa Monica pier

Beneath the Santa Monica pier. Living here when I’m old, poor, and homeless is my new retirement plan.

Sunset at the Santa Monica pier

Sunset from the Santa Monica beach with the “Singing Beach Chairs.” The backs of the oversized chairs are aluminum tubes that produce low oboe-like tones when the wind blows off the ocean through them. They were created by Douglas Hollis and installed in 1987. All art created for Santa Monica beaches had to adhere to the guideline that it “must interact with natural phenomena.”

Weird News

A selection of the strangest and most fascinating headlines in science, history, archaeology, travel, and more from last month:

Octopus Changes Colors While Dreaming

October Observances

October 4-6 – Windigo Fest Halloween Festival
October 9 – Feast of St. Denis, the headless saint
October 12 – Happy birthday Aleister Crowley
October 13 – Templars arrested on this day in 1307
October 16 – Anniversary of the Cardiff Giant discovery
October 20 – Anniversary of the Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot film

From the Cult of Weird Community

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WTFact

Strange phenomena reported during the Peshtigo fire
Photo courtesy of Sketchy Mother Artistry

The Peshtigo fire ravaged northeastern Wisconsin on October 8, 1871. The firestorm (with reported “tornados of flames”) burned approximately 1,200,000 acres and killed between 1,500 and 2,500 people, making it the deadliest wildfire in American history. So many people died in the fire that there was no one left to identify them. More than 350 unidentified bodies were buried in a mass grave. But the tragedy was overshadowed by the Great Chicago Fire that occurred on the same day…along with several more fires in Michigan.

What caused all those fires?

In his 1883 book Ragnarok: The Age of Fire And Gravel, Igantius Donnelly proposed that the Earth had passed through the broken up remains of the Biela Comet. The comet was discovered in 1926 and predicted to pass by Earth in 1872 but never showed. According to Donnelly, the fragments of Biela could have entered our atmosphere and started the fires upon impact.

Numerous other strange phenomena was reported during the Peshtigo fire, including black balloon-like objects in the air that would burst into flames when they collided with other objects. Even today, the area is still ripe with supernatural activity, including shadow people seen on the streets of Peshtigo, and the only apparition of the Virgin Mary officially validated by the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.

Listen to this podcast to learn more about the strange phenomena surrounding the Peshtigo fire.

Previous Newsletter: The Heart of Darkness

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Heart of Darkness dark art exhibition

September 2019 Newsletter: The Heart of Darkness

Cult of Weird will be bringing the historical weirdness to the Windigo Fest dark art exhibit in Manitowoc this year.

Windigo Fest, Wisconsin’s largest Halloween festival, is happening this October, and I have the honor of showing a selection of photos at the dark art exhibit. Curated by artist Matt Lombard, The Heart of Darkness will feature bizarre and disturbing works by local and international artists. The 3-day festival in the heart of downtown Manitowoc (a town you may recognize as the epicenter of the Steven Avery case from Netflix’s Making A Murderer) is billed as a “festival of folklore, freaks, and all things Halloween.” So I decided to bring some Cult of Weird-brand folklore and dark history.

I’ll be showing three photos from different locations with unusual stories Cult readers will be familiar with because I’ve been visiting, researching, and writing about these fascinating stories for years. But for many who call Wisconsin home, these histories are completely unknown but for fragments passed around in local legends.

See the photos and read the stories at Windigo Fest – October 4-6th, 2019. There’s more than just grotesque art, too. Stick around for macabre fun with sideshow performances, live music, Halloween parade, the actor who played Gage in the original Pet Cemetery, the killer car from Christine, hearses, vendors, and more.

Windigo Fest dark art exhibition in Manitowoc, Wisconsin
The Heart of Darkness dark art exhibition

The week before Windigo Fest I’ll be in California standing up in my best friend’s wedding, which will be equally bizarre. Elusive, hairy, and strange, we’ve long suspected him to be an actual yeti. I guess we’ll know for sure when the wedding photos turn out blurry.

It’s been 20 years since my last visit to Los Angeles, so I’ve got my list of cemeteries, murder houses, and other morbid destinations at hand if there’s time. I’m sure he’ll understand when I’m late for the ceremony because I had to make a stop at the Museum of Death.

Weird News

A selection of the strangest and most fascinating headlines in science, history, archaeology, travel, and more from last month:

HEADLINE OF THE MONTH: Don’t Lick Sexy Pavement Lichen

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The crypt of Wisconsin's little-known incorrupt priest Father Ambrose Oschwald, who was removed from his position in a church in Germany's Black Forest for "mystical and heretical works." He and some of his congregation, which have been referred to as a "Catholic mystic cult," left the country for America in search of religious freedom and arrived in Wisconsin in 1854. There, Oschwald and his followers claimed a white heifer lead them to the sacred ground where they would make their new home – a small rural community known today as St. Nazianz. The night of Oschwald's death in 1873, people throughout the town reported ghostly knocking on the walls of their homes. Since his death, Oschwald's body has been viewed three times, once more than 50 years since he passed. Each time it was noted that, like the incorrupt saints of Europe, his remains bore little sign of decomposition and had no smell. Today, some believe certain hardships the community has endured in the years since Oschwald's passing are the result of a curse Oschwald placed on the town while on his death bed. A now abandoned Catholic school and Salvatorian seminary on the grounds near Oschwald's crypt is believed to be haunted by past students and teachers alike who have had strange experiences in the building. This was my first visit here since 2012 and my @cultofweird article about the town's peculiar history. Finding Oschwald's crypt open was like Christmas morning. #cultofweird #oddities #paranormal #occult #wisconsin #weirdwisconsin #stnazianz #jfkprep #haunted #hauntedplaces #cemetery #cemeterylovers #crypt #wisconsinhistory #onlyinwisconsin #travelwisconsin #explore #exploremore #cemeterylife #wisconsinlore

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September Observances

September 7Sputnikfest
September 20 – Storm Area 51
September 21 – Storm Loch Ness
September 21Hearse Fest
September 29 – National Ghost Hunting Day
September 30 – International Blasphemy Day

Send questions, photos of your favorite oddities, or share share your strange or unexplained experiences to be included in the next newsletter. Use the contact form or email info@cultofweird.com

WTFact

Windigo Fest Halloween festival in Manitowoc, Wisconsin

When the inaugural Windigo Fest was announced in 2017, an alarmed Manitowoc-based Christian group petitioned the city council to ban the event, saying it would welcome Satan into the community. To support their claims, they noted the dates the festival would be happening that year – October 6th and 7th – added up to the number thirteen. If that wasn’t enough, the Halloween parade was sure to summon the devil by going backwards down 8th street.

If Satan was going to be there, I knew I had to get involved in Windigo Fest somehow.

Previous Newsletter: Mary Nohl’s Witch House

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Mary Nohl width house in Fox Point

August 2019 Newsletter: Mary Nohl’s Whimsical Sculpture Garden

The Witch’s House is a Milwaukee landmark with an eerie legend, but the only magic Mary Nohl was conjuring was her yard full of strange sculptures.

There is a curious old home in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin suburb of Fox Point, a cottage on the shore of Lake Michigan, which has been the source of urban legend for decades. My dad drove me past it when I was a kid. The yard was filled with large concrete sculptures of giant heads and abstract figures. Humans, fish, and other water creatures all made with materials gathered from the beach.

Frightened whispers of countless curious visitors tell a story as chilling as the howling wind that blows in from the lake, the tragic tale of a reclusive old woman whose husband and son drowned in the turbulent waters just offshore from their home. In her grief, they say, the “Witch of Fox Point” constructed the bizarre sculptures to keep watch for her lost loved ones to return.

But Mary Nohl was never married, and had no children. She was an artist who conjured fantastical creations that transformed her home into her masterpiece – which continues to be a thorn in her neighbor’s sides to this day.

“Mary cared nothing about conforming, resisted the stereotypical roles for women of her generation,” Barbara Manger, author of Mary Nohl: Inside & Out, said in a 2009 interview. “She set her own direction and pursued creating regardless of the views of others.”

In that way, maybe Mary really was a witch – a strong, independent woman who lived the life she chose regardless of societal expectations.

And it seems she had a sense of humor about the legend, if the word “boo” formed by beach pebbles on her front step is any indication.

The home of Mary Nohl, known as the Milwaukee Witch's House

Mary was born to Leo and Emma Nohl in 1914. Leo was an attorney in Milwaukee. The Nohls bought the lot where the house stands now on North Beach Road and built a small prefab cottage as a summer retreat in 1924. It quickly became 10-year-old Mary’s favorite place. At the time, the road was little more than a dirt path and wasn’t plowed during the winter, so it wasn’t an ideal place to live year round.

That changed by the early 1940s, though, and the Nohl’s hired an architect to build an addition. There were some delays during construction as World War II caused a shortage in building materials, but the house was eventually completed in 1943. The Nohls sold their Milwaukee home and moved in.

Mary graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1937. She taught art in Baltimore and Milwaukee until 1943, when she decided that making art was more enjoyable. She opened a pottery studio in Milwaukee and moved back in with her parents at the house on North Beach Road, where she would spend the rest of her life.

Mary’s parents died in the 1960s, leaving her a sizable inheritance. She didn’t have to work anymore, so she began filling the home where she now lived alone with her creations of concrete, scrollsawn wood, driftwood, glass, bone, and other found objects.

The spectacle soon attracted curious visitors, and with them, vandalism. But Mary didn’t let that hinder her creativity.

“I was awakened early one Sunday morning to the sound of a crackling fire,” she wrote about a particular incident, probably in one of her biannual mimeographed newsletters she sent to friends and family, “and relieved to find that the fire was burning a driftwood figure in the front yard – and not the house. This particular sculpture has been a target for the kids for years – about fifteen feet high and so encrusted with paint and so dried in the sun, that the burning was like a series of explosions. Called the poor, overworked police who sat in three squad cars outside the fence and watched it burn. Sass, Basil and I sat inside and watched from the front window with the aid of a beer. All that was left were two ten-foot pipes anchored in cement, and before the last sparks had drifted off I had plans for my largest cement animal. The two pipes conveniently became the
two front legs of a less destructible cement creation.”

Sculptures by Mary Nohl

Mary died in 2001 at the age of 87. She left her home and sculptures to a philanthropic organization called the Kohler Foundation that works in the areas of art preservation, grants, scholarships, and performing arts. Her estate of over $11 million went to the Greater Milwaukee Foundation to oversee the administration of the Mary Nohl Foundation and Mary Nohl Fellowship, providing arts education for children and scholarships for artists.

North Beach Road is a wealthy area, and to Mary’s neighbors, her home was an eyesore. They petitioned the city to have it demolished. Instead, the property was granted entries in the Wisconsin Registry of Historic Places and the National Register of Historic Places, and is now protected.

The Kohler Foundation wanted to open it to the public, but a decade-long struggle with residents and zoning laws proved unsuccessful. In 2014, a plan was announced to move the entire house and sculptures to a more accessible site in Sheboygan County, but it has since been cancelled because the art was deemed too fragile to move.

Sculptures by Mary Nohl, the Witch of Fox Point

Conservators have cataloged hundreds of individual works of art from inside and outside Mary’s home. In her master’s thesis on Nohl, Debra L. Brehmer categorized the yard sculptures into four distinct groups: monolithic heads, figures and groupings, mythic animals, and architectural ruins.

Records of Mary’s works include descriptions such as, “Man & Fish Conversing,” “Tall Horned Figure,” “Wall of Faces,” “Crowned Heads,” and “Mermaids.”

“To build these pieces,” Brehmer wrote, “Mary first develops a rough idea on paper. She then makes armatures out of metal rods, old pipes, fence wire or tin and fills in the forms with stones she collects by the beach in an old red wagon. She applies concrete in sections, from the ground up, allowing each to dry for two or three days before adding the next. She often combs or trowels a texture into the wet medium and adds subtle decorative flourishes, such as beach stone, marbles or reflector eyes and ornamental bits of pottery or tile.”

Among the various exhibitions of Mary’s work over the years was the “Greetings and Salutations and Boo” installation at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in 2017, which included Mary’s intricately embellished living room, carefully removed from her home and reconstructed for the exhibit.

Mary Nohl Art Environment

That may be the closest most of us will ever get, as the house itself remains a private residence for a caretaker from the Kohler Foundation.

The National Register of Historic Places record calls the Mary Nohl Art Environment “one of Wisconsin’s most original and outstanding works of art.”

What doesn't kill us makes us stranger Cult of Weird t-shirt
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Weird News

A selection of the strangest and most fascinating headlines in science, history, archaeology, travel, and more from last month:

August Observances

August 3 – PT Barnum was born on this day in 1810
August 5 – National Underwear Day
August 9 – Sharon Tate and her guests murdered by Manson Family 50 years ago on this day
August 17 – Black Cat Appreciation Day

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The LaBianca murder house 1969

On August 10th, the night after Sharon Tate and her guests were slaughtered by members of the Manson Family, the killers randomly selected this home as their next target, where they violently murdered Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. Earlier that year, the LaBiancas got police involved with other strange, seemingly unconnected incidences where things were found moved in the house, or the dogs were discovered outside when they had been kept in. But there was no evidence anyone had broken in, and nothing was stolen. Authorities believe there was no connection between the Manson Family murders and the previous activity.

The Los Feliz home was sold in July 2019 to Ghost Adventures host Zak Bagans.

Previous Newsletter: Wisconsin’s UFO Capital of the World

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UFOs in Dundee

July 2019 Newsletter: Wisconsin’s UFO Capital of the World

A look at the bizarre history of a small town in Wisconsin with an unusually high number of UFO sightings.

According to data from the National UFO Reporting Center, Wisconsin ranks 23rd for UFO sightings in the United States. An unknown object witnessed in rural Barron, WI in 1934 inspired Coral Lorenzen to pioneer UFO research. And there are three individual UFO festivals held around the state every year in locations known to have an unusually high number of UFO sightings.

Of those three places, one area in particular is perhaps the most peculiar.

UFOs Over UFO Daze

On the evening of July 17, 2004, a crowd was gathered at a tavern on the shore of Long Lake in Dundee, Wisconsin for the annual UFO Daze festival hosted by local UFO researcher Bill Benson. UFO enthusiasts have been gathering here by the hundreds to share their experiences and hoping to spot something strange in the sky since 1988. But this particular night would be different.

When the hot and humid summer day gave way to night, many of the day’s visitors remained to see if anything unusual would show up in the night sky. It was near midnight when excited murmurings from the crowd turned all eyes to the sky.

Something was coming.

“What I remember first about the experience was the bluish green light,” attendee Noah Voss wrote in his book UFO Wisconsin. “From the absentee stars I observe what seems to be perhaps a triangle shape.”

The object passed low and silent over the crowd with a Y-shaped pattern of lights, and disappeared over the tree line.

Whatever it was the crowd at UFO Daze witnessed that night, it was not an isolated incident. Mysterious orbs of flashing lights and strange objects in the sky are not uncommon in the area, and have turned more than a few skeptics into believers.

There is a long history of unexplained sightings over Long Lake and nearby Dundee Mountain, and Bill Benson is eager to share it with anyone who asks.


Spheres of light filmed over Long Lake by UFO Daze attendees on July 22, 2002

Benson’s UFO Headquarters

Bill’s extraterrestrial-themed tavern, Benson’s Hide-a-Way, may be the only place in Wisconsin where you can report a UFO sighting, see an alien in a jar, and get a killer fish fry on a Friday night. Alien posters, UFO models, tinfoil hats, and inflatable little green men adorn the interior. There is a scrapbook at the bar full of glowing circles set against a black backdrop – unidentified flying objects photographed in the area by Bill’s friend Tim Hildebrandt, who spent many nights with his cameras on the summit of Dundee Mountain capturing those images.

Benson’s is located in the heart of the picturesque Kettle Moraine State Forest, an area known for hiking, camping, and fishing. It seems an unlikely setting for flying saucers and alien abductions. Nevertheless, decades of strange happenings have lead locals to proclaim it the “UFO Capital of the World.”

Visitors have come from around the globe to get a glimpse of something otherworldly hovering over the rural community, and they congregate at the Hide-a-Way.

UFO photos
Bill Benson’s collection of UFO photos, including a crop circle that appeared in the reeds in Long Lake in 1995.

Bill’s unusual interest began in the late 1940s, he said in a recent interview. When he was a child, crop circles appeared in an oat field about four miles from his home. The farm was owned by relatives of Bill’s in an area near Dundee known as the jersey flats.

Later, during his time serving in the US military in Vietnam, he personally witnessed a large bright light moving unnaturally in the distant sky while on guard duty one night.

“I saw a strange orange light dancing off in right angles, flashing quickly, twisting and moving around rapidly,” he told the Fond du Lac reporter in 1993.

But for Bill, the seminal moment came in 1985 when a circular object hovering near his neighbor’s farm on Vista Drive kept frightening the cows out of the pasture and into the barn. Another neighbor witnessed the event from his car while driving down the road.

This incident prompted Benson, along with his friend and radio personality Robert “UFO Bob” Kuehn, who claimed to maintain ongoing telepathic communication with an extraterrestrial named Eveata from the Plaidian star system (Eveata liked to visit and catch Green Bay Packers games), to hold the first UFO Daze as a safe place for others who had similar experiences to share their stories.

Over the years, locals have reported glowing orbs hovering over the summit of Dundee Mountain, sometimes being chased by US Air Force jet craft or helicopters. In 1995 a crop circle inexplicably appeared in the reeds near Benson’s. Formations of lights have been seen over the lake, and even flickering from the depths beneath.

It’s been 31 years since the first UFO Daze, and it is still a popular excuse to craft intricate tinfoil hats. Benson’s enthusiasm for the subject matter is known worldwide.


A triangular object filmed over Long Lake by UFO Daze attendees on July 17, 2004

Something Under Dundee Mountain

Dundee Mountain
Dundee Mountain

Dundee Mountain looms high above the tree line at the southern end of the lake. Gouged from the earth by the last glaciers to tear through the area, the “mountain” is actually a 270-foot high moulin kame formation made up of sediment left behind by the glaciers when they retreated over 10,000 years ago. And, depending on who you ask, it may be the source of the area’s mysterious activity.

Long before the modern sightings around Dundee Mountain, it seems Native Americans were well aware of it’s unusual properties.

“They called it ‘Spirit Hill,'” Bill said during a 2008 interview with the Fond du Lac Reporter. “There’s been strange things forever out here.”

But what exactly does the ominous mound of dirt have to do with the unusual occurrences in the area?

Bill doesn’t pretend to have the answers. He has no idea why Dundee is the center of so much strange activity. But he does seem to believe Dundee Mountain may be the source of it.

“Something is under there,” he told a reporter in 2016.

But what it is, not even Bill knows.

The 31st annual UFO Daze is happening July 20, 2019.

UFO Summer Camp

Cult of Weird UFO Summer Camp

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Weird News

A selection of the strangest and most fascinating headlines in science, history, archaeology, travel, and more from last month:

July Observances

July 2 – World UFO Day
July 5 – Roswell UFO Festival begins, celebrating the anniversary of the Roswell UFO crash
July 5 – P.T. Barnum was born on this day in 1810
July 8 – World Disclosure Day
July 10 – Nikola Tesla was born on this day in 1856
July 19 – Cannibal Alexander Pearce was executed on this day in 1824
July 21 – Rev. Thomas Baker was eaten in Fiji on this day in 1867
July 22Feast of Mary Magdalene

Send questions, photos of your favorite oddities, or share share your strange or unexplained experiences to be included in the next newsletter. Use the contact form or email info@cultofweird.com

WTFact

Ray's Sausage and the home of the Cleveland Strangler

For several years, a Cleveland meat shop called Ray’s Sausage was battling a foul smell that had taken hold inside the building and was threatening to ruin the nearly 60-year-old, family-owned businesses. The family spent $20,000 on new plumbing, sewer lines, and grease traps, but the odor persisted. In October 2009, police discovered the source: 11 decomposed bodies in the house next door to Ray’s. The house belonged to serial killer Anthony Sowell, the “Cleveland Strangler,” who had moved in shortly before the stench began.

Previous Newsletter: The Woman Who Pioneered UFO Research

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