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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.”

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Occult

How to buy a Crystal Ball for Scrying.

Crystal balls were once, years ago, much more common in occultist practices than they are today. The typical type of crystal ball is a very large, thick, heavy solid glass sphere that would be set upon an extremely dark; a blackish huge square-cut piece of wool, cloth, or satin. A person would stare intently into the circular glass and concentrate on seeing visions of the future, or even conjure spells.

Divination using a crystal ball or other light reflective object or surface, even upon water, is known as scrying. When scrying is practiced with crystals or any transparent body, it is known as crystallomancy or crystal gazing. The crystal ball is said to become misty before the future scene is visually displayed. A crystal ball is also known as an orbuculum or a crystal sphere.  Some people, over a century ago, would stare in the crystal ball on a bright, sunny day; but actually doing so is harmful. A large crystal ball reflects the sunlight to such a high degree that the sunlight hurts and damages the eyes and hands if held, and may burn the cloth or such material around it. So that activity soon becomes terminated.

The established method is to use at the crystal ball at night; in the darkness or a dimly lit room for scrying.  Many people have tried to see the future in a crystal ball only to see nothing paranormal and have turned skeptical and disappointed.  Other people, when trying to see the future while crystal gazing, soon get nervous and frightened; feeling they should not try to see future events in case some type of horrible tragedy and even death reveals itself. Their fear can be based on a terrible incident to occur that these people feel as though they cannot stop it. Thus, with these individuals, their minds have produced a blocking effect to see ahead in time which neutralizes any type of psychic precognition ability they might really have.

Nowadays, many people who continue to look toward crystal ball precognition desire their crystal balls to be bit mere glass that has a small amount of mineral, such as lead, in it, but an actual crystal ball made from quartz crystal. Lead can be added to originary glass and the higher content of lead is also known as “crystal” and is common in antique glasses, dishes, candlestick holders, etc. Lead in glassware results in a smoother, more lustrous finish. Quartz crystal balls are on today’s occult supplies market but are very expensive. Quartz is known to have a certain amount of stored electricity inside of it. If two pieces of dry quartz are rubbed together, flashes of light are seen because of electrical discharge. This phenomenon is called triboluminescence, or also called “cold light” because no heat is produced. The flashes of light are best seen in the dark.

An American Indian tribe, the Uncompahgre Ute, would fill a translucent rattle, made of rawhide, with bits of quartz. When the rattle is shaken, the quartz particles would glow.  Other divination balls have been made using amethyst: a precious stone consisting of mainly a violet or purple variety of quartz. The violet; purple quartz variety, in Europe, since ancient times has been considered a special stone with virtues associated with royalty and was used to decorate English regalia. Some forms of quartz derived amethyst are red to vanter lilac hue. Amethyst is the birthstone for folks born in the month of February.  There are crystal balls made of black obsidian which is volcanic lava harden glass. Many people in hot Western states-California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico like the black obsidian crystal balls. Native American Indians in such states, as well as other warm-weather places, were very fond of creating jewelry, arrowheads, spears, and knives from black obsidian. A common misconception is that obsidian is a mineral, but it is not, due to the lack of a crystalline structure obsidian is sometimes described as a mineraloid. Some feel what obsidum lacks in structure it makes up for in sheer beauty and origin making the substance a valuable addition for the physic.

One of the uses of the natural black glass was to polish it to create early mirrors. Ancient peoples who did not understand the properties of light reflection thought these black mirrors were magical. A black obsidian so called crystal ball is of course not made from real crystal and makes it a glass ball for divination.  Beware of occult suppliers who claim to sell crystal balls claimed to be quartz, amethyst, or black obsidian but are really just colored glass.  The most common kind of glass is soda lime or plate glass, which is most often clear. This type of glass is often found in your home and is used to make windows. If you go to a hardware store you can look at its edge which has a greenish hue. This cast, however, is more difficult to see once it is made into a crystal ball unless there is a flat spot for it to rest on, crystal balls have no edges!

To tell quartz from glass: with quartz, there is usually no additional tinted colors when staring through it. Glass, however, you can see a green tint when looking through it in strong light near the perimeter of the glass. Crystal will often show lines or cracks where glass has a tendency not to. Also, check for air bubbles which generally mean the object is glass. In any case, you may need to use a jeweler’s 10x magnifying loupe to look for any of this.

To tell colored ordinary glass, from real black obsidian is generally hard to do. Fake obsidian can be more translucent than real black obsidian but remember on rare occasions, black obsidian can be nearly clear. Even though real black obsidian is, of course, glassy looking, it is also very smooth, and very shiny. Often times, real obsidian has a conchoidal fracture: a curved break-off point where it has been chipped away and these fracture surfaces are very sharp.

Lastly, a very interesting method to create a crystal ball is possible using ordinary ice. The method suggests a balloon is filled with water and placed into a freezer for several days. The shape should take on that roughly of a sphere. After the ballon solidifies, simply cut the neck end off with a pair of scissors and peel away the rubber. Ice can successfully be used as crystal balls. Some clairvoyants prefer to have a clear type while others prefer to use cloudy ones. There are ways to make ice clear for scrying attempts.

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Divining Rods, Water Witching, and Pendulum Divination

For centuries, families who live on homesteads, farms, and ranches would experience, in certain parts of the world, droughts. Crops began to fail and the supply of fresh, safe drinking water became scarce. At such times, certain people would engage in the activity known as “water witching”. A forked stick; a branch that resembles a big letter “Y” was found or cut off from the limb of a tree. One of the bent ends were held in one hand; the other bent end was held in the other hand.

The extended, vertical part of the branch was held mainly upright but somewhat angled downward. The person would slowly walk over the land, at times muttering incantations or prayers for this rod to reveal where water is underground. If the vertical part of the rod sharply went downward; that is believed to be an indication of the spot or area where underground water is. Then, a shovel was used to dig downward to try to find this buried water supply. The person using the divining rod for water was called a “water witch”.  The activity of using divining rods evolved into trying to find all sorts of things under the earth-gold nuggets, gold coins, silver coins, very rare old copper coins, loaded up treasure chests, oil reserves, petroleum deposits, natural gas reserves, grave sites, among various other things.

In various cases, a diviner would take an inexpensive ring, put a strong thread or cord being very lightweight through the circle part, tie tightly thereto, and hold the ring downward, walking slowly and looking for the ring to twitch, swing from side to side or move in a circular motion to indicate that which is being sought is allegedly right there underground. In other cases, a pendulum, like the type seen on an old, old “grandfather clock” or a metronome would be attached to a string or cord held by a single hand to use for the seemingly magical underground detection according to where the pendulum would gravitate to.

Some people have had very good experiences, on various occasions; in finding lots of water, coins, treasure chests, etc. with their divining rods, rings, and pendulums. But consider this: large amounts of land can have quite a number of huge water deposits beneath the soil. According to the United States Geological Survey, more freshwater is located underground than there is in all of the earth’s freshwater lakes and rivers.  Earth’s “underground oceans”, trapped in minerals and located hundreds of miles underground, could have 3 times more water than the water on the surface of our planet.  Also, long, long ago people did not trust banks for security and some people then buried their gold, silver, and copper coinage in containers, at times even valuable jewelry was put in glass jars with tight lids, then buried underground.

Scientific researchers who studied divining rods, divining rings and such pendulums discovered such items have no power of themselves. The operator thereof is using his or her subconscious mind to make these objects move by slight hand action that seems as though these so called detectors are moving by themselves. The subconscious mind also uses clues in the terrain to make what are educated guesses as to where a desired item to discover is lying unseen underground. Consider that water has a greater chance of existing in areas of depression, such as a valley, rather than a hilly area. The presence of various plants and trees that gravitate toward water can also be a clue to where deposits of underground water are. Even in dried up riverbeds, ponds, or streams there is often underground water just below the surface.

And at times, accidental movement of a divining rod, ring, or pendulum has occurred being mistaken for the ‘detector’ picking up a ‘signal’. Some people have used their ‘ divining tools’ over a large, opened outward map to look for special things, marking the so called location allegedly revealed with an ink pen.  Over a whole lot of years; many people who claimed to have special dowsing abilities have been rigorously scientifically tested and then discovered to do no better in results than by random chance.

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The World’s Largest Ouija Board

The Talking Board Historical Society set the new world record for the largest ouija board with the 9,000-pound OuijaZilla.

OuijaZilla, the world's largest Ouija board, was unveiled in Salem
The Schreck family with OuijaZilla, the world’s largest Ouija board

OuijaZilla was unveiled in Salem, MA on October 12, 2019 and officially took the crown for the world’s largest Ouija board from the previous record holder, the Grand Midway Hotel.

Weighting in at an estimated 9,000 pounds, OuijaZilla is made of 99 sheets of plywood and measures 3,168 square feet. The planchette is 400 pounds on its own and measures 15.5 feet long and 10 feet at its widest point, but can be effortlessly moved across the board by just one person (or spirit?), Ripley’s reports.

OuijaZilla was handcrafted by Rick “Ormortis” Schreck, a lifelong collector of spirit boards and Vice President of the Talking Board Historical Society.

Schreck started collecting Ouija boards in 1992 and filled his house with them hoping to make it haunted.

So far, the OuijaZilla site notes, it hasn’t worked.

Ouija Board Rules

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