Urban legends have a way of captivating the imaginations of people, especially children, and leaving a lasting impact on their psyche.
They can be rooted in ancient folklore or arise from modern-day myths, but regardless of their origins, they often stem from a desire to explain the unknown or the unexplainable.
Like the original “Grimm’s Fairy Tales,” these stories can transport us to a world of magic and wonder, but they can also serve as cautionary tales that warn us of the dangers that lurk in the shadows. Over time, urban legends can take on a life of their own, spreading from person to person, generation to generation, until they become a part of the fabric of a community’s collective consciousness.
The tale of the Witch’s House in the woods of Petrifying Springs Park is just such a legend — one that has become an integral part of the city’s folklore and a source of fascination for children and adults alike.
Recently, my curiosity kicked in after reading a comment on Facebook about Petrifying Springs. The commenter was asking if anyone remembered the Witch’s House. Many people responded saying that they did and that it scared the heck out of them as a kid.
It made me want to know more about it, so I created a post asking my followers what they remember about it.
Deep in the wood lots of Petrifying Springs, there’s a structure that has become a legend among Kenoshans. It’s most known as the Witch’s House, but sometimes as the Witch’s Castle. Its ominous presence has long been a source of fear and intrigue, particularly among children who dare to venture too close. To them, the Witch’s House is a foreboding structure that has a dark history steeped in mystery.
The Witch’s House stands in an area of Petrifying Springs Park that was once heavily wooded. The building, made of wood and stone, stands back off the road at the base of a ridge that’s covered with a mix of hardwood trees. In the 1930s when the structure was built, it housed a pump, but to a child it is not inconceivable that it would have appeared to be a cottage, not unlike the witch’s cottage from the story of “Hansel and Gretel.”
According to former Kenosha County Parks Director Jon Rudie, the structure was built to house the golf course irrigation pumps. “The name came from the pumps howling away in the night irrigating the course,” Rudie said.
Today, the structure stands at the back of a clearing and has been incorporated into one of the park’s picnic pavilions. The wooden entrance door even looks like what you would expect to find on such a spooky cottage except today there is a metal screen door to keep unwanted visitors out.
Legend has it that a witch once lived in the house, using it as a base for her dark deeds. She was said to kidnap children that wandered through the woods when they got too close to her house for her liking. Once in her clutches, she would use her black magic to cast a spell trapping them inside of tree burls, where they would be lost forever. To this day if you walk the trails around the park, you will find many trees with large unexplained burls and some of them even look like they have faces.
Pam Bielski, a former Kenosha resident, grew up in Kenosha during the 1960s and heard the legend when she was a child. She remembers the tales that circulated among her friends, of a witch with long, gnarled fingers and a cackling laugh that echoed through the woods. Many children would dare each other to peek through the small hole in the door. She recounted one time when her and her friends went up to the door and just as they were about to take a peek the pump kicked on and made a noise that sent them all running never to attempt it again.
Donna Ruffalo-Juzwik also remembers hearing about the Witch’s House as a child. She recalled the fear that gripped her whenever she passed by the building, and the sense of relief she felt once she was safely on the other side. Even as an adult, the memory of the Witch’s House still sends shivers down her spine.
Katherine Schumacher-Lamothe Knapp reminisced that when she was young her mom would take her hiking on a regular basis out at Pets and would show her and her siblings the Witch’s House. She didn’t remember where it was located but said it would be hard to find for her today after the number of trees that had been cleared since then.
Michelle Luhman Gerlach laughed and stated that like everyone else she remembers the Witch’s House, and even told her children it was a Witch’s House.
Despite the many versions of Witch’s House, there were always similarities between them. The true accounting of the original tale will probably forever remain a mystery. Some people also speculated that the witch was a victim of persecution, driven from her home by an angry mob. Others believe that she simply vanished one day, leaving her house and her secrets behind. Since then, the legend has cooled down and it’s not as well known as it once was. Still, it will exist in the memories of many Kenoshans who experienced it from up close and personal.
The Witch’s House may be a frightening and unsettling place, but it has also become an important part of Kenosha’s folklore and history. Thanks to the memories and recollections of locals like Pam Bielski and many others, we can now continue to pass on the tale of the Witch’s House to future generations.
As we explore the park trails of Petrifying Springs, we should remember that some stories are meant to scare us, and that as time goes by urban legends tend to change slightly with the changing times.
If you would like to venture out to the park one day for a hike with your children, you can find the Witch’s House in the back of the picnic area called Pavilion #7 on the north end of the park.
— Andrew Horschak contributed to this report