The house on the corner of North Seventh and East Mifflin, near Emerson Elementary, wasn’t always the most accessible. For a while, several small signs warned passers-by to keep their dogs away from the yard. Fair enough, but this is a neighborhood where dozens of dogs roam daily, so a little dog pee seems inevitable. For decoration, a pair of witch legs stick out from under the house.
Then, next to the aisle, a few figurines appeared. Stuff like a little toy castle, guarded by a dragon with its black wings outstretched. Gradually, other objects joined the scene. Snakes and spiders. Skeletons and dinosaurs. They weren’t just discarded toys in the game. They were placed deliberately, in various scenes, by the owner of the house, Lezlie, who prefers to have one name and wears all black, including fishnet stockings and black boots. Lezlie’s hair is buzzed near her scalp and tattoos are visible on her collarbone and arms.
Like many of us, Lezlie wasn’t quite sure what to do in the spring of 2020 amid a global pandemic. Normally, they would have been busy planning Art Fair Off the Square as executive director of the Wisconsin Alliance of Artists and Craftspeople. But since the event was canceled that year, Lezlie was cleaning the house and tending to the garden.
“And it turned into a very strange garden.”
As Lezlie cleaned out the cupboards, there were plenty of toys their gender-fluid child, now 18, had collected growing up – toy castles, dinosaurs and pirates. These old toys have found new life in Lezlie’s growing outer kingdom.
As the pandemic progressed and Lezlie ran out of those toys, they bought items from Goodwill and sometimes people dropped things off as well. The display expanded into a tiered diorama 10 feet long.
Today, two years later, and after a post-winter cleaning and reinstallation, the display is still working fine. Several signs warn not to touch, and spooky content such as snakes, skulls, and an eyeball-laden goblet overflowing with green goo create a slightly menacing vibe. But it fascinates and delights, rather than frightens passing children. The older set too.
“I thought only kids would like it. But there really isn’t a demographic that doesn’t like it. College kids, sometimes they’re a little too cool for that, but high school kids love it.
The aesthetic, which they call spoopy, is “not quite scary, but kinda scary. And funny.”
The PG rating is deliberate, and at a spring open house, Lezlie’s ‘fear meter’, Orion Boland, a friend of 7, is in attendance. “If I put something in there and he thinks it’s too scary, I take it out,” Lezlie says, pulling out two dolls with blank faces and faded dresses, one with a red spot that looks like cotton. blood. Definitely a creep factor over items in the garden. It’s not the first time Orion has seen them.
“Before, I hated them,” he says. “But now I’m 7. I’m braver.”
Lezlie notes that a younger scare counter might be needed.
For the most part, the garden suffered neither vandalism nor theft. Only one eyeball disappeared on Halloween.
“People are so nice about it. They clearly appreciate it,” Lezlie says.
And Lezlie clearly cares about the kids who pass by on the way to school. At the open house, they brought out a donation jar to raise funds for GSAFE, whose motto is “Creating fair schools for LGBTQ+ youth”. Ultimately, the garden is for the children who interact with it. “The first day of school, kids have their picture taken in front of them. Whole classrooms will come to see it,” Lezlie says.
Orion reads an explanation of the garden during the open house. “It’s Spoopy Garden. If you took the ‘s’ and the ‘y’ out, it would just be poop! he says. Burst of laughter.
The 7-year-old boy has a tooth that clearly doesn’t hang long for his mouth. Lezlie offers to buy it from him. Teeth are among the many worthless oddities that Lezlie collects. Claim? Yeah, a little. But not enough to be afraid.
By the numbers
Number of dragons currently in the Spoopy Garden: ten
Number of castles: 6
Number of skulls: 74
@spoopygarden Instagram Followers: 147
Number of teeth in Lezlie’s collection: 238 (Not all human teeth. Lezlie has 13 tooth tattoos.)