PORT ROYAL, S.C. (AP) — Port Royal’s iconic “Nightmare Witch” has disappeared from its long-time perch at the town’s downtown gateway, prompting questions from curious residents about her future.
Town Manager Van Willis says the unusual-looking sculpture of a woman holding a shield and holding up her hand as if to say, “Stop,” won’t be returned to her prominent perch, but she’s not being retired, either.
Since 2007, the town’s leading lady has been anchored to a wooden platform behind a Port Royal sign at Ribaut Road and Paris Avenue to alert visitors to Port Royal’s Old Village area.
She creeps out some, delights others.
Love her or hate her, at 12 feet tall and sporting rubber hair, this woman at the town’s front door was hard to miss.
So residents noticed when the Nightmare Witch flew the coop a couple of weeks ago.
“What happened to our far from ordinary mermaid at the corner of Ribaut Road and Parris Avenue?” one Port Royal resident asked on the neighborhood app Nextdoor, referencing the town’s promotion of itself as “far from ordinary.”
She’s a piece of art created by Dessa Kirk as part of an exhibit in Chicago in 2000. Port Royal acquired the exhibit the next year and some of the pieces can still be found throughout town, Willis said.
Kirk created the sculpture after learning of an Amazon forest spirit who protects rubber trees from overharvesting, she told the Chicago Tribune in 2000. The lady is made of recycled steel, her hair of old truck tires.
“Mother of Rubber Trees” is her real name.
Besides the Nightmare Witch and mermaid, she also goes by Zephyr and Heisman Medusa (for her pose similar to college football’s famous trophy).
“She will make a reappearance,” Willis promised last Wednesday following a Town Council meeting when the Beaufort Gazette and Island Packet asked where she was.
A few years ago, town officials decided to overhaul Port Royal’s entryway for a fresh look to coincide with new growth including redevelopment of its claim to fame, its deep-water port.
That new entryway does not include the witch, Willis said.
The town has decided to replace the sculpture with an array of seven flags that represent the entities that have ruled the town throughout history — French, Spanish, English, Scottish, Confederate States of America, United States and South Carolina.
Those same flags are imprinted on Port Royal’s official seal positioned on the wall in the Town Council chambers.
The Confederate States of America Flag on that seal is not the same battle flag of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia that is commonly recognized today as the Confederate flag. The controversial flag will not be part of the flag array, Willis said.
Some residents don’t care if the Nightmare Witch ever returns.
“That thing is creepy if you ask me,” one Port Royal resident said on Nextdoor in a discussion of her whereabouts.
Others say Mother of Rubber set the town apart.
“I love that mermaid or sea witch or whatever you want to call her,” another resident chimed in. “She gave the bland sign character and ‘oomph.’ Hoping she comes back.’”
For now, the sculpture is relegated to obscurity at the town’s public works building. Eventually, town officials say, she will land in a park. Which one has yet to be decided, but Naval Heritage Park is a possibility.
“We’ll find a home,” Mayor Joe DeVito said.