Merlin: The Story of a Special White Deer

About 30 miles northwest of Milwaukee, the Holy Hill National Shrine of Mary appears like a Disney castle above the glacially flattened horizon. The stone edifice and bell towers of the church rise into the sky atop a huge kame, or hill of gravel, left thousand of years ago by the melting of Wisconsin’s last glacier.

Holy Hill is a special place. But even before the church was built, the kame (the highest point in Washington county) was recognized as unique by early settlers. And before that for hundreds of years Native Americans considered the place sacred. It is a fitting location for a special white deer named Merlin and his story.

Area resident Ken G. first encountered Merlin 5 years ago. The deer was very tame. In fact the deer was so tame that Ken went into his house and got a carrot, which Merlin promptly ate–the first of many hand-dispensed carrot dinners. Ken recalls, “Everyone was feeding him!”

Brenda and Jeremy O’Shea enjoyed Merlin’s presence on a daily basis. Merlin would bed in their garden during the day and follow them around. At dusk and during the rut, he would head into the woods to do what more “normal” deer do.

The question remains as to how a wild deer of any color became so tame, although there was some speculation that he had escaped from a deer farm. Locals said they never feared hunters would take Merlin illegally. In the end, it was a speeding car that caused his demise.

In mid-January, 2016, the O’Sheas heard the news that Merlin had been killed. The driver of the car was able to claim the carcass and intended to have it mounted. The O’Shea’s wish they could have claimed Merlin themselves, so they could take him “home.”

Merlin’s death earned a spot in the local newspapers, but the story was not about the extremely rare and special deer that touched so many, but about being a player in a concealed carry story. After Merlin was hit, another motorist used a pistol to shoot the injured deer. Ironically, it was Merlin’s death and not his life that made the news.

There is still the kame at Holy Hill and the breathtaking church and spires rising above the beautiful Kettle Moraine countryside, but the area is missing the white apparition that brought delight and awe into so many people’s lives.

In a heartfelt letter to the editor of the Washington County Insider titled: “A tribute to Whitey aka Merlin,” Brenda O’Shea shared fond memories of Merlin, whom she called Whitey (an apparently common name for white deer).

We never imagined…a wild animal to make such a lasting impression. The joy, the many pictures and videos, and the countless number of memories, is something that we will hold onto forever.”

Brenda said she felt “blessed…to have had such a beautiful and regal animal in (their) lives.”

She ended her letter: “Whitey has given both my husband and I an even greater respect for wildlife. We are forever grateful to have been able to experience what we did.”