The mermaid formerly of Mukilteo is on the grounds of Secret Garden Inn in Tubac, Arizona, an artsy community 50 miles south of Tucson. AvalonOrganic Gardens Ecovillage operates the bed-and-breakfast started by the late Leila Pearsall as a vacation retreat. (Photo by ShaRu White)

The mermaid formerly of Mukilteo is on the grounds of Secret Garden Inn in Tubac, Arizona, an artsy community 50 miles south of Tucson. AvalonOrganic Gardens Ecovillage operates the bed-and-breakfast started by the late Leila Pearsall as a vacation retreat. (Photo by ShaRu White)

Mystery solved: Missing Mukilteo mermaid retired to Arizona

The mystery of the Mukilteo mermaid has been solved.

She’s soaking up the sun at a lodge in southern Arizona.

A “What’s Up With That?” Herald column last week sought to find the whereabouts of a 7-foot concrete mermaid sculpture that once stood near a pharmacy where the Mukilteo Arnies restaurant is now.

Artist Kay Henkel, who made the mermaid and moved to Palm Springs 30 years ago, was curious about what had become of it. Henkel, 91, put her daughter M’Lissa Hartley, of Everett, on a mission to locate the sculpture.

Proof that the mermaid existed was in a photo on the front page of The Everett Herald in 1974, but the trail had gone cold after that.

So Hartley asked The Daily Herald for help.

The day the story ran, Hartley received an email at 5 a.m. from Ken Brown, a retiree in Lake Stevens who gets up early to read the paper.

He said the mermaid was commissioned by his late sister, Leila Pearsall, during the stint when the Brown family owned the pharmacy in Mukilteo. After the pharmacy was sold in the early 1980s, his sister moved the mermaid to her house in Edmonds.

Pearsall later moved to the Methow Valley in Eastern Washington, mermaid in tow.

“We winched it to a trailer and took it to Mazama,” Brown said. “There it overlooked a pond.”

That is, until his sister moved again, this time 1,600 miles to Tubac, Arizona, an artsy community 50 miles south of Tucson, where she opened a bed-and-breakfast called Secret Garden Inn.

“My brother Bob crated that thing and shipped it,” he said.

He said Leila was the only girl in a family with six kids. Her five brothers adored her and would do anything she wanted.

“She was a character,” said another brother, Keith Brown, who divides his time between Oregon and Arizona. “The mermaid was one of her favorite things.”

Over the years, he helped keep the mermaid looking good.

“It needed a paint job every once in a while, so we tried to highlight it so it looked like a mermaid, spray-painting it with a fish scales kind of effect.”

Keith added: “She had it placed in a stone-walled pool, but she never could get the darn thing to stop leaking, so she planted some grasses around it.”

Pearsall died in 2014 and the Secret Garden Inn was purchased by Avalon Organic Gardens &Ecovillage, which operates it as a vacation retreat, mermaid and all.

Avalon spokesman ShaRu White, in a phone interview with The Herald, said he was happy to help with “the quest for the errant mermaid.”

He snapped photos showing the somewhat weathered mermaid in a grassy courtyard. The mermaid also can be seen on the retreat’s website at tubacsecretgarden.org.

Henkel is delighted to know the fate of her beloved mermaid.

“I’ve always wondered about it,” she said. “I might just fly up there with a can of paint.”

Turns out the mermaid has a cement cousin of sorts. It’s a large lumpy lady Henkel formed from twisted chicken wire and dubbed the “Virgin of Perrinville” to attract attention to her art studio near the Edmonds/Lynnwood border in the 1970s. Henkel said she never dreamed anyone would want the gnarled nude.

Pearsall bought it and had that thing shipped to Arizona, too.

“It’s not an attractive piece,” Keith Brown said. “It’s a huge chunk of concrete. It’s not nearly as fine of quality as the mermaid. My sister had unusual tastes.”

Henkel’s daughter is grateful the mermaid was found.

“It’s good to know that the power of the press still lives,” Hartley said. “That some people still support their local newspapers in this electronic era and that Ken Brown is one of those people. We are thankful to him for his quick response to our article about our missing mermaid and for giving us the location of her final resting place.”

She added: “Mystery solved. What’s the next assignment? I’m hooked.”

Any other mysteries that need solving? Email abrown@heraldnet.com or call 425-339-3443.

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