Unbelievable as it may seem, a stretch of sand north of Bradford used to be home to a full-fledged nude beach.
On the shore of Lake Michigan in the late 80s and early 90s, past the bikinis and margaritas of Bradford Beach, was Paradise, Milwaukee’s first and only nude beach. Situated behind a three-sided concrete wall near the water treatment plant on Lake Drive until it moved to the beachfront south of the UW-Milwaukee alumni house, the beach was a haven for “naturists” — people who prefer sunbathing, as well as doing other activities like bowling and biking, in their birthday suit.
But paradise never lasts, especially for those who prefer to walk around in more egregious states of undress than actresses in a Game of Thrones brothel. Paradise Beach closed in 1993. And Milwaukee hasn’t had a nude beach since.
Many Milwaukeeans rejoiced in the beach’s closing, happy to have the nudists’ “profanity” off the sand. Some were uninterested. Others were devastated, particularly Mike Froemming and Richard “Dick” Bacon, the beach’s founders who graced its shores daily, if they could help it. But the beach had strayed from their original vision, according to Nicky Hoffman Lee, owner and editor of The Naturist Society, an international nudist organization based in Oshkosh.
“The primary causes for the beach’s closure were nude men straying far from the accepted and traditional nude area and that public sex became prevalent,” says Hoffman. “Local and frequent beach users failed to dissuade undesirables from lurking around the beach. In addition, a local homeowner’s association wanted nude people off ‘their’ beach.”
Bacon and Froemming, the unofficial mayor of Paradise Beach, had had stringent rules for the beach: no sex, no gawking, and no drugs, as well as no drinking (which is more than Bradford can say). But their attempted enforcement wasn’t enough, forcing Froemming to relocate to Mazomanie “Mazo” Beach, a nude beach that was on the shore of the Wisconsin River outside of Madison.
Bacon, though, didn’t leave Milwaukee, continuing to be the unsung nudist hero he had been since his youth in the 1960s, until his death in August of 2000. He was a man of simple pleasures, his only desire soaking up the sun trunks-free after working all day at Pabst Brewery. His love for nude rays bordered on obsessive; Bacon would sunbathe in all seasons, even in below-zero weather. He also received many fines for his efforts.
But he did achieve much glory, winning nude model contests like Mr. Nude America in 1973 and Mr. Nude Galaxy in 1977 and appearing on the cover of the skin magazine Oui in 1974. Even his skeptics admired his skills when he appeared in iconic gold briefs to join the cast of “The Rocky Horror Picture” show in one of its early screenings at the Oriental Theatre. The fame might have gone a little bit to his head, as he drove around in a white van with “The Nude Dude” painted on the side.
Though many people would have preferred Bacon to keep his nudity to himself, he did garner quite a few fans, some of whom attended his memorial service. Journal Sentinel columnist Jim Stingl, for one, admired Bacon’s tenacity and singular desires and wrote a column entitled, “There Goes the Sun: Saying Goodbye to Dick Bacon,” in the wake of his memorial service.
“Dick Bacon would have loved his memorial service,” Stingl wrote. “Except for the fact that it was indoors and everyone was clothed.”
Stingl wrote of how, before he knew Bacon’s name, he and his friends had called him Mr. Bradford and how he thought he had looked like the muscle man Cloud Atlas. Per Stingl, there was a bust of Bacon at his memorial service made by one of the many artists who sketched him in art classes where he modeled. There was also a call to erect a statue of Bacon on Bradford Beach as a symbol of “individuality and a free spirit.” Bacon died of a heart attack, without a trace of skin cancer.
Bacon isn’t the only Wisconsin nudist legend the 21st century has taken – Mazo beach, Wisconsin’s last nude beach, closed in March of 2016. However, this is not the last of aforementioned Naturist Society; Hoffman assures they are not going anywhere anytime soon.
“Our organization is international, and while we miss Mazo Beach tremendously, we intend to remain in Wisconsin,” says Hoffman. “We do visit nude beaches all across North America each year and hope that someday Wisconsin will be enlightened enough to realize that a nude beach could be a positive revenue source for the state.”
Though she’s hopeful that Wisconsin will have another nude beach, she doesn’t think Milwaukee ever will. When asked about the city’s ability to host another beach like Paradise, she exclaimed, “No, they are not forward thinking enough!”