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Science Fiction
December 1998

The Old Witch – A Biography
by Jim VanHollebeke

Not much is known about the true origins of EC comic’s yarn weaver, the Old Witch. If you believe HER story, her father was a WEREWOLF! But historical research has revealed a record of sorts and with it some interesting revelations.

It is the author’s conviction that she was born Gretel Geinstien between 1790-’93. Assuming this is correct, and the Old Witch is in fact Gretel Geinstien, witness now, the real story these old records have yielded.

Her (normal) parents Jeremia and Rebecca Geinstien of Sterling Forest, New York were less than wealthy and probably immigrants. Their income derived from obtaining animal skins & furs from the local Indians. These they would distribute to local clothiers in N.Y.C. which was beginning to prosper under the new American independency. Mother Rebecca died of lockjaw during Gretel`s pre-school years and Mr. Geinstien was killed by three outlaw Indians in July 1799.

“A trio of redskins”‘ according to the New York Gazette report, “argued vociferously with Mr. Gainestien (sic) about some alleged sacrilege supposedly committed by his daughter and with obnoxious intent to their ancestors spirits. The old man was roundly sliced about the head and between the knees. His subsequent death was a relief to the harrowed staff of the St. Ingels Hospitalle. John Eagleye, Buffalo Bullseye and Little Chief Splitpants were arrested on Tuesday following the travesty and hung Wednesday, with the honorable judge M. Kosnofski presiding.”

Nothing further is known of the growing years of young Gretel until Wurtsboro records show her marrying John Kettle in 1807. The marriage ended 13 months later with Kettle’s death (no details given). In September of 1810, Gretel Kettle went on trial in N.Y.C. for “witchcraft and atrocities of unspeakable nature”. No further information has surfaced as to the outcome of THIS interesting highlight. New York records show that Greta remarried in 1811. Her new husband, Judge Timothy Petil was subsequently committed to the Flushing Meadows Asylum For The Insane. Gretel ended up at this same institution for 15 years beginning in 1819.

Flushing Meadows journals, during that time, carried COUNTLESS articles and references to Gretel’s popularity with staffers of the hospital. She was constantly referred to as “the giggling tale spinner” and there is ONE account nick-naming her, “Mistress of the Haunt of Fear”!! There was apparently much speculation as to the credibility of the stories she told. That they were “spellbinding” is by these all accounts, very obvious. Her progress reports all seem to label her condition as chronic dementia. There are also many references to her “sadistic urges” and “penchant for lighthearted tales of a nature normally shared between gentlemen in the absence of mixed company”. One report mentions her “proclivity towards a promiscuous nature”. Another article states that, “her religious views are vacant (unless one acknowledges the occult as a religion.).

Although her popularity among the doctors was beyond doubt, she was certainly NOT good to look at. A letter from 1827 in the possession of the John Carlson family (los Angeles) written by Nurse Agnes Smith declares, “When I want to suppress the desire for food I simply have but to glance at her sorry face”! Further on in the letter she returns to our subject with, “she just did that THING again. I`ll report it to Dr. Newman and, as always, he`ll inform me that my imagination is too fancy”(!). Nurse Smith ends this enticing letter with,”I really must close now, Poopy. the old witch is screaming that her food tastes like _____. I declare! Her language makes me miss you with a dose of passion. Oh. She`s become violent. see you next week.”

Gretel Petil`s stay at Flushing Meadows ended when she ran off with Doctor Melvin McGetto in 1834. According to Dr. McGetto`s diary entry (dated May 26, 1835)

“Gritty’s (Gretel’s) wit borders on genius. She induces such merriment as to often deter my productivity. But I`ll not protest. She’s still hoping for a child. A pity. She is so good with children. `The kitties` she calls them.

I`ve given up the ghost on her cooking. Though I must admit, the rat stew does have a rather appealing (albeit abhorrent) odor. I`ve thus far refused to ingest the putrid concoction.

Her beauty seems more spellbinding than ever. The bad eye seems larger again and there appeared a new wart this morning (on the nose this time). She’s lost two more teeth yet .. my God! She`s a work of art!

Her obsession with “witchcraft” troubles my soul but I must allow for such indulgences with fantasy. She is, AFTER ALL, slightly insane. Brother Phillip told me this week past that a gentleman from Queens knows with absolution that she MURDERED a man about 30 years in the past. I MUST locate this man and challenge him to a duel. I’m no longer harboring a jealousy toward her yarn weaving friend at the Craig Cemetery (a vault keeper she calls `Bitter-puss`). I’m now convinced there is nothing of an amorous event in the making here. She speaks with such disdain of the long haired monk. I marvel at her ability to find amusement from his ramblings. He is certainly not without ability as a story teller (but anyone who BELIEVES these ravings must surely be beyond all hope).

To give the devil his due, I must admit after hearing several fables from `bitter-puss`, his ability to end a tale with a shocking twist of plot has prompted me to laugh hardy more than once. Gretel doesn’t always see the humor. Her persistent reaction is to announce that she has a BETTER story. And the truth be known, she always DOES have a better story. She has made me promise to take her, tomorrow noon, to the old Davis graveyard where, I suppose, we will meet with THAT place’s caretaker of crypts. It is clear to me now that she is fascinated with the moribund stories that seem to blossom in this UNIQUE atmosphere. Entertaining, I suppose, but somewhat ghastly.”

No further entries appear with regard to Gretel, until December l855 when Dr. McGetto, in his diary, writes,

“Gritty was SURPRISINGLY agreeable to posing for natural portraits. My photographs are selling quite well but THESE portraits will be viewed by NO man but myself. I hope my photographic equipment has caught her IN TIME. It is increasingly easy to spot the white hairs in her head and the slightest hint of age has begun on her face. A face which (I must add) is more BEAUTIFUL THAN EVER. I hadn`t noticed earlier how increasingly prominent has become her nose and chin. My good Lord, she`s a goddess!”

It was a short time after this that our Gretel McGetto and the two cemetery monks were killed by four or five religious zealots during some sort of witchcraft ceremony. Doctor McGetto`s diary picks up the story;

“Januarie 13, l856. I can`t believe this has happened. My world is gone. My beautiful Gretel is … no more. It is of little consolation that she and her comrades are now permanent residents of the place they loved so much, their `crypt of terror`. Gretel gone. Those murderous cretins. I’ll get them. Gretel , dead? This can`t be true. She said she couldn’t die. She was a witch. COULDN’T die. If only it were true. But … I digress … It happened Tuesday last. Gretta and those other two story telling madmen held their usual meeting at the old Davis graveyard. It`s all so harmless. What kind of ignorant mind could be threatened by all of this?! They bothered no one. Hurt not a soul. But the murderers of Werthiemer’s church will reap their reward. The pain. Can’t write any more.”

And then, one final entry:

“Januarie 14, l856. My spirits are as high as the stars! I want to shout my secret to the world. Gritty is back! GRITTY IS BACK!! My dear diary, Gretel IS a witch! All THREE of them are!!! She is even more beautiful AGAIN! I am CONSUMED with happiness. Quote me diary, NEVERMORE.”

A bit of a post script to this chapter of our story follows. A small newspaper blurb in the Ja. l5, l856 edition of Harper’s Daily states, `NYC-SUICIDE CULT ENDS IN TRAGEDY. Four Wertheimer church members who Wednesday past acknowledged to Constable Kamen their responsibility for the deaths of the three graveyard witches, are today, dead themselves and apparently by their own hands. Details remain incomplete but the paraphernalia discovered with the bodies would seem to indicate that these church members were actually a rival witchcraft cult bent on chasing it`s enemies on through the nether world. Constable Kamen stated, `Its a sorry mess. Case closed. The sooner this forgotten, the better. heh heh heh…”

Nothing further is known of “beautiful” Gretel McGetto (or `the old witch` as we now know her) until nearly eighty years later . According to Ron Hatfield (retired Disney animator) the old witch turned up in Hollywood around 1937. She allegedly auditioned for a role in “Thw Wizard Of Oz” but was turned down. (Ron insists it was body odor that spoiled her shot at movie stardom!)

Hatfield introduced the hag to Walt Disney. She did some modeling work for the studio which was making it’s very first animated feature length film. Hatfield further claims that the old witch told him that SHE had caused the Hindenberg Airship disaster but none of this has been corroborated or documented in any way.

In l949 E.C. Comics publisher Bill Gaines and editor-writer-artist Al Feldstein discovered the old witch and her two “ghoulunatic” co-horts, in a New York City sewer!

Actually the Old Witch had engineered the whole event. Gaines and Feldstein were tricked, intimidated and coerced to sign contracts for the three. The agreements centered on hiring the unholy trio as chief story tellers in a proposed new line of E.C. Horror comic books.

The success of those subsequent comic books is legendary as is the genre they inspired. Imitations popped up almost immediately with rival comic books, TV shows such as Hitchock, Twilight Zone, & Outer Limits. Movies were also heavily influenced. The great stories- twist endings- wonderful art … (and getting back to 1949) the success of those comic books… it got better and better … year after year.

Then … the comics witch-hunts of the 50’s. the old witch and her sickening co-horts were killed again! Of course we all know they didn’t really die. In fact, they popped up all over the place after 1970. in the last few years (1992-`94) they’ve been living at the current e.c. comics publisher russ cochrun’s old McGetto estate (which was moved at great cost from New York to Missourri back in l857!).

The Old Witch has been arguing a lot lately with the Crypt-Keeper (of the old Davis graveyard). Old Russ says, “she’s a little miffed” because the Crypt-Keeper (who really has disintegrated a lot lately) has his own TV shows on cable and network television. As a result, HE’S become the most famous story teller in the world which he thinks is quite funny. Naturally, she fails to see the humor. Russ, who incidentally has directed his share of jealousy toward the Crypt-Keeper, gets a real kick out of the whole thing. “You know,” he smiles, “she’s really beautiful when she’s mad. My GOOD LORD, GRITTY’S REALLY BEAUTIFUL!” ! ! !

This page was last updated December 1, 1998.
Copyright © 1998 by Jim VanHollebeke

table of contents
Science Fiction
December 1998