By Sue Miklovic
It was 1965, when Phyllis Rensch first decided to don a black robe and witch’s hat to give the kids in the neighborhood a little scare on trick or treat night in North Baltimore.
Now, 50 years later, she is preparing for the Old Hag to make a visit once again.
“I think this will be my last year, “Mrs. Rensch tells me.
“Why” I ask.
“Oh, I say that every year,” she says with a smile.
We talked about memories and stories of Halloweens Past, and tried to go back to the very beginning of this Halloween adventure, which includes an Old Witch who hands out treats of Bat’s Blood and Bat’s Eyes to the little goblins who are brave enough to come up the steps of the porch where she resides.
As we did the math, Phyllis and I figured there were at least 3 generations of trick-or-treaters in many families who had made the trip down the sidewalks of East Broadway to have the opportunity to come face-to-face with the Old Witch. “I have lots of men who bring their kids and tell me, “This is the first place we stop”
“My daughter Cindy asked through Facebook, for help in remembering the actual year that I began dressing as the Old Witch, as I wasn’t sure. Norma Johnson, who was the wife of Pastor Duane Johnson knew the answer, as her husband had donated the black robe to me, because he had gotten a new one.It was 1965” (NOTE: According to NB resident Deb Swartz, daughter of the Johnsons—“My folks lived in NB 1964-1974. The church was the First E.U.B. Church when they arrived. The name was changed to Church of the Good Shepherd in 1970 after the merger with the Methodist Church. They were in Oxford, OH at the Oxford United Methodist Church between 1974-1981. They moved to Granville in 1981. Dad was Pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church and Mom got a job at AT&T Bell Laboratories as a Software Engineer. They both retired in 1996. A few years later they moved to Mount Vernon, OH, where they still reside and are doing well.”)
Over the years the escapades of the Old Witch have become a Halloween staple and somewhat of a “tourist attraction”. Phyllis told me about overhearing a conversation between some young girls walking by her house during the summer and informing the new-kid-on-the-block all about the Old Witch that showed up on Halloween.
Phyllis started Year One with just her robe and a hat, a broom, and a cauldron. After a few years with growing popularity, and incidences with the cauldron getting knocked over, she switched to putting the treats on a table, but added more yard decorations, scary music (which drives the neighbor’s dog crazy) and spooky porch décor that rustled in the wind.
“I also used black crepe paper in the early years, but when it gets wet, it drips,” said Phyllis. “I had someone who wasn’t happy with me after they got dripped on from the black dye. Now I use black plastic.”
“One of my favorite decorations that I DID have, but no longer have, is a replica of a head that my son-in-law Gary Hesse made when he was a student in mortuary school. That thing looked a lot like Gary, but it was scary. He decided he wanted to keep it so I gave it back. I’m pretty sure he still has it in his attic. I would make up crazy stories about why it was just a head, like He didn’t look before he crossed the street”
One year a costumed princess told Phyllis, “You look so pretty, I think you’re beautiful” She shared what a big disappointment that was to her. “I wanted to look scary, not beautiful”
“And these days” she continued “I have Igor and his helper, who always show up to help me hand out treats”, played by her son and grandson, John and Levi Rensch.
She shared with me several stories, with a twinkle in her eye, as she spoke fondly of several friends and neighbors, including a few who are no longer living, that gave her joy and happiness and helped her carry on with what has now become a tradition. She mentioned her neighbor, the late Tom Reynolds. “I miss him,” she said. She mentioned the late Jeremy Stewart, Angie(Trout) Swartz—a screamer who ran away as fast as she could as a child, her neighbor Deb’s grandson Grady Francisco, her granddaughters, “The Dungeon” and “the terrible pain you will get in your belly if you eat the Bat’s Eye before Midnight” and she is still using the same robe and same hat that she used 50 years ago!
The Old Witch shared she usually has 300-400 little visitors stop by each year, and she often runs out of her Bat’s blood and Bat’s eyes, so make sure you head down East Broadway early, if you DARE……
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