Okay, I met a witch. The “wicked witch.” In person. I mean, the kind of witch that flies on a broom. Before you doubt me, hear me out. Back in early 1971 I delivered groceries for a Gristedes Grocery Store in New York City. Charles and Diedrich Gristede came to the United States in 1881 from Germany and in 1891 opened their first grocery store.
I was 17 and delivered groceries in one of those cargo tricycles, two wheels flanking a big metal steel box with a lid. The steering wheel, or handlebar to be exact, was attached to one side of the box.
One day, I delivered an order to 34 Gramercy Park East, just off the corner of East 20th Street between Third Avenue and Park Avenue South. Gramercy Park itself is approximately two-acres, located in the Gramercy Park Historic District, and is one of two private parks in all of New York City. The other is Sunnyside Gardens Park in Queens. Gramercy Park residents pay an annual fee in order to have a key to the park’s entrance. Generally speaking, members of the public are not allowed in. That said, the sidewalks around the park are often speckled with joggers, dogs, walkers, and folks out for a walk. I lived not far from there for a time and it is a beautiful area, to say the least.
34 Gramercy Park East has a beautiful stone facade. The building was designed by architect George W. DaCunha and built in 1883, one year before the famed Dakota on 72nd Street and Central Park West.
A service elevator took me up a floor or two, stopped, and I stepped out into a pantry area, with a beautiful wood floor. A woman was waiting there for me. She gave me a big smile as asked if I would be good enough to bring the groceries into the kitchen and put them on the counter. I didn’t mind in the least.
As I was putting the groceries on the counter, I heard another woman’s voice from behind me ask how much she owed me. And I recognized her voice! I turned to look at its owner. I was looking straight into the eyes of the Wicked Witch of the West, right out of the Wizard of Oz!
She was not wearing her witch outfit (in fact, she looked really kind) but even so, I was worried that those terrifying flying monkeys would come swooping into the room at any moment.
She was not a witch in the least. She was, however, Margaret Hamilton, the actress who’s played the role of the Wicked Witch of the West in the movie. In truth, her countenance was warm and kind. She gave me a nice tip and said she hoped I was having a good day.
As I left the building I was, on the one hand, walking on air having met Margaret Hamilton; on the other hand, as I biked the cargo tricycle back to Gristedes, I recall looking back over my shoulder, once or twice, just to make sure I wasn’t being chased by those evil flying monkeys.
There is a lovely epilogue to this experience. Years later, in the early 1990s, I was a staff reporter for the Pawling Times, a weekly newspaper that was part of the Taconic Newspaper chain. It’s owner was a man named Hamilton Meserve, Margaret Hamilton’s only child, and a good man.
I wrote him a note once letting him know I helped keep him fed at one time. He wrote me back, thanking me, and suggesting I write about the experience. I did, and it is a pleasure to do so again.