The Witch of McKinley Houses
By James Goodridge
Sly and The Family Stones “Hot Fun in The Summertime” is our anthem. Day camp, 1970 in Bronx River Houses has ended which has left us project kids like myself scrambling to find something to do,the dreaded countdown to back to school has begun. Cousins from down South, Puerto Rico, and other parts unknown come to New York to vacation with their big city counterparts. Games like Johnny on the pony, run catch and kiss or round up, make for new experiences. The sound of Mr. Softee’s jingle sends us into a frenzy and moms to the windows with paper bags of coin change to toss down to us before the ice cream king drives off to a new location.
New kids who had moved in during the winter, you bonded with more during summer. One such kid was named Lopez, who brought with him a weird tale from McKinley Houses. Lopez who’s family transferred to our projects, who’s a cool kid, a few years later becomes the quarterback for one of our neighborhood football teams and later in adulthood we would be union brothers. One hazy afternoon I and my friends with nothing in particular to do are lounging on benches in the center of the projects waiting for some more people to come outside so we can get a pickup game of softball going, we intend to squeeze the last drop out of summer. It was there that Lopez told us the story of the Witch of McKinley Houses.
McKinley Houses, named after the 25th President, is located in the south central Bronx on along 163rd street with its sister project Forest Houses across from it. As 163rd street snakes its way through tenement lined peaks and valleys towards Bronx county courthouse and Yankee stadium.
In 1968 an eccentric woman and her children moved into McKinley. Keeping to themselves, the shades to her apartment would be pulled down and the curtains were drawn. Soon neighbors complained of loud noises, non-stop praying and the sound of someone talking in tongues. Whether she moved or was evicted Lopez didn’t say, but after she and her children moved out things got strange.
When the building caretakers, or porters as we use to call them back then, entered the apartment to make it broom clean for the next tenants to move in, pulled down the curtains the caretakers found glowing white blob faces on the windows that no amount of Windex could remove. Uncomfortable, they decided to come back and finish the job the next day. Returning in the morning the caretakers resumed preparing the apartment. Entering one bedroom a caretaker fled out the apartment screaming. Lopez said looking into the bedroom the other workers saw the body of a woman in white floating above a bed that was left behind by the strange former tenant.
The caretakers retreated out to the hallway and waited while a worker went to get someone from the management office. Before the housing authority person could get to the building the caretakers decided to enter the apartment again. This time, before they could look in the bedroom, emerging from the kitchen were a bottle of Clorox ketchup. To hear Lopez tell it, the bleach and condiment did not float out of the kitchen but walked out on sprouted legs along with arms and chased the caretakers out into the hallway.
A few years later, this tale was collaborated by another ex-McKinley resident named Blue and friends I knew on Boston Rd., not too far from McKinley. The end of the tale was that NYCHA had sealed up the apartment and to this day it has never been enter or opened back up to rent. Being ten years old at the time I found it a fantastic tale but soon found other paranormal topics and stuff kids like to do while growing up to be interested in.
By 1973 I started hanging out in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx even met my first puppy love girlfriend there. Of the teens I use to hang out with in HP was the Douglas twins Kevin and Karl,die hard Mets fans, the only way you could tell them apart was Karl’s left hand was withered. But life such as it is you lose track of friends and Kevin, Karl and my first love fell off the radar. But you also reunite with friends which happened a few years ago when I reconnected with a close family friend named Donna. One afternoon during a phone conversation, we started talking about the McKinley Houses and how her grandmother lived there then the McKinley Witch to which Donna blurted out “I felt bad about Kevin and Karl back then”a drop the mic moment for sure.
Comparing notes I found out, yes the same Kevin and Karl from HP were the twin sons of the witch, which explains why they never invited me to their house. What ever their Mother was into back then was deep for us to still talk about it a decades after the fact.Old timers in McKinley swear the incident took place, but if someone was to investigate this they better get moving for time is claiming witnesses and memories. Was she a real witch or was she just an eccentric woman who was an embarrassment to her children ?