The Good Old People Could Identify Her and Tell of Her Doings
She Rode on a Broomstick
by Egbert T. Bush, Stockton, N.J.
published in the Hunterdon County Democrat, May 1, 1930
Looking back upon the old days there were stories of quite another kind—stirring stories of more mystical things.1
For instance, there were the well-authenticated stories of Hulda Queen. We are calling her that because it was not her name. She was a real person, who has many worthy descendants scattered about. Two reputable old families are now claiming her as one of themselves. From this it would appear that Hulda is not now thought to have been a dangerous character in the community. But if one must tell the truth as it was solemnly attested, Hulda was a witch. Good old people knew that she was, and there was no use of disputing well-known facts. Many strange things happened, and the only reasonable explanation was witchcraft. Hulda was a strange person, the one most likely to be in league with such occult forces. Hence, logically enough, Hulda was the witch guilty of all this mischief.
How I would love to know who this “Hulda Queen” actually was. (She was not the witch pictured above.)2 Not only does Mr. Bush not identify the witch, he does not get specific about the mischief that was blamed on her. If only we could bring Mr. Bush back and interrogate him.
And this was not merely a logical deduction. Hulda was known to be endowed with supernatural powers. How else could any woman bestride a broomstick and ride at pleasure hither and yon through the air, with nothing but that simple device for support? Hulda had been known to do that, many reliable witnesses had seen her on her diabolical excursions. Hulda was unquestionably a witch; why, then, with transportation so cheap and so easy, should she not be guilty of all the witch mischief for miles around? “Logic is logic, that’s all I say.”
The home in which Hulda lived, labored, brought up her family and died, was back in the densely wooded neighborhood, miles away from the homes of some who bore testimony against her. But what of that? They had seen her far up in the air, riding this way and that across the good old Trenton road, evidently upon errands of satanic mischief bent. For how could she ride like that if not in league with the devil? And, being thus allied, how could she help being bent upon such mischief?
Note: The “Trenton Road” is today Route 579, which runs all the way through Hunterdon County, so it is no help in identifying her neighborhood.
I think some who rehearsed Hulda’s doings long years after, actually believed in their truth. But whether she was or was not a witch will be left for others to decide. For myself, I have decided this much: If Hulda did actually ride a broomstick as alleged, I should be proud to claim her (if I could) as my greatest and distinguished ancestor; so much do I admire her simple yet safe and convenient mode of travel. It beats our boasted airplanes ten to one. No accident was ever reported. There was no danger of fire or explosion. It was very cheap in both first cost and maintenance. Just think of that effective little machine! Nothing but a broomstick for body, seat and motor, with a stubb of broom sticking out behind for rudder!
If ever I must go up into the air, I shall choose Hulda Queen’s type of machine; provided, of course, that some expert W. E. – Witchcraft Engineer – will show me how to start the thing and to make it do just what is wanted afterward, just as Hulda did.
But to drop what may appear like joking. If belief in witchcraft is dead, as no doubt most of you believe, it has not been dead through many generations. I have seen a heated smoothing iron dropped into a churn. To warm the cream? O no; to burn the witch out of it, so that the butter could “come.” The cream was certainly “bewitched;” or so the housewife had been informed by a reputable neighbor. And the only way was to heat a smoothing iron and burn out the witch. No, nothing else would do. No use to try any other iron, hot water or anything else. The witch would laugh at anything except a smoothing iron. Whether the housewife believed it or not, there was evidently at least a lurking suspicion that “there might be something in it.” Sad to relate, the witch was not driven out.
Mr. Bush must be describing an incident he witnessed in his childhood home.
Old stories are generally founded upon facts, however much the facts have been embellished; stories about witchcraft were founded upon what people once believed to be facts. But the human mind, wonderful though it is, was then strangely easy to mislead; and there is evidence seeming to indicate that it has not yet wholly overcome that weakness.
So true, so true. Happy Halloween!
This woodcut from Cotton Mather is the most charming I’ve found. The lady on the ground seems delighted to receive these potent creatures, and with her pointing left hand, appears to be giving them instructions. The witch does not look enthusiastic. Trouble, no doubt, for someone.
Did Hulda Queen wear a black coned hat, as we expect witches to do? Mr. Bush does not say, and as he does not claim to have seen her, he wouldn’t know. But while looking for images of witches, I was struck by the universality of the black hat. Apparently the Brothers Grimm have a lot to do with the association of witches and black coned hats. But it goes back further, to the Middle Ages, when Hungarian Jews were forced to wear special peaked caps to identify themselves. About that same time, magicians and sorcerers came to be associated with conical hats. Later on, in the 17th century, Quakers in England and New England suffered similar ostracism, and their distinctive hats—broad brimmed and black—came to be connected with the magicians’ hats. Artists, of course, contributed greatly to the stereotypes. For more information on the witch’s hat, see this article on Slate.com: Do Witches Wear Pointy Hats?
- I do not know what Mr. Bush means by “stories of another kind”—compared to what? Was he following up on a previous article? The article published in the Democrat that preceded this was “Big Fish and Big Snows in Old Days.” ↩
- Anyone with Hunterdon ancestors who happens to claim a witch in their genealogical tree would do me a great favor by sharing that information. The Queen family, as far as I know, seems to have begun with Allen Queen who emigrated to Philadelphia in 1802, and married Elizabeth Rockafellar around 1820. They had at least 4 children, including son John Wahl Queen, who inherited his father’s property in Alexandria Township. His wife was Liveria Sutphen Apgar, and they had six children, born about 1848-1857. But as Mr. Bush says, Hulda’s name was not actually “Queen.” For more on the Queen family, see Hunterdon Historical Newsletter, vol. 43, no. 2, p. 1014. ↩