ST. JAMES, New York -- It was the happiest Halloween in years out in St. James, New York, where something of a Halloween miracle happened -- Winnie the Witch, a beloved 35-foot-tall roadside attraction that was in decline for years, was unveiled after a stunning restoration.
Since her construction in 1977, Winnie the Witch has been bewitching this community at the now-closed Wicks Farms and Garden. She's cast her spell far from this Long island hamlet, earning Winnie writeups on travel and nostalgia websites and news coverage for decades, especially around Halloween, but she's here all year.
So it was with pain that residents watched as Winnie, made mostly of wood, slowly fell apart, seemingly melting away from years of exposure to hurricanes, blizzards and whatever else Long Island weather threw at her. Her broom, big though it was, just couldn't keep up.
Winnie, fortunately, has friends in the community, and was especially fortunate to count Kenny Maher Jr. and his girlfriend Victoria Johnston among them. Winnie has been part of their lives since their childhoods, when they visited Wicks as so many kids did around here and reveled in its autumnal attractions. Winnie was once part of a constellation of towering characters here created by the talented David Wicks Jr.
Maher and Johnston wanted to make sure Winnie would be part of many more childhoods. Maher's own 5-year-old daughter loves Winnie as much as he did when he was that age in 1981.
Inspired, Maher and Johnston orchestrated a years-long fund-raising campaign that led to Winnie's reconstruction by Brian Capo of Capo Design Build in a mere four weeks.
Maher set the goal of having the rebuilt Winnie standing tall on Halloween, and true to his word, Winnie was there just in time for the Night of the Witches.
"Words became action, and actions become now," Maher said.
With over $15,000 in GoFundMe money going into rebuilding Winnie among other donations, the witch now has a robust metal infrastructure, her broom anchored five feet into the earth. She's now ready for whatever Long Island weather can bring.
But on Halloween, all she got was love, hugs and well-wishes, including those of state Sen. Mario R. Mattera, who stopped by to present a Certificate of Recognition for the achievement. Wicks' son, Paul, was on hand for the big moment that honored the legacy of his own dad, presenting Maher and Johnston with a "Winnie the Witch Court" sign.
It's a recognition for Maher and Johnston, surely, but also for people of St. James.
"It was the town that created this," Johnston said. "It's pulled our community closer together."
Winnie, Johnston, said, is much more than a photo opp. David Wicks' giant creation is part of the family, everyone's family out this way.
"There really are those family memories that are tied into her. I get to tell my stepdaughter now all these stories of when I was her age, when I used to run around the witch and play at the farm. It's all come full circle now."
For Johnston, Winnie is tied to memories of her own mom, who died when she was 12.
"This is a huge memory of her," Johnson said. "My grandma passed away earlier this year. She always said before she passed, "You're going to finish that witch."
And she did.