RIP: New York’s tree defender Hildegard “shotgun-totin’ granny” von Waldenburg

EAST NASSAU – She was a spunky woman everyone loved, even if they once stood at the business end of her shotgun. The spry German immigrant, who with her husband, Fritz, lived off the land and the many animals they keep on their small farm, quickly ascended to folk hero status. She appeared on the Court TV network and made guest appearances on several radio talk shows from Boston to Seattle. Newspapers in Dusseldorf, Germany, carried the tale of the “Weffen Oma” (“Weapons Grandma”. She turned down a guest spot on the “Late Show with David Letterman.”

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Hildegard “shotgun-totin’ granny” von Waldenburg, who received worldwide attention after her 1999 arrest for using a shotgun to run off a five-man town road crew cutting trees by her rural farmhouse, died Sunday. She was 89. When asked about the sales of her book, she said she received enough to pay medical and electric bills. “You see, German people are very frugal so they are just cutting it out of the newspapers for free,” she said the time. “She was a fascinating woman with an indomitable spirit,” said Terry Kindlon who was her attorney during the criminal case. “It was a privilege to know her.” Kindlon said her case struck a cord with the common man. “At the end of our days we worry about our significance in the face of gigantic government,” Kindlon said. “She stood up to them in her youth and as a grandmother.”


At the age of 79, von Waldenburg was arrested by State Police at her Cold Water Tavern home on a menacing charge after brandishing a old rusted 20-gauge shotgun to chase off a Nassau town roadwork crew trying to cut down her hickory and oak trees. She kept the gun by her door to keep foxes away from her chickens and ducks. At the time, she said, she did not think she had any other options. “They were rugged men with big muscles. I’m a little German woman. They’d do nothing but laugh,” she said in Times Union story about the incident. Joe Meizinger was the road boss of the stunned crew staring down the barrel of the gun that day. “It was one of those things that reminds you you never know whats going to happen,” Meizinger, now retired, said. “That’s too bad that she died. I never held any bad feelings at all for her. She just loved her trees. Thats all.”


Scott Gallerie became highway superintendent just after the incident. “She was a character, no doubt,” said Gallerie, who now works for Rensselaer County and got to know von Waldenburg. She even invited the crew over for tea. “She was truly a good lady just doing what she thought was right” he said. “She eventually let us trim some of her trees after we showed her what we were going to do first. I remember she said no one ever explained it to me like that before.'” Gallerie said the crew was more upset about the ribbing they got around the garage in the months after the incident. The criminal case was eventually dropped and even though the gun was not loaded it was a shot heard around the world.

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Comments (1)

Sahron MillerAugust 2nd, 2009 at 9:34 pm

I was born during the war and raised by a German family. After reading Hildegard’s book, I finally understood that the stereotype that was believed by us as children was wrong (that the Germans were bad people who liked Hitler). I wish I could have known Hildegard, and thanked her personally for opening my eyes. I so admire a person who will stand up for what is right…in a day when real character is at a premium.

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