It is difficult to imagine witchcraft trials in the 20th century. In the 1920s, however, York County, Pennsylvania was still steeped in old Dutch mysticism, a superstition that lead to a brutal murder which still haunts the area. Located in what is known locally as Hex Hollow, is now considered one of the most haunted houses in Pennsylvania.
In 1928 it was the home of Nelson D. Rehmeyer, the place where he would be killed.
The “Pennsylvania Dutch”, or more correctly, ‘Pennsylvania German’ , was a incorrectly used misnomer, because at the time, these settlers originally came from German-speaking areas of Europe and spoke a dialect of German they refer to as “Deitsch” (Deutsch). It is this word “Deutsch” (German) that has led to theory of misconception about the origin of the term “Pennsylvania Dutch”. However, in 18th and 19th centuries, the word “Dutch” referred to anyone from a wide range of Germanic regions, places that we now distinguish as the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Germany (Deutschland) did not exist as a single nation state until 1871. During the “Dutch” immigration into America in the 17th and 18th centuries, bringing along many Anabaptist religions, including the Amish, Hutterites, and Mennonites. And as with almost all different cultures that migrate to new locations, deep rooted traditions tend to follow…
The practice of Pow-wowing, also called “Brauche” or ” Braucherei”, has some of it’s origins written in a German book called, “The Long Lost Friend” by John George Hohman, published in 1820. Later editions renamed it Pow-Wows after the Algonquian word for a gathering of medicine men. It is a collection of folk remedies, recipes, spells and talismans to cure domestic ailments and rural troubles. “Those unfamiliar with ‘pow-wow’ think it’s an evil practice. When in fact, it’s a Christian practice used for good, not evil,” as explained by Shane Free, director of the 2015 documentary Hex Hollow: Witchcraft and Murder in Pennsylvania.
When Rehmeyer’s neighbor John Blymire began to suspect he was cursed after years of illness. He suffered from a nervous disposition, night sweats, and what he believed his “bad luck”. He sought the advice of local witch named Nellie Noll, known as the River Witch of Marietta, whose occult powers were well-known throughout York and Lancaster counties in southeastern Pennsylvania. Blymire had come to believe she could lift the hex at long last. Over the course of six sessions — $5 each — the old woman gradually revealed the identity of the man who had cursed him: Nelson D. Rehmeyer. She instructed him to find and burn Rehmeyer’s copy of Pow-Wows, the source of his spells, and bury a lock of the man’s hair.
Blymire, along with young accomplices John Curry (14) and Wilbert Hess (18), broke into Rehmeyer’s home on the evening of Nov. 27, 1928, they were unable to find the book. Rehmeyer refused to give up the location, and the men bludgeoned him with sticks, the fatal blow occurring at 12:01a, according to the examining coroner. Panicked, Blymire and his accomplices tied Rehmeyer to a chair, doused the corpse with kerosene oil and set it on fire, hoping the blaze would burn down the house and destroy the evidence of their crime. But the fire did not spread, and two days later, a neighbor discovered Rehmeyer’s charred remains. Superstitious locals saw occult forces at work, noting the fact that the fire did not consume the old wooden house and interestingly enough, the kitchen clock had stopped at 12:01, a detail noticed after the coroner’s report.
Today the house is owned and maintained by Rehmeyer’s great grandson. You can tour the house and see artifacts that belonged to Rehmeyer, including his clock which apparently stopped at 12:01am, the time of death determined by the coroner.