Murder is the last thing that comes to mind on Thanksgiving. But that’s precisely what happened in 1928 when three men broke into the home of Nelson Rehmeyer in a misguided attempt to lift an evil curse. Through a series of unfortunate events, Rehmeyer was brutally murdered, and his body set ablaze. Details of the horrific event spread like wildfire, quickly becoming national news.
This tragic tale begins with John Blymire. He was born in York County in 1895, at the time, this was an area of Pennsylvania steeped in the superstition and lore of the Pennsylvania Dutch folk. As late as the early 1900s, this part of the state held strong beliefs in witches, witchcraft, and folk magic. Many people could make a living as witches or “powwowers.” They would cure illness through faith healing using magical powders, potions, and charms. In addition, they could hex and remove hexes as the situation demanded. Every good witch needs a spellbook; for the Powwower, that was the Long Lost Friend, a book by John George Hohman.
Locals described Blymire as a simple man suffering from a lifetime of poor health and bad luck. Blymire regularly experienced bouts of real and imagined debilitating illnesses and had nearly constant headaches. His first child, a boy, died within five weeks of being born. A second child, a daughter, was born premature and lived only three days. Eventually, Blymire’s wife divorced him. He lost his job as his health worsened.
Blymire slowly became convinced he had been hexed.
As a practicer of Powwow, not to be confused with a Native American powwow, Blymire knew the curse could not be removed until the identity of the one who cast the hex was discovered. Over several years, he consulted more than 20 witches, but none could help.
Eventually, Blymire made his way to Marietta, where he met Nellie Noll. Well into her nineties, she was a witch with a formidable reputation. Through six sessions, Noll teased out that a powerful spell had been cast on Blymire. Noll explained this spell, as Blymire had expected, was the cause of his bad health and horrible luck. Noll even identified rival witch Nelson Rehmeyer as the villain who had hexed Blymire.
At first, Blymire refused to believe it. Rehmeyer had always been kind to him. When he was five years old and suffering from something locals called “opnema” (a wasting condition believed to be brought on by a hex but was more likely a form of malnutrition), Rehmeyer had cured the boy. When Blymire turned ten, he returned to Rehmyer as an employee digging potatoes for 25 cents a day.
To prove it, Noll told him to take out a dollar bill and stare at George Washington’s picture. He did and saw Washington’s face dissolve into that of Rehmeyer. Noll explained that to break the curse; he would need to steal Rehmeyer’s copy of the Long Lost Friend and remove a lock of Rehmeyer’s hair. Next, he had to bury those items six to eight feet underground.
Blymire knew that despite being 60, the 6-foot-2 Rehmeyer was still powerful both physically and magically. He also knew Rehmeyer would not give up his spell book without a fight, so he enlisted two teenagers he had befriended, John Curry, 14, and Wilbert Hess, 18, to help.
On Thursday, November 27, under the light of the full moon, Blymire and his two accomplices drove to Rehmeyer’s weathered, two-story clapboard farmhouse in Stewartstown, Pennsylvania.
Armed with sticks and 25 feet of rope, the trio demanded that the old witch surrender his spell book. When Rehmeyer refused, a fight ensued. Blymire choked him, and Curry smashed him in the head with a block of wood. At trial, Blymire accused Curry of delivering the fatal blow at 12:01 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day.
The three men ransacked the house, searching for the book. Unable to find it, then proceeded to douse Rehmeyer’s body with kerosene and set it ablaze. Believing that the curse was finally lifted and all evidence of the crime was about to be erased, Blymire and the two boys fled.
Oddly enough, Rehmeyer’s body and the old wooden house did not burn. It just smoldered for a while. Many locals believe that even in death, Rehmeyer’s powwowing powers were strong.
Rehmeyer’s body was discovered the next day after concerned neighbors noticed that the animals on his farm were unfed. The murdering trio was soon apprehended and stood trial. They were found guilty and sentenced to life behind bars. Later paroled, all three men went on to live normal lives.
The two-story house remains today with its charred floorboards and a clock above the stove, frozen forever at 12:01 midnight.
To learn more, check out the 2015 documentary Hex Hollow: Witchcraft and Murder in Pennsylvania. You can watch it for free on one of three streaming services or here on YouTube. The documentary investigates the 1928 murder of a Pennsylvania farmer and the allegations of witchcraft that shocked the nation.
If you would rather listen, check out episode 62: “Desperate Measure” of the podcast Lore, where Aaron Mahnke tells how folklore and medicine often go hand in hand. In fact, for a long time, they were the very same thing. But folklore has a way of leading people to tragic actions—all in the name of getting better. Click here to listen.
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Now you can own a beautiful reproduction of the 1821 map of York County created by talented cartographer William Wagner.
1821 Map of York & Adams Counties Poster$29.99 – $34.99
- The Philadelphia Inquirer 02 Dec 1928, Sun · Page 13
- Hex Hollow | Full Movie
- Pow-Wows: Or, Long Lost Friend
- The House At Hex Hollow
- The Legendary Murder of Hex Hollow
- Witchcraft and murder: The urban legend of Hex Hollow
- Rehmeyer’s Hollow
- Blymire, John
- Of Hexers and Hauntings
- The River Witch of Marietta
- The “Hex House” Murder
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Perfect Gift Ideas for the Local History Lover in your Life
Here is a wide range of vintage maps from 1821 to 1919 of Lancaster County and beyond available for purchase. These are all high-resolution scans (often 600 dpi) of documents over 100 years old
1899 Road Map of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania$39.99
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1875 lithograph of the Lancaster County Courthouse$27.99 – $29.99
1875 map of Rohrerstown, Quarryville, and Millersville, Lancaster County, PA$27.99 – $29.99
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