It was the dark of night on Thanksgiving Day 1928, when three farmers stole into the house of another man located in York County's Rehmeyer's Hollow. They tortured and murdered Nelson Rehmeyer spurred by the belief that he had hexed them, all under the direction of a self-proclaimed witch who was steeped in the old Dutch mysticism known as Pow-Wows.
Pow-wowing was a form of ritual folk magic practiced by the Pennsylvania Dutch. It was rooted in a book published in 1820 by German author John George Hohman. The Long Lost Friend was a “collection of mysterious arts and remedies for man as well as animals.” It contained spells, remedies, recipes and talismans to cure ailments and domestic troubles. It became entwined with folk traditions in Pennsylvania when it was translated to English and renamed Pow-Wows.
Nelson Rehmeyer was married but estranged from his wife and lived alone. He was reclusive, odd, maybe socialistic in his politics, and was believed to be a powwower, a practitioner of folk magic and healing rituals sometimes called white magic.
What sparked the crime was a string of bad luck visited on John Blymyer. The year of 1928 seemed to be as blighted as previous years.
His wife had left him, two of his three children had died, he had great difficulty in staying regularly employed, and he wandered aimlessly about the streets of York and the surrounding countryside, with the witches he imagined always in pursuit.
Blymyer consulted a witch in Marietta in Lancaster County named Nellie Noll, who pointed to Nelson Rehmeyer as the culprit behind this bad luck. She was also known as the River Witch of Marietta. Hess, whose family was going through a bad streak, also sought to break the spell. 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 six feet underground, behind the barn. That was the spell to break the spell.
When Blymire, along with his teenage accomplices John Curry, 14, and Wilbert Hess, 18, broke into Rehmeyer’s home, they were unable to find the book. There was a struggle and the trio tied up Rehmeyer, bludgeoned him to death and set him on fire in a desperate attempt to lift the curse. After all that, they fled the crime scene. Rehmeyer's body was discovered about a day later – on Thanksgiving Day 1928 – when his neighbors noticed his animals on his farm were unfed.
Interestingly, Rehmeyer’s body did not completely burn despite being doused in kerosene. A pervading theory at the time was that the hounds of Hell returned to claim one of their own.
Here's an example of a cure for hysteria and colds from the bible of powwowers, the early 19th-century book "Lost Lost Friend":
This must be attended to every evening, that is, whenever you pull off your shoes and stockings, run your finger in between all the toes and smell it. This will certainly effect a cure.
Rehmeyer left behind his wife and two children. He was given a Christian burial and laid to rest at Sadler's Church Cemetery. Blymyer, Hess and Curry were arrested and ordered to trial two months hence.
All three were convicted and given life sentences. In testimony, the role of witchcraft, spells and the like came out. Journalists from all over covered the trial, and this trial, with those elements of witchcraft, made international news.
All three were released after serving time, and each went on to live quiet lives. John Curry became the best known. His artistic skills earned him a spot as a cartographer on Eisenhower's staff in World War II, and his paintings hang in the homes of many York countians alive today.
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.
Unfortunately this is when untreated mental illness and superstition become bedfellows.
Source - Cult of Weird
Marlene at Miami Ghost Chronicles is a freelance paranormal investigator and writer.
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