In 1928, the brutal murder of Nelson Rehmeyer, started a hex scare in York County, PA, near the border of Maryland. Nelson was a resident of Hex Hollow, now known as Spring Valley County Park. He was also an reputed witch, who allegedly had cursed another resident, John Blymire.
During this time, in this location, most of the residents practiced a cultural custom called Powwow. Not to be confused with the Native American ceremonial practice of the same name, this Powwow was a combination of Christianity and European folk remedies. In fact John himself was a Powwow doctor. Powwow was seen as a quaint holdover from unsophisticated times. After the murder of Nelson Rehmeyer, practitioners were no longer seen as simple, backwoods, or ignorant. They were seen as dangerous threats.
There were two sides to the practice of Powwow; Powwowers performed magical-religious folk healing and drew their power from God. They generally provided cures for illnesses, protection from evil, and removal of hexes/curses. They helped locate lost objects, animals, and people. Powwowers also foretold the future and provided good luck charms. Traditions and practices were handed down from generation to generation.
On the other end of the spectrum was “hexerei” or witchcraft. These practitioners of “black magic” drew their power from the Devil or other dark sources. They harassed neighbors, and committed criminal acts. These practitioners were also called Hex Doctors, which can imply many things.
The term was applied to Powwowers who were also knowledgeable in witchcraft, and were skilled at removing curses. They were between the two camps, Powwow and Hexerei. It wasn’t uncommon for people to seek out one Hex Doctor to lift a curse from another. There were many who labeled the use of any folk magic as witchcraft and it was strictly forbidden by their religious beliefs.
It’s important to know that the people who lived in this area, truly believed that magic existed and it could alter their lives for good or bad. They would also do anything to prevent it from ruining their lives. And that is the real reason behind the murder of Nelson Rehmeyer.
John Blymire was a fourth generation Powwower. It had been in his family and he had developed a talent for it at a young age. As he continued to grow and practice, John felt that there was a shadow hanging over him.
Shortly after he had cured a rabid dog, he became ill, and believed that another practitioner had placed a hex on him. John found it difficult to eat, sleep, or even work his Powwow. He attempted to remove the hex himself, but it’s hard to do when you do not know who put the hex on you.
The answer was under his nose. One night as he was trying to sleep, the clock had just struck midnight and he heard an owl hoot seven times. He had been hexed by the spirit of his great-grandfather, Jacob. Jacob had been a powwower and the seventh son of a seventh son. To break the spell placed upon him, John moved away from his ancestral home and the cemetery where Jacob was buried. This seemed to work, for a short time.
After marrying his wife, Lily, they had two children, who both died in infancy. John believed that the curse was back upon him. Another Powwower, Andrew Lenhart, advised that the curse was put on him by someone he knew. John became suspicious of everyone, even his wife.
After committing her husband to an insane asylum, for his obsession with magic and hexes; Lily divorced John and it was granted. John didn’t stay in the asylum very long, not even two months after his admittance, he walked out the front doors and returned to his job at the cigar factory. After talking with two other workers who believed they were also cursed, John reignited his passion for Powwow and started to consult with other practitioners about who could have placed the lingering curse on him.
John turned to Nellie Noll, the “River Witch of Marietta”. Nellie was an elderly woman and she identified the source of John’s hex. It was coming from a member of the Rehmeyer family. When asking who in the family was responsible, it was discovered to be Nelson Rehmeyer, and old Powwower referred to as the “Witch of Rehmeyer’s Hollow.” John knew Nelson, he was a distant relative, and had even been healed by Nelson when he was five years old.
Nellie Noll confirmed it was Nelson Rehmeyer who was behind the curse, and the curses of his coworkers, John Curry and Milton Hess. After informing John and Milton of this, John Blymire also provided a cure. They simply needed to take Nelson’s book, The Long Lost Friend, and a lock of his hair and bury them six feet deep.
John Blymire and John Curry went out to see Nelson. They were discussing the Powwow practice and the book The Long Lost Friend, not informing Nelson of the true reason for the visit. As it was late, they were invited to sleep in the guest room downstairs, and while Nelson slept the pair looked for the book. They had debated on getting a lock of his hair, but believed him to be too big for the two of them to hold down. They needed more help.
The next day, John Blymire, John Curry and with the help of Milton’s son Wilbert Hess, they returned to Nelson Rehmeyer’s home. There they tackled the older man, tied him up, and eventually he was strangled. Discovering him dead, the trio stole the money they could find in the house, leaving the book and hair behind. The man was dead and the curse was lifted, so they thought.
The three men doused the body with kerosene and lit it on fire. When they left the body was engulfed in flames. But it went out. How is unknown, but evidence of the crime remained. Two days later a neighbor discovered Nelson’s body.
Nelson’s ex-wife, Alice informed the police of Blymire and Curry’s visit and they were soon picked up as suspects. Every detail of John Blymire’s hex-obsessed life was described for the public. All three men were put on trial; Wilbert Hess was given 10 years in prison. John Blymire received life in prison. John Curry also received life in prison. However eventually they were both paroled, and lived uneventful lives.
Even though his body was lit on fire, Nelson Rehmeyer’s home remains standing. In 2007, his descendants opened it to the public as a museum, featuring displays about his life and death.
Even today, German folk magic remains alive and well, it isn’t something as prominent as it was almost 100 years ago, however it is still practiced but no longer advertised.
Stay Curious My Friends!