Enter Rehmeyer Hollow…if you dare.
The year was 1928, and John Blymire of York County had been suffering through a long string of illness and bad luck. Blymire suspected he was the victim of a hex – a curse cast by a pow-wow doctor, a sort of Pennsylvania Dutch shamanic healer.
Pow-wow – a form of Christian faith-based healing brought to the area by German immigrants – was a common practice in 19th and 20th century Central Pennsylvania. (In fact, people still practice pow-wow today.) Blymire was well acquainted with the powers of pow-wow. He came from a long line of practitioners and even practiced the art himself. But he couldn’t rid himself of the hex. So he sought the help of Nellie Noll – known as the “Marietta River Witch.”
Noll confirmed his suspicions. He was indeed hexed, and the man who cast the spell was Nelson D. Rehmeyer, a solitary farmer and suspected witch who lived alone in a hollow in Shrewsbury. Blymire knew Rehmeyer – it was Rehmeyer who, using the healing powers of pow-wow, cured a young Blymire of a mysterious childhood illness. There was one way for Blymire to free himself of the hex, Noll told him. He would need to cut a lock of Rehmeyer’s hair and bury it six feet in the ground and burn the witch’s copy of the spell book, The Long Lost Friend.
The Long Lost Friend – a popular pow-wow book – was written by John George Hohman and published in 1820. It includes everything from toothache remedies for children (boil a rabbit’s brain and apply to the sore tooth), to beer recipes and spells. (Gamblers may be interested the book’s directions to win at cards, which involves cutting out the heart of a bat and tying it to a red string, which is worn on the gambler’s right arm, kind of the pow-wow version of having an ace up one’s sleeve.) Most people who practiced pow-wow owned a copy of The Long Lost Friend.
On the night of November 26, 1928, Blymire and his young friend and co-worker at the cigar factory, John Curry, went to visit Rehmeyer at his home in the hollow. Rehmeyer was a large man, and Blymire realized it would take more than two men to subdue him long enough to get a lock of his hair and his copy of The Long Lost Friend. The night grew late, and Rehmeyer invited Blymire and Curry to sleep in his home. In the morning, he fed the two men breakfast.
The following night, Blymire and Curry returned to Rehmeyer’s house. This time they brought along another man, Wilbert Hess. Shortly after midnight on November 28, the three men overtook Rehmeyer, and after a struggle lasting only 60 seconds, Rehmeyer was dead.
Headlines about the “York Hex Slayers” ran in newspapers all across the country. The three men were convicted of murder. Blymire and Curry received life sentences, and Hess was sentenced to 10-20 years. All three were released before serving their full terms.
Blymire reported that he felt the hex lift with the death of Rehmeyer.
Since then, locals have reported sightings of Rehmeyer’s tormented ghost wandering the hollow.
Searching for Answers
Shane Free, a Los Angeles–based filmmaker who was born and raised in York, is in the late stages of post-production on a documentary called Hex Hollow about the murder, which is set for a 2015 release.
Free heard the story from his father. “The story just stuck with me,” he says. “I always wanted to do a project about my hometown.”
The thing that struck Free the most about the story is the fact than an incident involving the suspicion of witchcraft occurred more than 200 years after the Salem witch trials, in relatively modern times.
Free and his crew spoke to more than 20 people for the film, including local historians and relatives of Rehmeyer and Blymire. “We learned there is a history of mental illness in the Blymire family. In the 1920s, mental illness wasn’t treated like it is today. You start to wonder if they had the medicine we have today if any of this even would’ve happened.”
Plans are in the works to show an advance screening of the film at York’s Capitol Cinema theater in the fall of 2015.
Want more spooky? Check out our roundup of Central PA Halloween events, scream parks, movie showings and more – and let the fright fest begin!