Deep in the heart of Southern York County, Pennsylvania, lies a strange area commonly known as Spring Valley County Park. What’s so scary about a County Park? Nothing really, except the fact that this land encompasses an area famously known as Rehymeyer’s Hollow or Hex Hollow. Rehmeyer’s Hollow, is located in Central Pennsylvania, near the Maryland border. The area was brought to national attention by a murder, that occurred there in 1928. There have been numerous books written about the area, including a 1988 film called “Apprentice to Murder” starring the great Donald Pleasance. I recommend the film, though it’s difficult to find. A new film called, Hex Hollow: Witchcraft and Murder in Pennsylvania was recently released in 2015.
It’s 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. The house, located in what is known locally as Hex Hollow, is now considered one of the most haunted houses in Pennsylvania.
It was the home of Nelson Rehmeyer, the place where he would be killed. It seems that Rehmeyer ran afoul of another local witch, John H. Blymire, who claimed that Rehmeyer had placed a hex on him causing his bad health.
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. He sought the help of Nellie Noll – known as the “Marietta River Witch.” Nellie Noll, had told him that his problem was Nelson, he was causing all the difficulties John was having. In order to fix his situation, John would have to steal Nelson’s spell book and a lock of his hair and bury them 6 feet under the ground.
The Long Lost Friend – a popular pow-wow book (spell 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. Rehmeyer’s “Long Lost Friend” went on to become one of the most revered books of Pennsylvania Dutch Witchcraft, and continues to serve as a basis for magic practitioners in the area.
On the rainy dark night in November, Blymire – along with two teen accomplices John Curry (14) and Wilbert Hess (18), whom Blymire had convinced that Rehmeyer was the source of their hard times as well – went to Rehmeyer’s house. They stayed up late telling stories and in the morning after staying the night, Blymire tried to convince his young friends to go to Rehmeyer’s basement to retrieve his book of spells. The boys were too terrified to proceed.
The next night the three returned, but this time Blymire was more determined than ever. It took all three men to tackle the imposing Rehmeyer who stood over 6-feet-tall. Upon refusing to give up his spell book, they hitched a rope around his neck and proceeded to bludgeon Rehmeyer to death. They bound him to a chair and set him on fire in a desperate attempt to lift the curse. Stepping out into the rainy November chill, they left poor Nelson to lie ablaze with his body charred.
Nelson was murdered and word traveled fast about the witch being killed by his neighbor. The story grabbed National headlines and was the taboo tabloid story of its time. 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. The whole area of Rehmeyer’s Hollow has a sense of unease, as though there are still spirits roaming the area. From what I’ve gathered about Nelson Rehmeyer, his spirit would be more likely to guide you away from the evil then guide you into it.
Nowadays, many locals believe the house to be haunted. Teenagers can usually be found down in the hollow seeking evidence of ghosts, evidence many have claimed to find in the form of shadowy figures, cold spots, EVP recordings, and more. One of the house’s most notorious acts is the apparent ability to return stones thrown at it.
Today the great-grandson of Nelson owns the home and is actually trying to make the house a historic exhibit. The house contains much of the original furniture from the day of Rehmeyer’s murder, including his sofa. Perhaps the most eerie spot in the building is a section of the floor in the kitchen that is made of glass, which shows charred floorboards underneath, the remnants of the attempt to burn Rehmeyer’s body.
Interestingly, Rehmeyer’s body did not completely burn despite being doused in kerosene. According to McGinnis, a pervading theory at the time was that the hounds of Hell returned to claim one of their own. You can see where his legs burned through the floor joist and if you look closely, there is even dried blood still visible from that gruesome night.
Although the place is becoming a tourist attraction, and losing some of its eeriness, I think it would make for one hell of a Bed and Breakfast. If you’re ever in the area it’s definitely worth the stop and it’s a beautiful place to walk around.
The Hex house is now open to the public for the first time as part of the Rehmeyer’s Historic “Hex House” Hayride Tour. The hayrides, which run from 6-9 p.m., takes guests up to the house, where they’re greeted by Rickie Ebaugh, the great-grandson of Rehmeyer, who tells the story, as well as about the powwow practitioner. All proceeds go to benefit the North Hopewell-Winterstown Volunteer Fire Company.
DETAILS: Cost: $25 adults, $15 children.rehmeyershistorichexhouse.tix.com; 717-244-0138, firstname.lastname@example.org.