The Hex Hollow Murders

Looking for events on the Trails of History - Halloween-themed or otherwise? Check out the October program page.

Today's guest post is by Corine Lehigh, an archival clerk at the PA State Archives. She is currently attending Penn State Harrisburg for her graduate degree in American Studies. Corine has contributed to Trailheads several times, including her first post as an Archives intern. Please note that there is some slightly graphic historical description below - don't say you weren't warned!

Powwowing, or brauche in the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect, is a magico-religious practice whose chief purpose is the healing of physical ailments in humans and animals. It has had other aims as well, such as conferring protection from physical or spiritual harm, bringing good luck, and revealing hidden information. Powwowing has been practiced in Pennsylvania since the first German-speaking Protestant settlers arrived in the 18th century. Prior to the late 20th century, powwowing was practiced routinely by the descendants of these European settlers.

Don Yoder, a recognized expert on Pennsylvania German folklore and customs, considered powwowing to be based on ancient religious healing traditions sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church. It was driven underground among Protestant populations, such as the Pennsylvania Dutch, and placed into the hands of lay practitioners. Its more direct antecedent was the book The Long Lost Friend, written in 1820 by Berks County healer John George Hohman. Eight to twelve powwow practitioners still live and work in south central PA today. Powwowing rituals involve the use of one or more acts, varying between incantations, gestures and body position, and manipulation of physical objects. Modern powwowers have their recipes committed to memory and none of them use any of the charm books historically employed by powwowers, such as The Sixth and Seventh Book of Moses, Egyptian Secrets, or The Long Lost Friend.

Nelson Rehmeyer, of York County, was an alleged powwower in the 1920s. His neighbor John Blymire reportedly had a run of bad luck, including losing his job. Blymire consulted the local river witch, another powwower named Nellie Noll. Nellie told Blymire that his bad luck was due to a hex that Rehmeyer had put on him. Nellie told Blymire that he needed to steal Rehmeyer’s spell book, along with a lock of his hair, and bury both 6 feet underground. On Nov. 28, 1928, Blymire and two local accomplices went to Rehmeyer’s house to retrieve the items. Rehmeyer confronted them. Blymire and the two local boys tied Rehmeyer up, beat him, and strangled him to death. They then set his body on fire. The house withstood the fire, which was put out by heavy rainfall that day. However, the spot where Rehmeyer’s body burned left a charred spot on the wood floor. The case quickly drew national attention. Blymire and his accomplices were jailed. Despite this, Blymire stated until his death that once Rehmeyer was dead, his bad luck was gone. Rehmeyer’s house still stands in southern York County, and some say it is haunted by his spirit, still not at rest.

(Editor's note) For more information on Pennsylvania German culture, the history of powwowing, or the Hex Hollow case:

It May Not Feel Like Fall

Looking for stuff to do this weekend? Check out the October program page for ideas.

Fall has arrived at Bushy Run Battlefield (via Facebook)
This blast of warm air has made it feel like summer again, but it is harvest time on the Trails of History. Autumn is my favorite season, so I'm always happy to see photos from sites with fall colors and harvest-themed programs. You can find lots of photos on Facebook: Harvest Days at Landis Valley (courtesy of Jennifer Macneill Photography), Pennsbury Manor's Harvest Day school program, or Bonfire at the Furnaces (as in Scranton Iron Furnaces). If you aren't already following the PA Trails of History interest page on Facebook, it's a great way to see all of these things and more in one place.


As part of the development of the next statewide preservation plan, the State Historic Preservation Office (part of PHMC) is hosting a series of Open Houses and Community Forums to gather public input and hear what people have to say. Some of the open houses have been or will be at Trails of History sites. The schedule runs through November, so there's still time to take part by attending in person or by responding to an online survey. The PA Historic Preservation blog has more information and links. PHMC recorded the discussion at the open house held at the PA Military Museum earlier this week, and you can watch it on Facebook.


On Twitter this week, PHMC connected the dots of National Chemistry Week (I know, it always sneaks up on me, too) and the Joseph Priestley House. The house is open this weekend, so why not take a drive along the Susquehanna and stop in for a visit? (Check the website for details.) And, mark your calendars for the world premiere of a new play, Gunpowder Joe: Joseph Priestley, Pennsylvania, and the American Experiment, by Anthony Clarvoe. (You'll find a quote on JPH's website that helps explain the title.) Directed by Laurie McCants and presented by the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble, the play will run Thursdays through Sundays, Jan. 19 to Feb. 5, 2017. Jan. 19-20 are preview performances (no reservations, pay what you wish), and Jan. 21 is opening night (pay what you decide after the performance). The play resulted from a collaboration between the playwright, the Friends of Joseph Priestley House, and Bucknell University. There will be a symposium on Dr. Priestley along with the matinee performance on Sunday, Jan. 22 (we'll provide more details later). For more information, visit the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble website.

While I'm Away

Trailheads is taking a little fall vacay this week, so how about a quick list of events coming up this weekend? (Full list of October programs.) Since I won't be here to update this list (accurate as far as I know as of Oct. 6, your honor), please check ahead in the event of bad weather or other circumstances I can't foresee (i.e. please don't blame me if it's rained out). See you next week!

Anthracite Heritage Museum and Scranton Iron Furnaces
Oct. 15: Bonfire at the Iron Furnaces—experience ethnic traditions from Scranton's past and present, food, music, a pumpkin-carving contest, and a roaring bonfire. Visit the Bonfire Facebook page for ticket info and program updates. 6-10 pm.

Conrad Weiser Homestead
Oct. 16: Living History Sunday and Fall Park Walk—enjoy the beautiful Olmsted-designed park, as well as guided historic tours of the site. Free admission. Noon-4 pm (park walk is at 2).

Ephrata Cloister
Oct. 16: Sunday Conversations Series—Nick Siegert, guide supervisor, will talk about "The Sacred Geometry of the Ephrata Cloister." No fee for the presentation; regular admission rates apply to tour the site. 3-4 pm.

Hope Lodge
Oct. 16: Site open—Hope Lodge will be open 12:30-4 pm, with guided tours at 1:00 and 2:30 pm. Admission charged.

Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum
Oct. 15: Folk Art and Friendship Series—"Sweet as Sin: The History of Candy," with author Susan Benjamin; cost is $25 (includes samples!). More information and registration materials for this class (and others coming up) are on the website.

Pennsbury Manor
Oct. 16: Open Hearth Cooking—today's event (compares recipes from William Shakespeare's time with those of William Penn, in honor of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death). Included in regular admission. 1-4 pm.

Pennsylvania Lumber Museum
Oct. 16: PALMA Annual Meeting—open to members of the PA Lumber Museum Associates (but you can always join if you aren't already a member), the meeting will feature a screening of the documentary America's First Forest: Carl Schenck and the Asheville Experiment. Schenck, who founded the first forestry school in the U.S., is featured in the Lumber Museum's award-winning exhibit, "Challenges and Choices in Pennsylvania's Forests," alongside notable Pennsylvania conservationists Mira Lloyd Dock, Gifford Pinchot, and Joseph Rothrock. 1 pm.

State Museum of Pennsylvania
Oct. 14: Learn@Lunchtime Program—today's program is Happy Birthday, William Penn. Included in general admission. 12:15-12:45 pm.
Oct. 14: Night of the Great Pumpkin—Tonight's family-friendly Halloween-themed event includes a visit from Triple-J Reptiles, along with crafts, a planetarium show, and other seasonal fun. Admission is free. 5:30-7:30 pm.

Washington Crossing Historic Park
Oct. 16: Autumn Encampment and Market—this event combines an 18th-century style marketplace with Revolutionary era military drills. Admission is $8 for adults, $4 for children age 5-11 (also includes admission to the Thompson-Neely House and Bowman's Hill Tower). 10 am-4 pm (rain or shine).

Keeping Track of What We Have

But first, a few oddments of info (oh, dear). Most sites on the PHMC's Trails of History will be closed on Monday, Oct. 10 for Columbus Day, with the exception of Drake Well Museum, Fort Pitt Museum, the Railroad Museum of PA, and (I think) Washington Crossing Historic Park. The October program listings are full of interesting things to do this weekend and beyond.

In the midst of working with Sean Adkins on last week's guest post about #AskAnArchivist, I missed the fact that it was the 400th Trailheads post since we started this blog in August of 2009. Whew.

I've adapted this week's post from material provided by David Dunn, chief of special projects for the Bureau of Historic Sites and Museums. Dave is overseeing a collections inventory at Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum as part of PHMC's Collections Advancement Project (CAP).

Harvest Days, at Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum, is this weekend, Oct. 8-9
Beginning in April of this year, the PHMC assigned David Dunn to lead a team for the Bureau of Historic Sites and Museums (BHSM) that would begin conducting a physical inventory of all collections spaces at the Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum. The team will eventually consist of two full-time members, but for now Dunn is working with curators from the PHMC’s Collections Advancement Project (CAP) and volunteers that he is training to assist with the work [more on that later].

Over the course of several decades in the early 20th century, brothers Henry and George Landis assembled a massive and diverse collection of decorative arts, fine arts and agricultural implements and tools, which was turned over to the state in 1953 to be administered by PHMC as the Landis Valley Museum. In addition to the original Landis donation, for the next 60 years the Museum continued to selectively add items to the collection, bringing the estimated total of objects in the collection to approximately 150,000 items today. (Learn more about the history of Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum.)

The last complete physical inventory of the Landis Valley collection was conducted in 1983, although the site’s curators and other staff regularly conduct spot inventories of high-traffic buildings and public areas (in addition to their many other ongoing responsibilities caring for and exhibiting this large collection). The earlier inventory was recorded on paper forms, so updating and searching (activities we now take for granted with the advent of computer databases and spreadsheets) were extremely difficult, if not virtually impossible.

Project work began on the 3rd Floor Mezzanine of the Landis Collections Gallery (photo by Landis Valley curator Bruce Bomberger)
One of the first steps of the 2016 inventory project was to gather collections data (including digital images) and align it with PHMC collections management software (a new system is coming on line as we speak, so that created some challenges as well). With the existing data gathered and a map of the collections storage areas created, the physical inventory began in June, starting on the top level of the Landis Collections Gallery. Shelf by shelf, Dunn and various team members examine each object – one person calling out the accessions number, a brief description, measurements, and basic condition and the other recording the data on the laptop. If an object hasn’t already been photographed for the records, the caller or recorder also takes a digital image that is labeled with the object’s catalog number.

BHSM CAP curator Rachel Yerger assists David Dunn with inventory (photo by Bruce Bomberger)
Items inventoried as of late August included more than 400 pieces of late 19th- and early 20th-century office equipment, a carousel horse, and a variety of English ceramic forms including transfer printed hollowware, yellowware, mochaware, hotel china, Gaudy Dutch, and Gaudy Welsh collected by the Landis brothers at regional auctions over several decades.

The process is considerably more involved and time-consuming than we have space to convey here. If you’re interested in learning first-hand about the inventory process and have some free time during the week, you may want to offer your services as a volunteer. Contact David Dunn at or 717/569-0401, ext. 230, to discuss opportunities to support this important effort.

Volunteer Sharon O'Neal-Lehner assists as recorder for Landis Valley inventory