As a powwow doctor in south central Pennsylvania, November turns my thoughts to Nelson Rehmeyer. In 1928, long before my time, a local Powwow Doctor was murdered by three men who believed Nelson had placed a curse on them. As a Powwow, Nelson provided healing services to his community. However, a few local young men who seemed to have nothing but bad luck needed answers. As the story goes, a local witch named Emma Knopp (Nellie Noll), revealed to the men that Nelson was the cause of their misfortune--and only by collecting a lock of his hair and Nelson's copy of The Long Lost Friend, a Powwow manual, could the curse be lifted. The men visited Rehmeyer on the night of November 28, 1928. By the end of the night, Rehmeyer was dead and the men felt vindicated, despite being unsuccessful in obtaining Rehmeyer's copy of Long Lost Friend. While there is a possibility that a curse may have been to blame for the men's misfortune, it has been determined that Nelson Rehmeyer would not have had any interest in verhexing the men, as they were his friends.
The home of Nelson Rehmeyer, now maintained by his descendant Rick Ebaugh.
Shank's Tavern in Marietta, Pennsylvania, is reported to be the former home of the Witch of Marietta, Nellie Noll.
Photograph of the investigation at Nelson Rehmeyer's home, 1928.
The murder of Nelson Rehmeyer brought the practice of powwowing out into the open and put a national spotlight on an otherwise quiet community. Because of this, a concerted effort was undertaken by the scientific community to stamp out all traces of powwowing. People became suspicious of powwow and it almost faded into complete obscurity. However, some practices and beliefs can survive even the harshest times, and powwowing continued, although without the popularity it once enjoyed. Now, almost 90 years after the murder of Nelson Rehmeyer, powwowing survives in local memory as well as practice and has gained a place of respect in the minds of those still connected to the Hex Hollow murder.
In 2013, Shane Free began piecing together the complex story of Nelson Rehmeyer and the three men who murdered him. The movie was released in November 2015. The documentary he put together, Hex Hollow, tells the story of the Rehmeyer family and the story of the three men accused of the murder. It successfully clears away misconceptions about powwowing and explores the belief in witchcraft and curses. For more information about this amazing project, go to hexhollowmovie.com
Nelson Rehmeyer is something of a patron for me and my powwowing. I have great respect for Nelson because he was well-known as a powwower in the York area and seemed to be well-liked by all who knew him. What happened to Nelson was unfortunate and tragic but a sobering reminder that no matter how good your intentions, there will always be a certain level of fear and suspicion when you choose to live on the fringes of society and practice folk magic traditions.
On November 28th, I set aside a moment or two to honor Nelson and say a prayer for him and all involved in the tragedy that ended his life. I am very blessed to be a part of the Hex Hollow documentary and I hope my contribution will help to dispel misinformation about powwowing for another 90 years to come!
The grave of Nelson Rehmeyer and his wife.