Braucherei is a combination of religion and folk magic, and was seen as a kind of “faith healing” and a form of witchcraft. Many German immigrants settling in Pennsylvania between the late 1600s and 1800s were practitioners of braucherei. They followed the guidelines of the Bible and the Long Lost Friend—a book of spells, rituals, and remedies. Each practitioner had their own copy, and users of the book were called braucher, or powwowers (“pow-wow” being another name for the Long Lost Friend). Many of them had settled in York County, Pennsylvania, where even those who didn’t practice braucherei themselves held a strong belief in its power.
John Blymire was born into a family of respected powwowers in 1896. However, he became extremely ill as a boy and suffered rapid weight loss. His family, unable to cure him, believed that he had been hexed. They sought out Nelson Rehmeyer, a well-known powwower who frequently used his practice to help others in need. After examining the boy, Rehmeyer gave his family these instructions: boil an egg in John’s urine, poke three holes in the shell and place it on an anthill for the ants to consume.
Skeptics, feel free to comment, but in the Blymires’ eyes, this prescription seemed to have cured the boy of all illness. John quickly gained back all of the weight he had lost and was healthier than before. Inspired by his healing, John began to learn the art of powwowing himself.
When he became an adult, he moved to York, where he married a young woman named Lily. Their marriage didn’t last though; all of the symptoms from his childhood illness came back, and John believed that he had once again been hexed. Thanks to the words of a dark powwower named Andrew C. Lenhart—that his hex had been caused by someone he was close to—John began to suspect Lily was his hexer. His suspicion was amplified when he realized that he had lost his power to heal, and Lily divorced him for his accusations.
Desperate for a cure, John sought out the witch Nellie Noll, who told him the face of his hexer would appear on his palm if he looked at a $1 bill. Rehmeyer’s face appeared, and while initially torn about the outcome, John did not question it: his faith had never failed him before.
Noll offered him two solutions: he could either steal a lock of Rehmeyer’s hair, and bury it 6-feet under the ground, or steal his copy of the Long Lost Friend and burn it. John chose to go after the book.
Knowing he would not be able to convince Rehmeyer to hand over his book, John enlisted the help of teenagers John Curry and Wilbur Hess. Together, they broke into Rehmeyer’s house in the middle of the night. Instead of simply stealing it, however, they tied Rehmeyer to a kitchen chair and beat him, hoping he would surrender the Long Lost Friend. He didn’t.
Just as none of them thought to just take a clipping of his hair and leave, none of them had thought to disguise themselves or even be quiet in their assault. And since Rehmeyer knew who his assailants were, they couldn’t just leave. They strangled him to death and set the house ablaze after retrieving Rehmeyer’s Long Lost Friend. All of this unnecessary violence didn’t reward John: nothing got better for him.
It turned out that the fire failed to burn Rehmeyer’s house down, and the three men were quickly connected to the crime. They were put on trial and sentenced to prison. And John’s hex still consumed him. When he finished his sentence and was released from jail, he died. Tale of the “York County Hex Murder” spread like wildfire. Thanks to the negative exposure from Rehmeyer’s death, powwowing lost followers and faded away as a practice (at least in North America).
Nowadays, people have often sighted smoke rising from the abandoned house, and claim that Nelson’s spirit haunts the place. But was Rehmeyer actually responsible for hexing John? Nellie Noll was well-known herself as the Marietta River Witch, so many speculate that John’s hex was a trick created by Noll to eliminate her competition.
If you want to hear more about John Blymire’s tragic tale, I highly recommend you check out Lore’s telling in their episode “Desperate Measures”. Click this link to be transported post-haste!
Michelle is a wandering soul. She doesn’t know what she’s doing with her life. She hopes she’s doing something right. She is a great person to talk to; doesn’t talk much herself. If you’re nice, she’ll haunt you forever. Or until she’s bored.