Haunted rock legends live on in technology, religion

By MICHELLE MERLIN

The (Allentown) Morning Call

EASTON (AP) — There’s still something strange about Hexenkopf rock.

People say phones don’t work around the granite outcropping in Williams Township, and their GPS systems don’t get the location quite right

Strange happenings at the rock, whose profile resembles and name means witch’s head, have been rumored for at least two centuries, said Ned Heindel, a Williams Township resident who wrote a book on it called “Hexenkopf: History, Healing and Hexerei.” They include tales of ghostly horsemen and witches on broomsticks.

The tales date back to two families of German faith healers — pow-wowers — who practiced in the Williams area in the 1700s. Heindel said people would seek out the Saylors and Wilhelms for help with ailments such as migraines. The practitioners would cast hexes, removing the malady and sending it elsewhere. Typically, a recently deceased corpse or a tree became the recipient, but in Williams Township, the hexer sent it to Hexenkopf rock.

“It got to point where everyone was scared to go out to the place,” Heindel said. “They knew all these Saylors and Wilhelms sent their sickness to it.”

It didn’t help that the rock, which is located off the eponymously named Hexenkopf Road, was once covered in mica, which gave it a glow under moonlight.

Witches and other hauntings

Over time, the rock grew to be closely affiliated with witches.

Matthew S. Henry, a co-owner of a gunworks in Jacobsburg, wrote a history of Northampton County in 1861 and claimed to have seen witches dancing and singing on the top of the hill.

There were also rumors that witches would leave their husbands in the middle of the night and fly on broomsticks to the rock. They’d leave a stick in their beds so their husbands wouldn’t notice their absence.

Heindel and his wife, Linda, said one story about ghostly horsemen riding around Hexenkopf seems rooted in history. In 1798, at the time of the Fries Rebellion, a man who lived near the rock and his relatives would ride out on horseback warning residents that tax assessors were coming.

Eerie sightings continued to more modern times. Williams Township resident Roy Kichline Jr. still remembers an inexplicable encounter at the rock.

Kichline grew up hearing stories about the rock, but he never really believed in the supernatural. But when he was about 15 in the early 1970s, Kichline and three friends went up to Hexenkopf rock to spend the night.

If it wasn’t Halloween, it was close to it, Kichline recalled. It was just about midnight, and the moon wasn’t full, but the sky was crystal clear and the stars lit up the forest.

Suddenly a dark football field-sized cloud, 3-feet deep, appeared out of nowhere and stopped right over Kichline, his friends and Hexenkopf rock. Kichline and his friends feared the guns they’d brought with them couldn’t keep them safe, and they fled.

“I’m not a firm believer in that stuff, but that shook us up pretty much,” he said. “It scared the hell out of us. We got off that rock and we went back down to my friend’s house.”

Whatever haunts the rock is thought to be fiercely protected of the surrounding forests, bogs and meadows.

In the 1920s, utility workers were laying telegraph wire near Hexenkopf. The workers had to dig deep holes to put utility poles in, and one worker fell back into the hole he dug and died.

“Everybody attributed that to the witches saying they didn’t want the telegraph line on the top of the hill,” Heindel said.

Modern Uses

The rock is still used every year by practitioners of Urglaawe, a religion based on Pennsylvania Dutch ‘heathen’ tradition — literally the religion practiced on the countryside.

Robert Schreiwer, one of the religion’s priests, said some followers of the religion, which involves gods and goddesses from the German and Norse pantheons, make a pilgrimage to Hexenkopf rock every year at the end of April. Their lore says that at Halloween, their goddess Holle leaves her home at the rock to chase lost souls in another realm. She returns home with them in April so they can be processed into new life and put back into the cycle of life, death and rebirth. The chase is often referred to as the “wild hunt.”

Schreiwer said there have been reports throughout the years of a woman in white at Hexenkopf on April 30, which is how their goddess is described as appearing to people.

During his visits to the rock, Schreiwer is always struck by seeing upside down trees and a sense that there’s a magnetic imbalance in the area.

“For me it can be a very serene, very quiet or very active and noisy, spiritually speaking,” he said of his visits.