Old Superstitions in Mercer County

In the olden days when boneset tea and potions made from catnip, pennyroyal, the green cones of the cucumber, roasted onions, white walnut bark, Indian turnip root, etc. were the only medications known to the pioneers, superstitions ran high.

As a cure for mumps, the patient was required to rub his swollen jaws on the hog trough. Whooping cough victims were sometimes shaken in the hopper of a flour mill. A buckwheat cake was applied to the head for headaches. A toothpick made from the middle toe-nail of an owl was used to prevent cavities.

Everything from planting to harvest, from the cradle to the grave, was thought to be affected by the moon. Omens and bad luck ran hand-in-hand in the frontier household, where each day a battle was waged against cold and hunger and discomfort and very real danger and discouragement. So it was across the length and breadth of Mercer County.

Hells Hollow settlers were no exception, nor have old-timers who yet live in the shrouded shadows of Yankee Ridge been able to shake the superstitions of by-gone days.

Thunder storms have always seemed to worsen along the ridges above the rock-strewn ravine. It seemed in the days before yesterday that winds shook the giant oaks, poplars, chestnuts and maples and whipped and howled along the hollow.

Early settlers there never really felt safe from the red men. When "fire-water" was brought into the picture, there was always trouble! With the murder of one of the savages, however, a hex was apparently put on the place forever.

As late as 1969, a howling storm hit the ridge in the vicinity of Hells Half Acre. All became deadly calm, then a mighty force descended to uproot and twist giant oaks as though they were mere saplings.

Again those who did not sleep in the nearby burial grounds envisioned the ghost of the murdered red man, his moaning seemed to echo in the hollow below.

The wailing voices of the night were the same as those which fanned the flames of their little one-roomer which had once perched above Hells Hollow.

Had the little church disbanded because of the hex? Superstitions were linked to the old mill where the over-shot wheel suddenly stopped — to turn never more.

Too, there was the old hewn log cabin a short distance from the ruins of a stone fort, said to have sheltered slaves on their way to freedom in Canada.

One night, after it had carefully been raised to a conveyance for transportation to the grounds of the Mercer County Historical Society, Yankee Joe's log cabin gave a low groan and settled into a heap of rubble. Not a shade of its formerly sturdy timbers, erected in 1798, remained intact.

Once again, the evil spirit — that is said to rise to full stature in Hells Half Acre on any stormy night — had overstepped the bounds of its awesome domain.

Just as the reader must accept the account of linsey-woolsey and buckskin wearing apparel, of venison and wild turkey and pone of flails and candle molds — so must one believe that ghosts of the past really haunted old timers and return to interfere, even to this day, with many a well-laid plan.

Yes, there is a Hells Half Acre and a Hells Hollow within a half hour's walk of the Mercer County courthouse.

If one will climb the narrow stairs to the portico, high above the rotunda and look westward, in mind's eye one may see the smoke from the red man's campfire.

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