Friday, October 17, 2008

Widows and Witchcraft - PA Family Fought Spell?

In February 1949, a strange series of events unfolded in Altoona, PA - made all the stranger by the complicity of the local county authorities.

U.S. Army Pvt. Reuben Rock died of tuberculosis January 13, 1949 and was laid to rest in Upper Claar cemetery. It seems that after his death, his inlaws became convinced that their daughter, Rosella, was being haunted by his "restless spirit." According to her father, Arthur Dively, she could neither eat nor sleep and had begun wasting away. Her parents became convinced she had been placed under a spell and that Rock had practiced witchcraft. "[he] had strange books and things in his house," Mrs. Dively claimed.

It would seem that what would appear to most as normal expressions of grief, were to the Dively family indications of malicious magic at work.

At first, the Dively family believed Pvt. Reuben had placed a charm upon a favorite picture of Rosella. They located the photograph and destroyed it, but the Dively's believed Reuben's ghost still clung to their home. "We could even feel it right in the room with us. It knocked at the windows and screamed over the top of the house."

The latter phenomenon calls to mind the Irish legend of the bean shìdh, which wails over a family's home to herald pending doom. Considering that Dively is an Irish name (from Divilly, which was in turn Angliicized from Ó Duibhghiolla) and that the largest concentration of this surname at the time was in Pennsylvania, we begin to see some of the foundations of what may have transpired here.

In any event, the County - strangely enough - allowed the exhumation of his body for the purpose of quelling his spirit. Then things really get weird.

Believing that it had been a mistake to have buried Pvt. Reuben in his uniform when it had been promised by him to Rosella, the family stripped it from his body, doused it in gasoline, and set it on fire. His remains were then sprinkled with salt, ostensibly to bind evil spirts, and then the corpse was wrapped in a white sheet and set back into the grave.

At this point, Rosella's father finally believed his daughter was free of the spell that had been been steadily pushing her toward a nervous breakdown. Thereafter, the family claimed, her health returned and all was quiet in the sleepy hamlet of Altoona, Pennsylvania.


Cullan Hudson said...

Surname data was obtained from

Andrew D. Gable said...

Interesting. In one of his books, Charles Adams III mentions a town in northern Pennsylvania, near Wilkes-Barre, I think, where legends of pookas and banshees still existed among the predominately Irish populace.

Jack of all trades....master of none. said...

I don't mean to critique, but the house that is said to be in Altoona is not in Altoona at all. In fact it is, or in fact was,about twenty miles south of Altoona. About half way between Altoona and Bedford in a small town called Claysburg. It was torn down around 2000 or so and I beautician has built a shop there and has been open for business until this day. I know this only because one of my best friends lived right next door to the rock's house. I lived only a few minutes away, but would be at the Hartmans next door almost everyday in the summer and we would always dare each other and our friend to step foot on the porch and knock on the door. We ourselves seen a few things that were unable to be explained, but for any interested in the story and the details I think they should at least know that the house is now gone and that the actual town is Claysburg and not Altoona.

Cullan Hudson said...

Thanks for the additional information. Altoona was listed as the location of these events in a newspaper article from the time.