Book Excerpt: The Mystery Animals of Pennsylvania
Written By: Andrew Gable
In 1934, Albert Yashinsky of Shenandoah shot and killed Susan Mummey (‘Old Suss’) of Ferndale seven years after she supposedly hexed him as he worked in a field adjacent to the Mummey farm. Yashinsky is said to have muttered in prison, “Those eyes! Oh, those eyes, oh how I wanted to have them closed! I could not stand them!” This incident was also connected to an appearance of some weird zooform creature, though in this case it is more obvious.
Yashinsky claimed that ‘Old Suss’ had burdened him with a hex in the form of a monstrous black cat with huge green eyes and the witch’s face. For seven years, he had been climbing into his bedroom through the window, as otherwise “unless he trod evenly on each step, the cat sprang out at him.” He also claimed that at least once per month, the black cat visited him as he slept:
It slowly crawled through his closed bedroom window and towards his bed. Then it would rest itself on the side of his bed and claw at his side. It was painful torture… Once a month and sometimes more often, this huge black cat would visit him and make it impossible for him to sleep… after a visit from this cat he would be completely lost and bewildered. He was actually helpless and unable to work.
Apparently, the murder of ‘Old Suss’ was not effective in the banishing of this cat. While in prison, Yashinsky claimed to still be visited by this fiery-eyed, witch-faced phantom, rather like a feline equivalent of Keziah Mason’s infernal familiar, Brown Jenkin, in Lovecraft’s “Dreams in the Witch-House.”
These black felines have a lengthy pedigree in the annals of brauch and hexerei, thanks to an overgrown foundation in the Tumbling Run Valley, near Mount Carbon, again in Schuylkill County. These are the remains of the Thomas Farm, and in September of 1911, with the death of Pottsville native Howell Thomas, another story of witchcraft and hex came to light.
Although Thomas’ death was attributed to a stroke, his daughter, Mary Isabella, attributed it to witchcraft. She had received a warning from an elderly practitioner of powwow that she could expect a visit from a black cat, one sent by “an enemy from Orwigsburg on a mission of evil” and as a result, she had taken to carrying a revolver on her person at all times. When it finally appeared, it hissed at her and Mary Isabella shot it. But the bullet failed to have the expected effect, causing the cat to swell up to five feet long. The witch-cat then did its evil work. The cows sickened and died, followed by the horses, apples, and vegetables, and finally culminating with the death of Howell. At his funeral, Mary Isabella accused one of her sisters of being the Hex Cat (or the witch behind it, this part of the story isn’t clear), and apparently, Howell felt the same during his lifetime. Another powwower told Mary that the Hex Cat could be killed by a golden bullet, but after this was procured the bewitched cat failed to appear.
Seven years later, the Pottsville Republican was to lay the blame for the Hex Cat affair on the shoulders of one W.S. Thomas, a self-imposed hermit found frozen to death in a shack near the former Tumbling Run resort in January of 1918. Who was this W.S.? The answer, of all places, may be found in the Lock Haven Express for June 29, 1916. A William Thomas was sentenced to an unbelievable three months in prison for the crime of attempting to burn down a city block. The punishment surely did not fit the crime in this case! It seems that William was a landlord in Pottsville: he owned an entire block near Third and Race Streets in that city. He also seems to have owned the infamous Tumbling Run farm; Howell was a relative, and since his death in 1911 William felt that the Hex Cat was out to get him. The article mentions the additional detail that at some point, the barn of the farm was burnt. The cat apparently followed William back to Pottsville, and he attempted to burn his property in an effort to dispel the cat. No word on whether it worked, but the town elders of Pottsville apparently felt that this delusion – or was it a delusion? – warranted a lessening of his sentence.
At any rate, Mary and the other hunters managed to kill a black cat, which was nailed to a barn. This was likely the black cat owned by a Schuylkill Haven man which was called by powwowers a ‘hexahemeron cat’. The cat was supposedly born on June 6, 1906 (666) as part of a litter of six kittens. The Thomas Farm was called the Hex Cat Farm in popular lore, and countless trips by locals were taken to the tumbling remains of the farm to see the decomposing remains of the black cat. A rather morbid pastime, to be sure.
Read more in Andrew Gable's work: The Mystery Animals of Pennsylvania