The strange grave of Richard Slyhoff, the man who tried to hide from the devil

At the edge of a farmer's field on the Firetower Road in Polk Township, Jefferson County, lies the weathered grave of Richard Slyhoff.

The locals are familiar with the story about the forlorn grave next to a large outcropping of rock-- an odd choice for one's final resting place-- though few outside of Brockway and Brookville have ever heard the fable.

Slyhoff, so the legend goes, was a rambling man who loved whiskey, gambling and women. Although he was married to a wife who bore him seven children, he was the type of fellow who just couldn't bring himself to settle down.

Sometime around 1867 Slyhoff's freewheeling lifestyle began to catch up with him. His health began to deteriorate and Slyhoff, sensing his premature yet inevitable demise, began to worry about the state of his immortal soul. Quite simply, he was afraid the devil would whisk him off to the fiery depths of hell.
But Richard Slyhoff had a plan.

On the edge of his land there was a large rock, leaning at a precarious angle. The sickly gambler decided that he wanted to be buried beneath the rock. He theorized that Judgment Day would come with a fair amount of trembling, and that, as a result, the leaning chimney of rock would topple onto his grave, effectively protecting his corpse from the devil.

A group of high school students visiting Slyhoff's grave in 1974

The gravediggers hired by Slyhoff thought for sure that the 43-year-old farmer was off his rocker. The spot Slyhoff chose for his burial was situated in such an odd position that the only way the men could dig the grave was by getting down on their bellies beneath the rock that shadowed Slyhoff's desired burial plot.

Strangely, it seems that after Slyhoff took up eternal residence in his strange tomb in 1867, the large, leaning rock began to shift-- away from the grave. Dozens of Sunday school teachers and preachers have taken visitors to the gravesite and, as recently as the 1970s, the shifting position of the rock had been noted. Some Sunday school teachers might have incorporated this strange quirk of nature into a morality lesson-- try as you might, there's just no way to hide from the devil.

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