Skip to main content

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.

Popular posts from this blog

Mount Carmel's Mysterious Suicide Cell

Tucked away at the head of North Oak Street in Mount Carmel is a quaint shop housed in a tiny historic brick building. The Shop at Oak & Avenue is a must-see destination for visitors, offering an impressive variety of gifts and handmade jewelry. It is a gem in an otherwise drab coal town whose glory days faded away with the demise of the steam locomotive and the trolley.

While this quaint small town gift shop gives off a pleasant appearance, the history of the building-- one of the oldest in the borough-- is tinged with horror and death. For this tiny building, erected in the 1880s, served as Mount Carmel's first city hall and jail, and this jail had a rather dark distinction of being the site of the cursed and mysterious "suicide cell".

History records six suicides taking place in the basement cell, along with scores of other attempted suicides. For a reason that has defied explanation, this tiny jail in this tiny town seems to bring out the darkest demons lurking wi…

The True Story of Shamokin's Famous "Mystery Head"

Hardly a week goes by that I don't receive an email from a Pennsylvania Oddities reader asking me to write about the Shamokin "mystery head"-- yes, the very same human head, complete with curly hair and mustache, that was put on display in the window of the Farrow Funeral Home (presumably to show off the establishment's embalming abilities) and later displayed at a local mining museum. The head belonged to an unidentified murder victim whose headless body was found in the woods near the Hickory Ridge colliery in 1904, and the head has been a source of local pride and urban legend ever since.

I've resisted the urge to write about the "mystery head" for a few reasons. Having grown up in the area, I heard about it so many times that the story has worn thin. Secondly, the erroneous local legends and false claims are probably a lot more entertaining than the actual truth about the "mystery head". These local legends run the gamut from plausible to …

Mount Carmel's Night of Terror: The Strantz & Yorkavage Crime Spree of 1937

On the evening of April 9, 1937, two bandits with their guns blazing left a trail of carnage through the sooty streets of Mount Carmel and Shamokin. For one of the gunmen, the trail came to a bloody end in Diamondtown after a shootout with police. For the other gunman, the trail led to the electric chair at Rockview State Penitentiary, with 2,000 volts of electricity coursing through his body.

The Ballad of Joe Cabbage and Wild Wally

A reunion of sorts took place in January of 1937, after Joseph Yorkavage was paroled from the Northumberland County Prison in Sunbury. Known to his friends as "Joe Cabbage", the notorious ruffian was released on the 25th and, oddly enough, this was the very same day Yorkavage's best friend, Walter Strantz, was paroled from the infamous Eastern State penitentiary in Philadelphia.

Back in 1919, "Joe Cabbage" was one of three men who staged a failed train robbery in Centralia. The three men dynamited the tracks and then hid in the bus…