Until the perpetrator of the arson of Magister Joe Netherworld’s home—locally known as “The Halloween House,” “The House of Netherworld,” and “The Witch House”—is identified, we cannot be certain of that individual’s motivation. Over the years, Joe “Netherworld” Mendillo worked with great diligence to make his home an exotic showplace, including a garden filled with rare plants, a koi pond over which a bridge he crafted himself was gracefully arched, and a water wheel which the rain spurred to action. Most who knew him enjoyed his feeling of “Halloween, 365 Days a Year.” Joe welcomed trick-or-treaters to his home on All Hallow’s Eve, and greeted them personally from his front steps, giving out candy—more to those with spookier attire—and had cackling animatronic witches stirring cauldrons, billowing fog machines and costumed assistants to create a phantasmagorical experience. Some people drove many miles to experience what became part of their yearly Halloween tradition.
While some might have been offended at his membership in the Priesthood of the Church of Satan, those who took the time to research our religion learned that it is not devil worship, but instead an atheist philosophy of individualism, liberty, and self-fullfillment. Whether they felt sympathetic to those views or not, Joe was always gracious and offered people advice on gardening, home restoration and décor, among other topics, which he characterized as being a “Dark Side Martha Stewart.” He was a knowledgeable man and generous to those requesting his informed perspective. He performed the first legal same-sex Satanic wedding in New York State, when that became an option for couples. He also worked to create a monument to that famed director of weird films, Edward D. Wood, Jr., who spent part of his youth in Poughkeepsie.
Sadly, there are some “people of faith” who are intolerant, and typically ignorant, of other belief systems, but Joe did not focus on bigoted people. Instead, he chose to be a vibrant part of Poughkeepsie, and was warmly greeted by many when he was out and about. Visiting him in his magnificent museum-like home spurred my wife Peggy and I to relocate from Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan to Poughkeepsie and likewise acquire and restore a historic home which had degenerated into a crack house before we purchased it. We’ve continued that inspirational tradition, and now a number of other creative people who are members of the Church of Satan have moved here from across the country to enjoy the splendid lifestyle offered by what we call the “Haunted Hudson Valley.” We consider ourselves to be part of an unofficial “Witchcraft District”—a term coined by Joe for those of us who live here for whom Halloween is more a state of mind than a one-day-a-year occasion.
I am convinced that Joe’s legacy will live on, even though the extraordinary home he so carefully cultivated has been destroyed through the hateful act of some deeply disturbed individual, regardless of his motivation. It currently seems unlikely that the home could be restored, due to the severe fire damage, but one day a “pocket park” could possibly arise on that space, filled with the same sort of lush plantings that Joe favored. He succeeded in creating a sanctuary of rare beauty that passers-by could enjoy, and perhaps in time he could be remembered in an evocative public green space.
There is melancholy poetry to the thought that the ashes of Magister Netherworld himself, stored in his haunted palace, have now mingled with those of that brooding structure he made a reflection of his essence, melding them for all time, and infusing that unholy plot for eternity.
—Magus Peter H. Gilmore
High Priest of the Church of Satan and Proud resident of “The Witchcraft District”
Image captured by Witch Falon Eduard Blutig