Monday, April 28, 2008

Storytelling Trip: Day 5, The Wizard Clip Ghost Story

I was glad to find that the performance for Day 5 of our storytelling road trip was close to Middleway, West Virginia.

Middleway is the home of one of West Virginia's most famous ghost stories, The Wizard Clip. Originally called Smithfield, the village was the home of a farmer named Adam Livingston back in the late 1700's. Here is the story as I know, learned from many print sources and from storyteller Betty Cross of Morgantown, WV:

People in the area were aware that strange things happened sometimes on the Livingston place. Horses would stop dead in the road, for example; drivers and teams saw a rope stretched across and barring their progress, but there was no rope there. These events were thought to be linked to an unmarked grave on the property.

Then one night a traveler knocked on the door in the middle of a terrible storm. He asked for lodging and Mr. Livingston agreed that he could stay the night. The man seemed to be a tailor, judging by the tools he carried.

Later in the night Mr. Livingston heard the man coughing and moaning; it was apparent that he was very ill. When he inquired if there was anything he could do for the man, the tailor replied, "I am very sick; I doubt I will survive the night. Please call for a Catholic priest to administer last rites."

Now Adam Livingston, for whatever reason, hated the Catholic Church. He refused the request, and the tailor died within hours. Mr. Livingston arranged the body as was proper, and lit candles around it. He then contacted a neighbor named Jacob Foster to sit up with the dead man, again according to the custom of the day. But the candles kept going out; although all windows were closed, there was a breeze in the room and Mr. Foster could not keep them lit. He became so frightened he fled.

In the morning, the body was buried. Within a few days, frightening events began to occur in the home and around the property. W.S. Laidley wrote the following account of these activities in 1904 for the West Virginia Historical Magazine Quarterly:

On the night succeeding the burial the peace of Livingston was much disturbed by the apparent sound of horses galloping round his house. He frequently rose during the night - which was a beautiful moon-light night - to satisfy his mind. While he could distinctly hear the tramp of steeds, he could see nothing to assure him that it was anything more than a figment of his own imagination. In about a week afterward his barn was burnt and his cattle all died, the crockeryware in his house, without any visible agency, was thrown upon the floor and broken; his money disappeared; the heads of his turkeys and chickens dropped off; and chunks of burning wood would leap from the fireplace several feet out into the floor, endangering the building unless promptly replaced.

Soon the annoyances, which were then destroying his peace, assumed a new form. The sound of a large pair of shears could be distinctly heard in his house, clipping in the form of half moons and other curious figures, his blankets, sheets and counterpanes, boots and shoes, clothing, etc. This was all in one night, but the operation of clipping continued for upwards of three months, a small portion of it only being done at a time, but the inexorable shears never being silent twenty-four hours at a time. By this time the news of these strange proceedings was spread through the country for thirty miles around, and attracted in an especial manner the curiosity of the citizens of Smithfield.

An old Presbyterian lady of Martinsburg, hearing of the clipping that was going on at Livingston's to satisfy her curiosity, she went to Livingston's house. Before entering the door she took from her head her new silk cap, wrapped it up in her silk handkerchief and put it in her pocket to save it from being clipped. After awhile she stepped out again to go home, and having drawn the handkerchief out of her pocket and opened it, found the cap cut in narrow ribbons. (from WV Culture and History website).

Other accounts report that his chickens heads were cut off, money disappeared and the Livingston barn burned to the ground. Adam Livingston was greatly stressed by these events. One night he had a dream in which he saw a man dressed in robes who seemed to be offering to help him. When he mentioned this dream to a neighbor, the neighbor said the only men who dressed like that were Catholic priests. Eventually Livingston contacted a priest who came and celebrated a mass in the home and blessed the tailor's grave. Things quieted down for a while after that, but it wasn't long before the Livingston family was plagued again by mysterious clipping and other phenomena.

In desperation, Livingston again contacted the priest (Father Dennis Cahill). A mass with two priests was held in the home. Some accounts also say the rite of exorcism was conducted. Whatever the priests did, the frightening events stopped. Adam Livingston was so grateful that he deeded about 40 acres of his land to the Catholic Church. The Church owns the land to this day; it is called Priest Field and is a retreat center on the banks of the Opequon (pronounced o PECK en) Creek. From the Martinsburg, WV Journal:

The deed, dated Fev. 21, 1802, states that the Rev. David Cahill, clergyman of the Church of Rome, had “given particular pleasure to the said Adam Livingston who wishes to bestow on the Rev. Dennis Cahill some lasting proof of his intent.”

The village of Middleway today. The town has many log buildings dating to the early to mid 1800's. The village was called Wizzard Clipp (the spelling often varied; some people used two z's, some used two p's) after the Livingston events for many years, then later simply Clipp. Finally the USPS assigned the name of Middleway to avoid confusion with Smithfield in southern Virginia. (At the time of the Wizard Clip, West Virginia was still part of Virginia).
The entrance to Priest Field today.


Tipper said...

Neat story!


Enjoyed your telling of the story. I discovered this story ten years ago when I attended a week-end retreat at Priest Field. Then last year I met it again when I led a retreat there - never have been into the town so loved seeing your pictures. Inside the gate of Priest Field is a beautiful lodge where the folks make you feel welcome, feed you well, and create a peaceful space for meditation and prayer.

Granny Sue said...

I drove into the lodge area last time I was there, and it is lovely. I'd like to know where the actual house was--I've not located that information in my searching. There are many files in newspaper offices, university libraries, etc about this occurrence; it's one of the most-documented case of paranormal activity in the country.

The Catholic Church destroyed its files about the case, according to one website. Those would have made interesting reading!

Tell us, Ellouise--did you find any inexplicable cuts in your clothing while at the retreat? ;-) I doubt there is any more activity from the whatever-it-was, after the priests said Mass there. There are many differences in the various accounts I've read--some say an archbishop had to come, some say they did an exorcism, others that it stopped after the first priest came, others that there is a haunted well on the property. All grist for the storyteller's mill.

bluemountainmama said...

ooohhhh.... i love a good ghost story. it reminds me of the legend of the Bell Witch from TN. i took a ghost story/legends class in college and did a project on her b/c i grew up hearing about it since we lived right over the TN line, in KY. it was such a well-known and documented 'haunting' that there were even childhood games we played and rhymes we knew about her.

Granny Sue said...

I've read about the Bell witch, bmm. I would love to hear some of the rhymes and games--that's the stuff of folklore.

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