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Wizard Clip

On a Catholic, true ghost story.


In the lower Shenandoah Valley there is a village named Middleway. Few people call it that. The name emblazoned upon signposts, brochures, and bumper stickers in town is “Wizard Clip,” derived from a bizarre episode of history, the strangest and truest ghost story ever told.

In 1794 a traveler sought boarding on the outskirts of Middleway at the farm of Adam Livingston. Livingston and his family were hospitable and prosperous people and gladly put the man up in their home. But the very night of his arrival, the unknown man grew gravely ill and asked Livingston to send for a priest. Livingston was a devout Lutheran. Either because he did not understand the urgency of the request or because he found the idea of Catholic clergy in his house distasteful, he did not summon a priest. By morning the man was dead, unshriven and unconsoled. He was buried on the farm.

The phenomena began after the stranger’s funeral. The Livingstons sat down at their fire and suddenly the logs jumped, all ablaze, sputtering around the room as if “endowed with demoniacal power and intelligence.” The fire was just the beginning. From then on, the Livingstons knew no peace: their candles would not stay lit; sounds of horses galloping and crockery breaking were heard around the house at all hours; money vanished into thin air. Most notably, the swoosh of heavy shears was heard constantly by the family and all who visited them. They called it the Wizard Clip. These ghostly scissors left a telltale mark. Everything from the linen of shirts to the leather of boots was found to be clipped with half-moon figures.

The manifestations continued over a period of years, causing great distress to all of Middleway. They were also the cause of great curiosity. A tale is told of a lady from Martinsburg who went to see whether the stories were true. Concerned for the integrity of a new silk cap she had purchased for the journey, she wrapped it up within a handkerchief. After her visit, which must have been otherwise uneventful, she unfolded the handkerchief. She found the cloth untouched—yet her new cap had been cut to ribbons.

When Adam Livingston was finally on the verge of fleeing, he had a dream. He saw a man dressed in unfamiliar vesture and heard a voice: “This is the man who can relieve you.” Understanding the person he saw to be some kind of clergyman, Livingston called upon his own minister. But the Lutheran pastor did not believe he could be of assistance.

There was only a single Catholic family in Middleway. They would travel ten miles to Shepherdstown to receive the sacraments from a priest by the name of Father Dennis Cahill. Knowing Livingston’s desperation, they invited him along on their next journey. Upon meeting the priest, Livingston immediately recognized him as the man in his dream. Falling to his feet, he begged him to visit his home. Father Cahill obliged and imparted a blessing upon the Livingston farm. Before he left, a missing bag of money re-appeared. And yet it was not long before the disturbances returned. Father Cahill brought a partner for his next visit to Middleway: the indomitable Father Demetrius Gallitzin. 

With the arrival of Father Gallitzin, this story emerges from the realm of folklore into the light of recorded history. Gallitzin is hardly an obscure figure in the Catholic history of the Alleghenies—his cause for canonization was opened in 2012. He wrote a full account of the manifestations drawing upon his own experience and interviews with those involved. Like many others, he arrived a skeptic of the Livingstons’ claims, but “was soon converted to a full belief of them.”

Prayers of exorcism were read and Masses were offered for the repose of the soul of the unknown man who had died. With these solemn rites, the Wizard Clip ceased at last. As a proof of what had happened in Middleway, Father Gallitzin carried back to his headquarters in Conewago a trunk of mysteriously clipped clothing. (The clothes were burnt in about 1830 by the order of a certain Father Enders of the Society of Jesus, who was wary of the superstitious curiosity they evoked.)

A typical ghost story ends with the banishment of the spirit and the restoration of peace to the afflicted home and family. But the story of the Wizard Clip continues. The Livingstons, grateful for the intervention of the priests and convinced by the effectiveness of their remedy, resolved to convert to the Catholic faith. Father Gallitzin narrates what happened next:

They had scarcely made their profession of faith and heard one or two Masses, before a bright light awoke Mr. Livingston one night, and a clear, sweet voice told him to arise, call his family together and pray. He did so; the hours passed as a moment, for the voice prayed with them, leading their prayers. Then it spoke to them, in the most simple yet eloquent manner, of all the great mysteries of the Catholic faith.

This heavenly Voice remained with the Livingstons for seventeen years. Father Gallitzin believed that it belonged to a soul in purgatory sent to reward the Livingstons for their charity. Others say it was certainly an angel. Eventually, the Livingstons left to join Father Gallitzin at his Catholic colony in Loretto. They bequeathed their land at Middleway to the Church, hoping that it would “support a priest one day.” More than a century passed before this dream could be realized. In the 1970s, the Diocese of Wheeling–Charleston established a retreat center on the site, named Priest Field.

On a recent visit to Priest Field, I walked down to Opequon Creek, which runs through the property. The only sound was the murmur of the water and the rustling of fall leaves. A place of tranquility and peace it remains.

Father Alek Schrenk is a priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

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