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Panel discusses Legend of Wizard Clip

By Toni Milbourne - For the Chronicle | Nov 20, 2020

A new sign has been placed on Leetown Pike near Middleway, commemorating the Legend of Wizard Clip. Toni Milbourne

SHEPHERDSTOWN — James Broomall, director of the George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War, recently held a Zoom panel discussion on the Legend of Wizard Clip on Nov. 11.

Serving on the panel with Broomall was Ben Bankhurst, assistant professor of history at Shepherd University; Rachael Meads, teacher of Appalachian Studies; Bill Chappell, former member of the Middeway Conservancy; and Donna Joy, grad student in Appalachian Studies at Shepherd.

The discussion began as Chappell gave a brief history of the version of the Clip story with which he is most familiar.

According to Chappell, in 1794, a stranger came to Smithfield, now Middleway, in search of someplace to pass the night. He found a space in the home of Adam Livingston. Late into the night, the stranger become deathly ill and asks that Livingston find a Catholic priest to give him last rites. Livingston, a Lutheran, did not know any Catholics and was unable to bring a priest. The stranger then died.

Following the stranger’s death, strange things began to happen, as logs jumped from fireplaces, embers caught things on fire and then “clips” began to show up, mostly in half-moon shapes. These clippings led to the legend being known as “wizard clip,” and they continued until Livingston was able to find a priest from Shepherdstown.

Father Cahill came and spoke with the spirit, but the spirit remained until Cahill and another priest came and held a mass in the location which then caused the spirit to leave.

“This is one of the most well-documented ghost stories I’ve run across,” Chapelle said.

Joy, who is working on an extended study of the tale, said she has read more than 100 versions of the story.

The information, including the granting of 34 acres now known as Priestfield, being given as a retreat for priests is documented fully in the Catholic Church documents.

Members of the panel noted that there were few Catholics in the area and those that were there were of Irish descent.

The legend has it that Livingston left the area, not only because of the haunting, but because of the notoriety gained from the haunting.

“Of all folktales I’ve delved into, the idea of how religion plays here is much more pronounced than in other Appalachian folklore. This is definitely a conversion story,” Meads said, as the panel discussed how Livingston converted to Catholicism.

Meads shared there is a statue placed at Priestfield in memory of the stranger.

The discussion came about, in part, because a new sign was placed in the area recently. The sign reads: “Wizard Clip, after the 1794 death of a stranger at Livingston Farm, mysterious noises & clippings of garments frightened Middleway residents for years.” The sign was placed by the Pomeroy Foundation, which is committed to supporting the celebration and preservation of community history.

More information on the legend can be found by contacting the George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War, as well as reaching out to members of the Middleway Conservancy.