As many of you who follow my musings know, I am from a small town in West Virginia. Shepherdstown has been my family’s home for years, ever since I was ten. We moved there when our little house in “Clippe” (a small village also in Jefferson County) burned and my parents decided to move to the town where my father was employed as a history professor at the local college, Shepherd.
But back to “Clippe” (odd name for a place and, in truth, that is not this village’s true map name), now known as Middleway, which definitely has an 18th century air about it. When I was little we were not allowed to celebrate Halloween as most of the children we knew— oh no— we were brought up by a father that thought “Trick or Treat” was a form of blackmail. Instead, on Halloween night he would form his band of raiders from the slim pickings of his five children. He would take us on raids throughout the terrified village as the word spread that the dreaded Hafer children were out! From flour thrown on Mr. Wyncoops (yes that is his real name) car, blowing out jack o’lantern candles and running through the ancient “old church” graveyard with its upturned crypts and leaning gravestones, we thought that no one was more terrifying—not to mention more terrified than we were.
In the handmade costumes that my dear mother had fashioned from old clothes (I always wondered how she came up with pink tulle at the drop of a hat) and things about the house, we have Halloween memories that most of our generation do not have—truly homemade memories filled with excitement and fun and more than a hint of DANGER. Mostly our “raids” ended with our Dad or older brother carrying a little pink princess or cowboy home on his shoulders and the rest of us trooping behind.
The name of our little village that I knew at the time was known by locals as “Wizard Clippe” or just “Clippe” if you lived there. The site of a very famous 18th century ghost story, “The Legend of Wizards Clippe” was one that we were brought up with. The sites in the story we passed on our way to school every day (yes we walked to school and it had TWO rooms not one) and there is still an air about the place that is “other worldly” not somewhere that you have to stretch your imagination to see the events of the story before you.
I’ll close with the famous story as told to me as a child and documented in the papers of the time.
The Legend of Wizard Clippe
In the Southern part of historic Jefferson County, West Virginia, nestled among the foothills of the Blue Ridge, lies the ancient village of Wizard Clippe. The land upon which the village is located was included in the grants made to Mr. William Smith in 1729 by Sir William Gooche who was proprietor of that part of Virginia at that time. In 1732 the pioneer home of Mr. Smith was built. Surrounded by majestic hills, this, the first home of Wizard Clippe, was placed in a gloomy hollow, near a bottomless lake.
Among those who obtained land grants from Mr. Smith was a man named Livingstone. Mr. Livingstone selected land lying along the Opequon Creek, but also adjoining the village.
One night when the sky was inky black, the rain descended in torrents, and the winds rushed through the desolate pines with a wild bellow, a weary stranger presented himself at Mr. Livingstone’s door. With genial hospitality the traveler was welcomed.
In a few hours after retiring, the Stranger sent for Mr. Livingstone, and told him he was ill unto death. He requested that a Catholic priest might be sent for at once. Now, Mr. Livingstone was a bigoted man who hated the Catholic Church, and he swore no priest should enter his house. The Stranger (to whom no name has been given), begged again and again that a priest should be brought, but his host was obdurate. At the weird hour of midnight, while the elements fought their terrible battle, the soul of the Stranger, unblest and unshriven, took its flight. The next day his body was buried in unconsecrated ground. For many years his grave was pointed out to the curious.
Then a curse seemed to rest upon Mr. Livingstone and his possessions. A murrain seized his cattle, strange and mysterious sounds were heard about the house, and things were as though ruled by a demon. More dreadful than ought else was a clear, distinct, insistent clipping, clipping, clipping which went on day and night. The bed-linen, the clothing of the family and of visitors, the saddles, bridles, and harness were all clipped, and always in crescent or half-moon shape. Nothing was sacred from the terrible shears. The witches and wizards were now holding high revels. Mr. Livingstone, pursued by the horror of all this, dreamed a vivid dream in which he saw a man who promised to help him. On Sunday his wife, a devoted Catholic, persuaded him to go with her to a Catholic service at Shepherdstown. The instant Mr. Livingstone saw the priest, he cried out with streaming eyes, “That is the man who can rid me of the witches.” The priest was told the story and the next day he visited the home of Mr. Livingstone at Smithfield (Middleway), sprinkled holy water on the threshold of the house, prayed fervently, and consecrated the ground wherein the Stranger lay buried. He declared deliverance had come. Sure enough the clippings ceased, “the witches were laid,” and Mr. Livingstone was free.
Moved by gratitude he gave to the Catholic Church forty acres of land lying along the Opequon. The Church still owns this land and receives rent from it. It is known as the Priest’s Place. For four or five generations it was in the care of the Minghini family. Recently, however, the Church assumed control. A chapel has been erected on the site, and outdoor meetings are held frequently. It is an ideal spot for camping, and the Church has extended the use as such to all.
The “spell” cast upon the old village of Clippe still lingers upon it, and the bottomless lake through which the witches are said to have rushed when the priest exorcised them is still here; and the Opequon flows on, now calmly, now wildly, by the lonely grave of the Stranger.
Is it any wonder having spent my first years in this village that Halloween is my all time favorite holiday? I have copied verbatim from the text written by R. Helen Bates and printed in 1936 by the Middleway Historical Conservancy.