|Statue of Adam Livingston at Priest Field Pastoral Center|
In 1802, a dying Lutheran farmer named Adam Livingston deeded several acres of land near Middleway, West Virginia, to the Catholic church. For over a century, this thirty-five acre plot along Opequon Creek is known as "The Priest's Field", and it comes with a fascinating paranormal legend that has been vouched for, and endorsed, by the Catholic church itself.
In Livingston's lifetime, the property was known throughout Jefferson County as Wizard's Clip-- so named because visitors leaving Livingston's homestead frequently found half-moon-shaped holes in their clothing, as if the fabric had been cut with invisible scissors. However, the legend is deeper and darker than that, as the ghostly inhabitants of the homestead were said to engage in more than mere mischief.
Livingston appeared to be a magnet for poltergeist activity; his crops and cattle would die without explanation, candles would blow out by themselves, and even dinner plates would be flung from the shelves by unseen hands. This local legend became so well-known that famed Catholic missionary, Demetrius Augustine Gallitzin, heard about it while a student at the St. Sulpice Seminary in Baltimore. In 1794, Gallitzin traveled with Father Dennis Cahill to Middleway to investigate the haunting, and wrote about the experience in his memoirs.
Gallitzin and Cahill, who spent three months at Wizard's Clip, arrived as skeptics but returned to Baltimore as staunch believers.
The History of Wizard Clip
Adam Livingston moved from Pennsylvania to West Virginia in 1790 and purchased 70 acres of land and a farmhouse along Opequon Creek. He lived a simple and quiet existence for four years until, one evening, a lost traveler knocked on his door. The stranger asked to be put up for the night and Livingston consented. However, the stranger fell gravely ill overnight and could not continue his journey the following morning. He implored Livingston to call for a Catholic priest to give him last rites.
Livingston, a devout Lutheran, bristled at the request. Like many Lutherans, he harbored a deep resentment toward the "papists" and everything they stood for. "No Catholic priest will ever cross the threshold of this house!" he declared. The sick stranger died without absolution, and without receiving his final sacrament.
Not sure what to do with the body, Livingston implored his neighbor, Jacob Foster, to come to his home and watch over the corpse that night. After their supper was eaten, Foster lit a candle and went into the dead stranger's room to check on the body, but the flame was extinguished as soon as he entered. He lit the candle once again, but scarcely had the wick kindled when it flickered out for the second time. Thinking it must be a flaw in the candle, Foster tried a different one; it, too, would not stay lit inside the room.
Livingston also thought the candles must be faulty. After mumbling curses at the storekeeper who had sold him the defective merchandise, Livingston rummaged through the kitchen and located a nub of an old candle, one that had a proven track record of burning cleanly and brightly. As Livingston expected, the old candle flared up with a bright, yellow flame-- yet the flame died as soon as the men entered the dead man's room.
This frightened Foster so much that he abandoned his vigil and scurried home, leaving Livingston alone with the body. Livingston, however, refused to believe that supernatural forces were at play; he pondered the situation as he laid in bed with his wife and, while she slept, he remained awake, trying to find a logical explanation to the candle mystery.
While still in bed, Livingston heard the sound of horses galloping past his window. Around and around the farmhouse they galloped until Livingston could stand it no more. He got dressed and went outside, but-- much to his surprise-- the galloping ceased as soon as he stepped out the door. In the silver light of the full moon he looked around for hoofprints around his property, but found nothing.
A few days later the stranger's body was buried, but even a Christian burial in consecrated earth did not put an end to the paranormal phenomena. By week's end, Livingston's barn had mysterious burned to the ground, his cattle had died of a mysterious disease and the crops he had so carefully planted began wilting. Every morning, Livingston would go to his henhouse for eggs, only to find the birds slaughtered, their heads cut off. At first he assumed these were the doings of a prankster, until one night when he and his wife were sitting in front of the fireplace, and a flaming log flew out of the fireplace on its own power.
It was around this time the phantom clippings started. Try as they might, Livingston and his wife could not find a single pair of shears in the house, even though they both heard the unmistakable sounds of blades opening and closing. The sound tormented them, day and night, as if the ghostly scissors were mocking them. The sound never ended; hour after hour, day after day, week after week, the sound of scissors haunted the homestead. And always the same half-moon shaped hole was found in some object or another-- holes had been cut into the blanket while Livingston and his wife were sleeping, and holes were even cut into the thick leather of Livingston's saddle.
While some of the locals laughed at the stories, others grew curious and were determined to investigate the matter themselves. The visited the house, only to find moon-shaped holes in their own clothing upon leaving. One woman from Martinsburg, wearing a brand new black silk cap, took off her cap before entering the Livingston home as a precaution. She wrapped her cap in a handkerchief and put it into her pocket. As soon as she entered the house she heard the sound of scissors, even though Mr. and Mrs. Livingston's hands were empty. She checked her pocket and, sure enough, the silk cap was cut-- even though her handkerchief and her pocket was not. This was the incident that seemed to make the name of the property stick, and was thereafter referred to as Wizard's Clip.
For three months the sounds of scissors tormented Livingston and then, one night, he became physically exhausted and fell into a deep sleep. He dreamed that he was climbing a steep, craggy mountain. When he reached the summit, he encountered a man dressed like a shepherd, ordering him to go see a family by the name of McSherry. The following morning the McSherrys, who were devout Catholics, told Livingston about Father Dennis Cahill, a frontier missionary who would be saying mass in nearby Shepherdstown the next Sunday. Livingston considered this to be some sort of divine sign, and so he attended the mass.
In Shepherdstown, Livingston had just taken his seat inside the church when the priest walked out to the altar. Livingston let out a loud scream-- it was the very same man he had seen in his dream! With tears in his eyes, he begged Cahill to come to his house and lift the curse that had been plaguing him. The priest, fascinated by the man's tale, agreed to come.
Father Cahill visited the house the following day and heard the sounds for himself. He said a prayer and sprinkled holy water. The next morning, Livingston discovered money on his doorstep, in the same amount that had mysterious vanished weeks before from a locked box.
Livingston, as the story goes, converted to Catholicism after the visit from Father Cahill. After his death some years later it was found that the farmer had bequeathed his land to the Catholic church. Livingston's relatives contested the will, claiming that the farmer wasn't in a healthy frame of mind when he made the bequest, and the matter dragged on in courts for decades, and wasn't resolved until 1922.
On All Souls' Day, 1922, priests from Baltimore, Washington, Hagerstown, Richmond and other cities congregated at Wizard's Clip to celebrate mass, thereby giving the parcel of land its name, "The Priest's Field". Today, the site is owned by the Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, and is home to the Priest Field Pastoral Center.