In the early 1790s Adam Livingston and his family fled their farm in Pennsylvania after experiencing a succession of calamities, from his cattle dying to his barn burning down. They settled in Virginia, but their troubles were not far behind them.
The Livingston family resettled on 350 acres near what is now Middleway, where they were once again beset by unexplained misfortune. Again the livestock began to die, but now, Livingston and his wife and children also began to experience unsettling phenomena. Among the disturbances that supposedly visited the Livingstons were loud banging and the thunder of galloping horses, which would occur out of the blue; stones and pieces of firewood would be flung through the air; dishes and pottery would mysteriously come off the shelves and smash to the floor; and the heads of ducks and geese were said to simply fall off as though cut by some invisible force.
But the oddest phenomenon, and the one from which the legend takes its strange name, was the clipping and shredding of the Livingstons’ clothes. As the story goes, after the Livingstons moved in, bedding, shirts, boots, saddles, and pretty much any other piece of fabric or cloth began to be mysteriously cut to ribbons, or more commonly, have a crescent moon shape cut into them. Nothing was spared, neither their clothing or the animals.
Items of clothing were somehow cut while people wore them; stored linens would be found clipped; pieces were clipped on the laundry line. One prominent account tells of a curious visitor to the Livingston house who took off her hat and wrapped it in a handkerchief to keep it from being clipped, but when she left and unwrapped it, the silk hat had been cut to narrow shreds. The term “Wizard Clip” seems to be in reference to the crescent moon as some kind of occult symbol.
According to the accounts in the 1978 pamphlet, Livingston began looking to religion for a solution to his problems. He reached out to his Lutheran pastor, but was turned away after the minister argued that it was not in his power to banish the evil spirit in his house. After that, Livingston began broadening his spiritual search. He approached an Episcopal minister, and was visited but a Methodist preacher. He even entertained self-proclaimed conjurers, but reportedly, each person who tried to exorcise the presence was met with flying stones and other strangeness.
Just when Livingston was losing his faith in God altogether, he supposedly had a vision that would change his dreadful fate. It was told that Adam Livingston had this dream where he saw a man in a long cloak-like type of thing, and he came to the conclusion that this meant that he should seek out a Catholic priest for help. He finally found Reverend Dennis Cahill, and reluctantly invited the Catholic to his home. Supposedly, after Cahill uttered some prayers and sprinkled some holy water, not only did a thought-to-be-misplaced sum of money appear at Cahill’s feet as he was leaving, but the haunting also ceased for a few days.
Another priest, Reverend Dimitri Gallitzin, also visited the Livingston residence around 1797. In a letter written in 1839, just a year before his death, Gallitzin declared that after three months of witnessing the disturbances at the Livingston home, “I was soon converted to a full belief of them.” Gallitzin had Cahill come back to the Livingstons’ and together they performed an exorcism that allegedly caused the house to shake with “the rattling and rumbling as of innumerable wagons.” Finally, after Cahill performed a mass in the house, the hauntings stopped. Well, sort of.
Following the exorcism, the Livingstons were later beset by a haunting of another kind. Adam Livingston and his family began hearing something they called The Voice. Cahill continued visiting the Livingstons to bring them into the Catholic fold, and found that the family now claimed to be being instructed by a strange voice that taught them about Catholicism and piety. The Voice was said to exclaim, “I want prayers!” and shame members of the family who were not pure in their confessions. It was under these unusual circumstances that Adam Livingston and a number of his children became devout Catholic converts.
The stories of the Livingston clippings became so widespread that the area that’s now Middleway was even sometimes just called “Wizard Clip” or “Cliptown.”
In February of 1802, Livingston deeded a portion of his land to the Catholic Church in perpetuity, before moving back to Pennsylvania, where he lived until he died in 1820. In accordance with his gift, he stipulated that there should always be a member of clergy on the land, and that any profits from it should go toward building or repairing a church on the land.
Since many accounts of the Livingston haunting and the Wizard Clip come from the writings of religious sources such as Gallitzin, the miraculous ability of the Catholic Church to banish the mysterious spirits may seem a bit convenient. Still, the legend itself continues be a prominent feature of the local culture to this day.
In Middleway, triangular historic markers still bear a crescent moon and shears in opposite corners to honor the legend.
The land Livingston deeded, the Priest Field Pastoral Center, still belongs to the church. Today it is a peaceful retreat used by everyone from religious leaders to sewing clubs to AA groups and no further disturbances were reported.
source - atlas obscura
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