So after four incredibly busy and wonderful days as part of the team conducting a prayer retreat, I walked in, dropped my bag on the floor, vaguely said night prayers, and picked up a book to read for a few minutes before turning out the light. That’s the last I remember until I was awakened by Perry’s insistent licking of my nose this morning. Teeth didn’t even get brushed.
My “position” was that of behind the scenes gopher, a pair of hands and feet, and except for those times when team was required at certain talks, morning and night prayers, and Mass, my feet were kept busy running all over Priestfield Pastoral Center from 6 am until midnight and sometimes later. Me feets was tired, and I was getting pretty fuzzy by yesterday, but it's a gorgeous place to be running around.
Priestfield offers individual rooms, cabins, and dormitories. Since part of the retreat was the experience of living in community, most of us were in dormitories - that’s certainly different when you are well past the girl scout age. And all but two people who acted as emergency contacts were required to leave behind watches and cell phones, so the pace of the day from rising to end was kept by a bell ringer. Said bell was repeatedly stolen and hidden - there was definitely a lot of community action on that point - reappearing in the kitchen freezer at one point.
There are trails winding through the woods, one of which takes you to the Stranger’s Grave. Priestfield is the site of a major WV ghost story, of which there are several versions. At the core of it is the fact that a Lutheran farmer, sometimes said to have converted, donated the land to the Church in gratitude for having been relieved of a pesky spirit. As a 1904 telling of the story of Wizzard's Clip goes:
A town was laid out by John Smith in 1794, a town on his lands, then in Berkeley county, since in Jefferson, then in Virginia, now West Virginia. This was by Act of 1798 made a town by the name of "Smithfield" with John Packett, Moses Smith, John Smith, Jacob Rees, and Joseph and John Grantham, Trustees.
It has since been known as "Middleway" and it is located about five miles west of Leetown, and has about eight hundred inhabitants.
The earliest record of the story was written by Rev. Demetius A. Galletzen, whose memoirs were prepared in 1797, and about the same time, Mrs. Annella McSherry, wrote letters containing about the same facts, and since then there have been other papers written, all giving about the same facts, and the further fact that for fifty years the original name of the place was lost and it was only known as "Wizzard's Clipp," shows that the people there had no doubt of the facts related. The story gathered from the various publications is as follows:
Adam Livingston, becoming dissatisfied with his residence in Lancaster county, Penn., determined to remove to the State of Virginia, and carried his purpose into effect by the purchase of a house and lot in Smithfield, Va., and seventy acres contiguous thereto. This was about the year 1790. He had the reputation of being an honest and industrious farmer, of fair intelligence, and brought with him his wife and a family of three sons and four daughters, of whom Eve and Catherine are the only daughters and John and Henry the only sons who are referred to in any of these memoirs. Livingston continued to reside there without attracting any particular notice, until 1794, when a stranger, of middle age and of respectable appearance, made a visit to the place and was received as a boarder in his house. In a few days after the arrival of this traveler he was taken sick and as his illness became more threatening he called Livingston to his bedside, informed him that he was a Catholic, and inquired of him if there was not a priest somewhere in his neighborhood whose services he could procure, should his malady prove fatal, which he had reason to then fear it would. Livingston, who was an intensely bigoted member of the Lutheran church, very gruffly replied to him "that he knew of no priest in that neighborhood, and if there was one, he should never pass the threshold of his door.' The dying man repeated his entreaties for the spiritual aid of a Catholic priest, but Livingston was inexorable and refused to countenance his request. The stranger died, his name being unknown to his host, and there being nothing among his papers to throw any light upon his history.
On the night of his death Livingston employed a man by the name of Jacob Foster to sit up with the corpse. But so soon as the candles were lighted in the chamber of the dead, after giving a weak and flickering light, they went out and the room was left in darkness. They were relighted several times, supposing it to result from some remedial defect in the cradle, but with the same result. Livingston then brought two candles into the room which he had been using in his own family room, which were about one-third burnt down and which he knew to be good. But so soon as they were placed in the room with the corpse they became immediately extinguished. This so alarmed Foster that he abandoned his vigils and left the house. Fifty years ago the grave of the stranger could be distinctly pointed out.
On the night succeeding the burial the peace of Livingston was much disturbed by the apparent sound of horses galloping round his house. He frequently rose during the night - which was a beautiful moon-light night - to satisfy his mind. While he could distinctly hear the tramp of steeds, he could see nothing to assure him that it was anything more than a figment of his own imagination. In about a week afterward his barn was burnt and his cattle all died, the crockeryware in his house, without any visible agency, was thrown upon the floor and broken; his money disappeared; the heads of his turkeys and chickens dropped off; and chunks of burning wood would leap from the fireplace several feet out into the floor, endangering the building unless promptly replaced. Soon the annoyances, which were then destroying his peace, assumed a new form. The sound of a large pair of shears could be distinctly heard in his house, clipping in the form of half moons and other curious figures, his blankets, sheets and counterpanes, boots and shoes, clothing, etc. This was all in one night, but the operation of clipping continued for upwards of three months, a small portion of it only being done at a time, but the inexorable shears never being silent twenty-four hours at a time. By this time the news of these strange proceedings was spread through the country for thirty miles around, and attracted in an especial manner the curiosity of the citizens of Smithfield. An old Presbyterian lady of Martinsburg, hearing of the clipping that was going on at Livingston's to satisfy her curiosity, she went to Livingston's house. Before entering the door she took from her head her new silk cap, wrapped it up in her silk handkerchief and put it in her pocket to save it from being clipped. After awhile she stepped out again to go home, and having drawn the handkerchief out of her pocket and opened it, found the cap cut in narrow ribbons.
Many other phenomena are stated and testified to by many witnesses. The long continuance of this mysterious clipping had now aroused the country for many miles around. Three daring and adventurous young men from Winchester came to Smithfield declaring their utter unbelief in the reports and offered to sleep in the house all night and to face the devil himself, if he were the author of these doings. But as soon as they became comfortably seated in the house, a large stone was seen to proceed from the fireplace and to whirl around the floor with great velocity, when they took to their heels and made their escape.
The condition of poor Livingston had become deplorable, he had lost much rest, and his imagination was so worked upon by his nocturnal visitor that his health began visibly to fail. He applied to three professed conjurers, but their incantations were all in vain. Shortly after this Livingston had a dream. He thought he was climbing a high mountain and had great difficulty in the ascent. He had to labor hard, catching at roots and bushes, and moving forward slowly by their aid. Reaching the summit, he saw an imposing personage, "dressed in robes," as he described it. After contemplating for some time the person in view, he heard a voice saying: "This is the man who can relieve you." His wife heard him groaning in his sleep and she waked him, thereupon he communicated to her his dream and said he did not know of any minister who wore robes, but he would make inquiry in the morning. The result of the inquiries led him to visit an Episcopal minister, who then resided in Winchester, but he derived little satisfaction from this visit, and returned home much disappointed. He was then advised to see the MeSherry family, who were Roman Catholics, and who resided in a very fine estate called "Releivement," about on mile each of Leetown, at which place the priest was often in the habit of stopping while discharging his spiritual functions in that neighborhood. Late in the evening of the same day Mrs. MeSherry saw a man coming to her home, she met him at the gate when he told her he wanted "to see the priest." She informed him that the priest was not at her house, but there would be church in Shepherdstown the following Sunday, when he would have an opportunity of seeing him. Mr. and Mrs. McSherry, in company with Mr. Minghini, went to church on the appointed day, and there they saw the man who had inquired for the priest, and who proved to be Livingston. As the priest appeared at the altar, dressed in commicles, Livingston seemed to be perfectly overcome. He wept bitterly, and exclaimed loud enough to be heard by the small congregation: "This is the very man I saw in my dream; he is the one that the voice told me would relieve me from my troubles." When the service was over, he promptly called on the priest and told him his sad story; but the priest, the Rev. Dennis Cahill, laughed at him and told him it must be some of his neighbors who were plaguing him, and that he must go home and keep a strict watch for them. Richard McSherry and Joseph Minghini, who were present at the interview, were much moved by the old man's tears and tried to comfort him. After much urgent persuasion. Father Cahill accompanied by Mr. McSherry and Mr. Minghini, agreed to visit Livingston's house and to inquire into the strange transactions which he had related. They found his story corroborated not only by the family, but by most of the people with whom they conversed in Smithfield. Father Cahill resorted to the remedy of sprinkling the house with holy writer, which did not, however, expel the troublesome visitor from the house, but it was followed by a deposit of the money, which had previously been taken away, on the doorsill. The strange clipping still continuing after that time it was determined by Father Cahill to have mass celebrated in the house, which was done, and Livingston was relieved from all annoyances of his ghostly visitor. From that time until he left Virginia he had frequent communications with the Spiritual world, and many facts are related where those communications were realized in a striking manner; but as these throw no light upon the simple historical fact which it is the purpose of this article to elucidate no further reference need be made to them.
The current spot marked as the grave is for commemorative purposes – all that is known now is that the Stranger is buried somewhere on the property.