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Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Famous Ghost Story

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.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Artisans and Farmers, the "Green" Industry of the Past

I was recently struck by the thought that the majority of the artisans listed on my website,, are practicing a “green” industry.
The commercials and ads that are everywhere about “natural” and “organic” hale the principals and properties of a past world where the main energy used was the physical effort of the farmer or craftsman and the “good ole” elements of nature. By its very definition, the ability to produce a beautiful and useful product with a near zero carbon footprint is worthwhile and beneficial to our environment.
As is usually true, we have a lot to learn from our ancestors. No matter whether they are many generations behind us, their knowledge stands ahead of us much of the time. I have often smiled at the newest kitchen gadget that really does the job no better (and sometimes worse) than the old tool that our grandmothers used (now I will concede that the dishwasher, stove and refrigerator are blessings our grandparents would be beaming over). But it is true, particularly in today’s political climate, that “artisans” perhaps deserve an outright grant or at least a tax break for these businesses that bring so much to our modern world by producing worthy and authentic “green” products.
I have an old hometown friend who has a farm that his family has owned for more than 200 years. He had the foresight to start organic farming years ago before “it was cool” and his farm produces the best beef and organic meat I have ever tasted (his vegetables are also a delight). Now knowing this family as I have all my life, he probably was farming as his family always did (nothing new); it’s just that the trends finally caught up with him.
His cousin owns a natural trout farm down the lane from the family farm and is equally innovative. Whenever I go home I find the ”Grantham boys,” as my grandmother called them, at the local Farmer’s Mkt and try to find my way to their stand. My point in mentioning this is that pure effort, no matter what you are doing—be it cabinetmaking or farming—is a nod to the original “green” artisans – our forefathers.
Aqua Green Trout FarmRte 51, Kearneysville, WV, 25430304-725-6518
Tudor Hall Farm Market6280 Middleway Pike, Kearneysville, WV, 25430304-725-3149

The Colors of Fall and the Arts and Crafts Period

For some reason when the scent and sights of fall begin I often notice how the beautiful lines and colors associated with the Arts and Crafts style are all around me.
The Arts and Crafts movement celebrated and used icons taken from nature such as the pine spray, thistle, and acorn as their recurrent themes. Arts and Crafts colors mirror the natural world with their rich palette of muted greens, golds and rusts.
Through historic interior design you can see how much the world around them influenced designers and architects. From all periods this is true, with the brilliant blues, reds and golds of the very patriotic Federal period, to the rich jewel colors of the Victorian period so influenced by the industrial machine age and the great wealth that came with it.
Color is a powerful emotional indicator of what was going on during a particular period so it is no wonder that at the beginning and throughout the Arts and Crafts movement you find the soothing hues taken from nature by the designers. With the world increasingly in turmoil and a World War looming, these colors gave our ancestors a calm and nurturing environment in which to live. Nature, the true constant, gave them the center of their design.
In historic design you become a sleuth that would rival Sherlock, clues to a house’s past life are everywhere, especially that of its past color palette. I urge you to acquire a great book that is the relative bible of anyone who is working in this field or just starting on a personal project.
Recreating the Historic House Interior by William Seale is so good at taking you through the steps from research to restoration for any historic interior. The author is a legend in this field and the very first book I read as a young Park interpreter working on my first design project for the National Park Service. Many tried and true rules for recreating the period perfect interior can be found within its pages and you will find a veritable road map for how to find the resources you need to complete your project.
One thing about history, the old adage “everything new is old again” is particularly true when it comes to design, be it architecture or color, and luckily with our website,, you have access to all the resources particular to your specific period.

Victorian Gothic Interiors

Victorian Gothic Revival Period Furniture

This period stretching roughly thirty years from 1830-1870 was heavily influenced by the romantic ideals from the medieval period which at the time was featured in many of the novels and poetry of the time. Thus the icons of the medieval period are very prevalent in not only the architecture of the time but also the furniture.
The furniture is more than substantial and more often than naught made of oak with details of rosettes, tracery, trefoils and quatrefoils. The reintroduction of medieval styles include the reprisal of Elizabethan chairs, chests and other ‘cottage furniture”. These pieces definitely had the air of “Hansel and Gretel’ about them.
With the recent popularity of the books and the movie “Twilight’ this style has once again been recognized as the look most associated with the vampire fashion. Because of the medieval church icons used within the style it is a natural pairing for a fad that is centered on many symbols of Christianity be they an alter or a chair with iconic Gothic turnings. This is the style you are most often seeing in the set decoration of many of the TV. shows and movies that celebrate the vampire myth.
You can often still find a great Gothic period style chair perfect for your hall or a table with the telltale Gothic turreted apron. Many small antique shops have a piece or two and they are for the most part reasonably priced, mostly because they were all made by machine and had little or no craftsman’s personal touch. Remember, the less a human hand touched it in its making the less is its commercial value.
As is true with all design, it is cyclical having taken from what was popular in the past as a path to the design of the present.

Where do I begin?

You have finally settled on the home of your dreams. You knew from the moment you walked into the front parlor that you had to buy it. After weeks of stress you finally walk into the home. The walls are bare, the furniture is gone, and all of a sudden you realize what a leap you just made. Where do you start?
First let’s talk research. Those of you who have just purchased a house with “history” may already be lucky enough to have the homes past already documented. Most of us though are not so fortunate. You must think in the broadest of terms. Think of all context concerning the house i.e its physical, social, and historical presence at the time your house was built. You need to see your home through the eyes of the people who lived there in order to see how they lived there. What was going on in their world both historically and socially at the time?
You will need to make a list of all the names, ages, and dates of the people who lived in the house. Then list them chronologically into a historical framework. Your county clerk will be your new best friend for they hold the key to the records and public papers that will document the history of the home you now own. You will then want to visit the local Historical Society to research further. They will no doubt have knowledge and documentation of not only your home and neighborhood but also the people who have lived there in the past. Many times the members of the society are more than willing to pass on the names of reputable tradesmen, in the area, who can help you in the restoration of your home.

Tribute to Small Museums

When I was a little girl, my mother took me to our local small museum which was in the basement of the local library. We walked down the aisles filled with the odd assortment of objets and memorabilia that are often displayed in such museums. We stopped in front of a large case, that had a woven coverlet draped in such a way, so the viewer would have the best look at it they could in the the small space it was consigned to. I remember my mom saying something like ” President Van Buren gave your Great,great, great grandfather this as a present, they were very good friends”. Now, this sparked two reactions in my young mind. That’s a lot of GREATS, and he must not have liked him that much cause that is one UGLY spread. The point of this little story is that had it not been for that small museum in that little town in West Virginia, I would have never gotten to see something that was a real link to the past, to MY past. I have, as do my ancestors, a small museum to thank for that.
There are people all over this country that have visited like museums and seen the proof of their ancestry on display , conserved , at various levels of expertise I’ll give you, but saved nonetheless . They walk through the doors and there is Uncle Joe’s WWI helmet and the letters filled with longing he sent home to his wife. Or the glove and parasol of someone you vaguely knew you are related too and as soon as you see it you are again determined to call your Great Aunt and not only ask those questions about the family you always wanted but you are also going to WRITE IT down. Thus a family written history is born.
We have the small museum director , its board, or if really lucky a curator to thank for this…They are dedicated professionals who work with little or no budjets and constantly fiight to preserve the tangible bits of our history that otherwise would just slip away. I recently attended the annual Small Museum Conference and observed some of the most talented and educated people in this profession grapple with the new challenges this economy has given them. Luckily for all of us, I heard enthusiasm and excitement from most, if not all of them that I spoke to. They remain focused, dedicated and determined to recommit, rethink and even redesign the small museums that we as the public entrust to their care. Please support you local small museum or local historical society, they are supporting you everyday in preserving our shared history.
Visit the Culpeper Museum of History.
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