|Witch of Wildwood|
Photo by Robin Smith, Find-a-Grave
October 30th. The evening before All Hallow's Eve. Devil's Night.
What would be a more fitting date to burn a witch alive? As one West Virginia urban legend states, that's exactly what happened to a witch named Kazimir Kiskis. She was burned alive, presumably for her association with witchcraft, and was buried nearby at Beckley's Wildwood Cemetery. The grave faces in the opposite direction, so that the witch doesn't have to spend eternity watching all the 'good Christians,' and they don't have to await the Resurrection looking at her. Her spirit returns every Halloween eve to haunt the place where she was buried. For years, locals have been freaked out by the upside cross, covered in strange symbols, that marks the witch's final resting place.
As ya'll know, I love taking a peek behind the curtain of West Virginia's spookiest legends, and over the years, have found that even the most outlandish of tales often are rooted in a tiny grain of truth. Here's some truth about Kazimir Kiskis:
Kazimir Kiskis was born in Lithuania, but of Russian descent. HE was a coal miner who immigrated to the United States in 1907 and was living and working at the Lanark Coal Camp, located just a few miles from Beckley. On October 25, 1924, Kazimir Kiskis (known by his anglicized name of 'Charlie') was involved in a terrible house fire and received burns over his entire body. He lasted five long, agonizing days, before succumbing to his burns. He passed away on October 30, 1924. He was 38 years old.
|Death Certificate for Kazimir 'Charlie' Kiskis|
Along with his strange, eastern European language and customs, 'Charlie' brought with him his religion. Charlie was a Catholic, and like many from his mother country, was probably Eastern Orthodox. Now, there are plenty of Christian sects TODAY that equate Catholicism with witchcraft, and back in the 1920's in southern West Virginia, things probably weren't much more...enlightened. Anyone who was seen as different generally was considered someone to be feared or to be ridiculed.
Nevertheless, Charlie had a rather impressive tombstone erected in his honor, and hopefully, his funeral and burial were held in accordance with his beliefs. The tombstone actually featured a normal cross and obviously wasn't covered with symbols of witchcraft. Rather, the symbols and writing are probably a combination of Catholic symbolism and an epitaph written in Charlie's native language, Lettish.
It's possible that the vandalism of Charlie's tombstone started early because of his Eastern Orthodox religion. However, I think its probably more likely that the tombstone MAY have originally broke from natural causes, and since then, vandals, wishing to add fuel and validity to the urban legend of a witch being buried in Wildwood, continue to deface the stone, turning a regular cross into an upside down one. And from there, the legend grew.
This location is featured on Haunted Beckley's Wildwood Cemetery Tours, where the correct information behind the stone and the person buried beneath it are shared, finally giving Charlie the respect he deserves. I know it's fun to think about creepy legends, visit these locations for ourselves, and share the stories. But, just keep in mind that behind these urban legends are real people.
Stay spooky my friends!
Historical Information for this blog came mostly from the Find-a-Grave page for Kazimir Konstanti 'Charlie' Kiskis