Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 26

The Wizard of South Mountain
MANY BELIEVED IN THE MAGIC OF WIZARD ZITTLE TO CURE THEIR ILLS
AND CHANGE THEIR FORTUNE. HIS OWN FORTUNE CHANGED AFTER
HE BROKE THE MAGICIANS' CODE.
by Susan Fair
You're a poor farmer living on the
shoulder of South Mountain and your
baby is slowly dying. It's called the "gobacks"
in 1800s Maryland, and it
involves watching helplessly as your child
wastes away before your eyes.
As your baby's cries weaken, you know
what you have to do: you send for the
Wizard.
ON MARYLAND'S SOUTH
MOUNTAIN, superstition ran as deep,
and sometimes as dark as the forests of
the mountain. A monstrous phantom
dog was said to accost travelers. The
A group of unidentified
Zittles clusters around the
family home in this
undated photo. (Photo
courtesy the Douglas
Bast Collection.)
appearance of an apparition known as "the white
woman" portended death or other disaster.
Michael Zittle Jr. was one of 10 children of German
immigrants who settled on the mountain in the 1790s,
and he became known as a healer, a conjurer and a sorcerer.
He was called Wizard Zittle, and, like any good
wizard, he carried his very own magical spellbook.
Stakes were high and options few for the poor, uneducated
mountain folk when it came to illness and adversity.
But there was one person they could count on. Have
an unfortunate accident chopping wood? Zittle would
utter the magic words and the bleeding stopped. Scurvy
got you down? Zittle had that covered too.
It's tempting to write off Zittle's abilities as powerof-suggestion,
but keep in mind: The spell he had most
success with was the one he performed on those infants
with the "go-backs." And his reputation was far-ranging:
Folks from all over came to see the Wizard.
Madeleine Dahlgren, author and professional society
widow, had a summer retreat on South Mountain.
Judgmental about the locals' belief in magic, she
remarked: "The High Priest of all this evil practice...
was the old man Michael Zittle."
Dahlgren may have considered Zittle's sorcery profane,
but wizardry was his calling, and he was a wizard
26 | BlueRidgeCountry.com
of strong convictions. Sadly, one would be his downfall.
Zittle believed that accepting payment for his sorcery
would bring bad luck. But he was also a mortal man,
with a humble cabin, a wife and children. And so he
labored as a shingle-maker. Still, those in need
demanded his time. And that may be why the wizard
resorted to using his spellbook to help himself.
Zittle's conjuring book was written in German and
was aggressively cryptic. A preface laid it on thick, claiming
the spells were based on "the secret tricks found in
an ancient Spanish manuscript which was discovered
by an old hermit over a hundred years ago, hidden
among the mysteries of the Holy Land."
In 1845, the fiscally challenged wizard did something
desperate: He had his notorious spellbook translated
into English and sold "hundreds of copies."
But this breach of wizard's code failed - Zittle
remained impoverished. Demoralized, he began to
charge for his services. Dahlgren, writing in 1882,
reported "being old and very poor, he was persuaded to
ask a fee, and when he did so, he had 'bad luck.'" The
1870 census listed the wizard's age as 71, his occupation
as "day laborer," and his property value below that of
any of his neighbors.
The not-so-charmed life of Wizard Zittle ended in
poverty and regret in 1877. Dahlgren wrote: "It is said
that he expired in great agony of soul."
Today, the wizard's legacy still echoes on South
Mountain, where superstition became tradition.
And what of the mysterious spellbooks? Zittle's original
and the copies were nothing more than legend.
But the strange saga of Wizard Zittle wasn't over.
Not long ago one of Zittle's translated copies turned
up in a local attic. Then, as if by magic, the original
spellbook reappeared, although its location all those
years remains a murky mystery. Today, both spellbooks
can be viewed at the Boonsboro Museum of History.
And in Boonsboro, in a ramshackle cluster of Zittle
family tombstones, the Wizard of South Mountain lies
buried. No headstone marks his grave.
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Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015

Letters
From the Editor & Digital Help Guide
Mill Creek Stories
Creature Feature
The Hike
Great Buys
Mountain Report
Country Roads
Creature Feature
Festivals & Events
The Curios: Our Annual Compendium of the Strange
North Georgia: A Foodie Haven
Why We Travel: The Photoessay
The 2015 Blue Ridge Country Travel Guide: A Year of Experiences
The Weekend: Harpers Ferry and Western Maryland
The Old Stone Chimney
Cabin in the Woods: Fiddler’s Roost
Mountain Garden
Guest Column: Author Stephanie Jeffries
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Intro
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Cover1
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 2
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 3
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 4
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Letters
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - From the Editor & Digital Help Guide
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 7
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Mill Creek Stories
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Creature Feature
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - The Hike
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 11
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Great Buys
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Mountain Report
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 14
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 15
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Country Roads
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 17
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 18
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Creature Feature
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Festivals & Events
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 21
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 22
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - The Curios: Our Annual Compendium of the Strange
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 24
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 25
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 26
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - North Georgia: A Foodie Haven
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 28
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 29
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 30
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 31
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 32
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 33
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Why We Travel: The Photoessay
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 35
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 36
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 37
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - The 2015 Blue Ridge Country Travel Guide: A Year of Experiences
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 39
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 40
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 41
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 42
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 43
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 44
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 45
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 46
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 47
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 48
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 49
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 50
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 51
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 52
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 53
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - The Weekend: Harpers Ferry and Western Maryland
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 55
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 56
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 57
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 58
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 59
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - The Old Stone Chimney
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Cabin in the Woods: Fiddler’s Roost
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 62
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 63
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Mountain Garden
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 65
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Guest Column: Author Stephanie Jeffries
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Cover3
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Cover4
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