January 1 “Wolf Moon” recalls tale of headless W.Va. ghost

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The Jan. 1 supermoon, also known as a Wolf Moon, recalls the tale of West Virginia’s own headless moon-man.

Appearing January 1, the first full moon of 2018, a supermoon, is known as a “Wolf Moon,” so-named for the legendary propensity of wolves to howl at it. Whether such lore is anchored in fact, it is true that wolves are particularly loud and vocal in January, and their howls are more likely to carry through the leafless forests.

As far as is known, the last wolf in West Virginia was killed in the mountains in Webster County in 1897 by Daniel Stoffer Hamrick, 17 years old at the time, and until then the howl was heard across the state and most particular in the lofty Allegheny Mountains.

Historical map showing Centralia W.Va.
Historical map showing Centralia W.Va.

Sheep in Braxton, Webster, Randolph, Greenbrier, Nicholas, and Pocahontas counties in particular suffered the depredations of wolves in the last decades of that century.

More notable as far as moon-lore in West Virginia goes, however, is the tale of the headless ghost of Centralia, in Braxton County, which might be good to revisit this time of year.

According to most sources, the decapitated body of Jacob Beamer long walked the rails of the Baltimore & Ohio Railway near Centralia, located about 13 miles up the Elk River above Sutton, West Virginia.

Beamer was said to have been run over by a train in about 1890, a few years after the railroad was constructed.


Listen: sounds of wolves howling


Those who know the story say that Beamer often claimed that his ancestors came from the moon and were forced to remain behind on Earth after a meteor knocked the moon out of its orbit, destroying all life in what was once a thriving lunar civilization.

In any case, it was known that Beamer liked to stroll in the moonlight, and on such a night he met his death under the hooves of the iron horse. When his body was found, it was headless, and residents thereafter claimed to see a gray ghost leading a headless man, whom they took to be Beamer, walking the tracks in search of the missing head.

Sometime during the ’30s a deer hunter from Pittsburgh reported that he saw the pair again, though Beamer was holding a skull in the crook of his left arm.

The two have not been seen since, so it is assumed that the moon-man of Centralia finally found his missing head.