BURKITTSVILLE -- A car pulls up to the intersection of Main Street and Maryland Route 17, known locally as The Square. The driver, knowing a couple of newspaper types when she sees them, rolls down her window.
"Let me guess," she says to the guy scribbling in his notebook. "You're here about the Blair Witch."
A few minutes later, Rex Harrill stops his car in the middle of Main Street and rolls down his window. "You guys know anything about the Blair Witch?" he asks. In the back seat, his two visiting nephews from South Carolina strain to get a glimpse of the ghost-plagued town they've been hearing so much about.
This is exactly the sort of notoriety the residents of this tiny Western Maryland village would just as soon avoid.
Tomorrow, "The Blair Witch Project" opens in theaters across the country.
Its premise is simple: Three student filmmakers set off into the Western Maryland woods to make a documentary about the local legend of a witch who was once cast out of the town of Blair (later Burkittsville) and who has haunted the area in a most grisly way ever since. The students are never seen again; their footage, discovered later, makes up the movie.
Excitement over "Blair Witch" has been building since winter, when the movie scored a major hit at the Sundance Film Festival. Thousands of Web surfers have visited the film's Web site (www.blairwitch.com). And earlier this week, an hourlong look at the "history" of the Blair Witch and the student filmmakers' ill-fated expedition aired on cable's Sci-Fi Channel.
It's all very eerie and very scary. And very irritating for longtime residents of Burkittsville, who complain that too many people don't seem to understand the difference between fact and fiction. People drive into town, wanting to hear about the witch, and ask for directions to Coffin Rock. Residents whose Internet profiles reveal they live in Burkittsville get questions from gullible teen-agers who have visited the movie's Web site and want to know more.
"I've been getting a lot of phone calls from people, wanting to know if it's real," says postmaster Larry Ott. "I've been postmaster since '93, and I tell them that if all this had happened in '94, I think I would have heard about it."
"It's definitely a fiction," says Joyce Brown, just beginning her second year as the town's mayor. "None of the places and facts are true. I've lived here 35 years and have also inquired with some older citizens. None of them have ever heard of a Blair Witch."
"The attitude is, `Gosh, that's clever, but why'd you do it to us?' " Andrea Elwell Cox, who moved here recently enough to still be called a newcomer, says from her front porch.
"Lots of people come by and ask about it," adds Florence Brandenburg, a resident for 37 years. "I'm just not all that thrilled with it myself," she says politely from behind the screen door of her Main Street home. "I don't believe in witches to start with."
Nestled at the foot of South Mountain, about 12 miles west of Frederick, Burkittsville is a small town's small town: 200 people, most living on either side of a seven-tenths-of-a-mile corridor along Main Street, in homes that date back to the Civil War and before.
The post office is pretty much the only business in town, just about everybody knows everybody else, and people who have lived here 10 years are still thought of as newcomers. The speed limit along main street is 25 mph, and two huge speed bumps serve as not-so-gentle reminders to drivers to slow down. It's the sort of town where, at noon on a Monday, the church bells start ringing out "Yankee Doodle Dandy."
It's also the sort of town that's got no room for talk of witches and child massacres and things that bump horrifically in the night.
"We are a Christian community," Mayor Brown says. "We have two local churches that have been established over 100 years. We take our Christianity seriously."
They also take their history seriously, and that's another reason some of the townspeople are riled. There's plenty of history in Burkittsville without a couple of postgraduate screenwriters with vivid imaginations adding to it.
Burkittsville started off as a settlement of a few cabins around the time of the Revolution. In 1810, Henry Burkitt bought a tract of land and named it Friends Goodwill. After he died in 1836, the land was divided up and sold off.
The town's 15 minutes of fame came in the Civil War. On Sept. 14, 1862, Burkittsville and the surrounding countryside played unwilling host to the Battle of Crampton's Gap -- a prelude to the larger and more pivotal Battle of Antietam, which was fought three days later.
That historical connection has made Burkittsville a favorite of Civil War buffs, such as Todd Harrington, who first visited the town as a re-enactor in 1979. He moved here 16 years later.
Harrington is philosophical about "The Blair Witch Project."