Bewitched, bothered but not bewildered

Town: Burkittsville residents brace for a renewal of the `Blair Witch' brouhaha as the video release and Halloween approach.

October 13, 1999|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

BURKITTSVILLE — If this is in regards to `The Blair Witch Project,' ah, it is fiction. However, we welcome you to our community. You'll see we have rich farm lands, mountains and a quaint village. So, we are looking forward to meeting you.

-- Burkittsville town council's recorded phone message.

BURKITTSVILLE -- It's been a ghost town here lately. "Beware this House is Haunted" is the scariest sight, and that's just an early Halloween decoration on one of the Victorian homes on Main Street.

The really spooky occurrences -- tourists from Buffalo or Cleveland showing up to buy 21-cent postcards devilishly postmarked "Burkittsville" -- are gone. The guest book in Margaret Kennedy's art gallery hasn't flipped a page in weeks. At the other end of town, Linda Prior's "Blair Witch Stick Man" magnets haven't moved from her house.

"It's like the carnival," Prior says. "It's fun when it comes to town, but it's nice when it leaves."

The carnival, though, might be coming back to town. Just when Burkittsville thought it was safe to unlock its doors again, "The Blair Witch Project" -- the surprise-hit horror movie set here -- is due out on video Oct. 22, a week before you-know-what.

"Halloween and the video should crank it all up again," Kennedy says in her art studio on Main Street. Her shop window is still dressed in "Burkittsvillabilia," including "Blair Witch" T-shirts. She expects her souvenir business to come alive again later this month.

Anticipating Halloween crowds, the town council this week approved $200 worth of extra police patrol for the village. Also, they decreed, the local children will not be trick-or-treating Halloween night but on an undisclosed night.

"The children need time to do their normal activities without outsiders being involved," says Burkittsville Mayor Joyce Brown.

The mayor does plan to place a copy of the "Blair Witch" video in the town's archives. "None of it is true. However, the movie is [located] here, and years down the road, we want something for people to see."

Linda Prior's "Blair Witch" goodies surely will be back in demand. Borders bookstore in Frederick has ordered 50 of her mossy "Stick Man" magnets -- modeled on the scary totems seen in the film -- to give out to the first 50 people buying the "Blair Witch" video. Prior and her 81-year-old mother, Louise, have been invited to the bookstore for a video release party at midnight Oct. 21. Party eats will feature a "Blair Witch Sandwich Special" (ingredients to be named later).

The main attraction, however, will be the appearance of Linda and Louise, two locals who have run with the whole "Blair Witch" craze.

"They knew when to capitalize on this. That's really wild," says Ginnie Sulcer, Borders' community relations coordinator.

Burkittsville's postmaster, Larry Ott, has been asked by a video store to round up a hundred postcards for the video's release. And a rafting and outdoors outfit from Tennessee plans a Halloween "Blair Witch Hike" and overnight camping in Burkittsville -- a place once simply and innocently known for its Civil War heritage and "rich farm lands, mountains and quaint village," as the recording says.

Filmic fame

The village made the pop-culture atlas when "The Blair Witch Project" opened this summer. The mock documentary of three filmmakers searching for the fabled Blair Witch in the forest near Burkittsville became the monster hit of the summer. The low-budget movie has posted $140 million at the box office (and produced the requisite backlash; it's hard to find anyone now who'll say they liked the movie). In Baltimore, "Blair Witch" ran for seven weeks at the Charles and grossed a record $222,000 for the theater.

One hundred and seventy-five years after Burkittsville was founded, the town was found again in 1999 by four and more scores of tourists and journalists, all wanting a piece of the village, which might as well have been renamed Blair Witch, Md. Both cemetery signs were promptly heisted. And someone stole a "Welcome to Historic Burkittsville" road sign seen in the movie; luckily, the town has three other such signs.

Mayor Brown, seeking advice on handling unsolicited celebrity, placed a call to another infamous town -- Amityville, N.Y., the site of a mass murder that inspired the "Amityville Horror" movies. The chamber of commerce president there told Brown there's no way to stop souvenir-seekers.

So if you can't stop them, charge them.

Kennedy sold "Witch Way to Burkittsville" T-shirts, and Prior's "Stick Man" magnets did well at Internet auction on eBay. Prior's "Blair Witch" rocks (mysterious piles of stones figure prominently in the movie) were sold at $4 per rock per person, and there were many takers. "They are nuts, ain't they?" says Prior, who resembles somewhat the diminutive, haunted-house cleaning woman from "Poltergeist."

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