Burkittsville witch hunt, what are they hiding?

July 19, 1999

You have to admire the town of Burkittsville, near the Washington/Frederick county line. While other governments spend millions of dollars trying to lure Hollywood to their communities for the tourism and economic development impact, Burkittsville has two words for star gazers: Get out.

Burkittsville didn't have much choice in the matter. Without help or encouragement from any government agency (what happened to the Maryland Film Commission - got polio?), makers of "The Blair Witch Project" chose lovely, pastoral Burkittsville as a fictional setting.

"The Blair Witch Project," is a faux documentary about student filmmakers who hacked their way into the woods to themselves do a documentary about alleged killers from beyond the grave. I haven't seen the movie yet, but as I understand it, the forest isn't the only thing that gets hacked.

Burkittsville has no legends of witchcraft, missing children or unexcused absences on the part of the populace or livestock - the town was selected at random, filmmakers say.


Now, most communities would leap at the opportunities presented by host status of a motion-picture witch flick, even if, technically, the film were shot elsewhere. They'd start selling novelties, tours and T-shirts proclaiming "I'm Melting, I'm Melting, in BURKITTSVILLE, MARYLAND."

Burkittsville elders instead beefed up sheriff's patrols and sent out a letter to all 214 townsfolk advising them to treat tourists with a healthy degree of suspicion.

I think it's nice when a town is secure enough with itself not to need and/or want any additional schmaltz, hype or tourism-related encumbrances clogging its streets and staring into its living room windows.

The mayor said Burkittsville is a Christian community that doesn't cotton to witches, and is perfectly happy the way it is - nice and quiet.


Maybe a little too quiet?

I only know what I read on the Internet and see on the Sci-Fi Channel, but how do we know all this modesty, all this commitment to quaintness and all these extra police patrols aren't really designed to hide something?

Burkittsville may hate me for bringing this up (I'm already oh- for-two in towns beginning with B - Breezewood, Brunswick - why not go for the hat trick?) but I've noticed a couple of things that, like a werewolf, give me paws.

First, you can't help but see that the letters in the name Burkittsville, if you add an n, w, c and h, can be rearranged to spell "vile, burnt witches." Coincidence? Call it that if you want.

But how do you explain the fact that the town was founded in 1824? And if you take 1824 and divide it by the number of Burkittsville farmers of Germanic extraction (2) who founded the town you get 912. Now subtract the number of town residents (214) and you get 698, from which you subtract 22 (the point value of "Burkittsville" in a Scrabble game) to arrive at 676. Take away 17 for the route number of the highway that goes through town to get 659 and then add seven to signify the month of July that we're in at this very moment and you arrive at 666, the Sign of the Beast!

There's a "coincidence" I'd like to see the town elders talk their way out of. Let's see extra sheriff's patrols explain that away.

So I think the people of Burkittsville need to be asked: What are you trying to hide? And what are the makers of the film trying to hide? They want us to believe they chose the site purely "at random?" Do they take us for children?

So fess up, Burkittsville, we want to know where the bodies are buried. Don't make us come down there with a torchlit mob of tourists. Because I warn you, we're not going away until we get our T-shirts.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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