Tangled tales woven on the Web

August 26, 1999

There was an interesting story in The New York Times this week that demonstrated how fast rumors can fly on the Web, and how large numbers of people can be duped with small amounts of fact.

The article is about a company called Uniprime Capital Acceptance Inc., a small car dealership in Las Vegas, whose stock back in January was worth about 25 cents a share.

Last month, Uniprime announced that it was acquiring another car dealership, but traders yawned at the news and the stock was unaffected. Then, two weeks ago, the company announced that, oh, by the way, along with buying a new automobile lot, it had also discovered a cure for AIDS.

The news kudzued over the Internet and cowboy investors fell over themselves buying up shares. Suddenly, Uniprime found itself valued at $100 million.


Unfortunately for the company, it also now finds itself under a federal investigation by the SEC because - this may amaze you - the car dealership had, technically, not developed a cure for AIDS at all. Instead, I suppose, what the company meant to say in the release was that it was having a year-end close-out on Toyotas.

Anyway, the only reason I bring this up is because I know who the Blair Witch is.

Actually, it is George Moore of Hagerstown who figured it out and clued me in. Moore is a student of history and lore across the state of Maryland, and he thought the tales of a heartless she-devil at the foot of South Mountain had a familiar ring to them.

Indeed, there was such a woman on the Eastern Shore in the early 1800s who was much feared and despised and whose behavior, if not specifically witchlike in terms of bubbling cauldrons and cleaning-implement aviation, was pretty despicable nonetheless.

Her name was Patty Cannon and she lived on the Maryland/Delaware state line. She made her name on murder and for capturing free blacks and selling them back into slavery. A mountain of a woman, she was eventually caught and jailed in Delaware, where she poisoned herself.

Patty Cannon came down from Canada, and Moore theorizes she and her family first settled in the old town of Blair, near present-day Burkittsville. Along with the traditional inn's bill of goods, Moore believes the innkeepers rented out teams of horses to passing wagons that needed a little extra horsepower to pull their loads up and over Crampton's Gap on South Mountain.

After a time, however, the horses began wandering back into town with the wagons, but without the drivers - an anomaly the teamsters referred to as "the curse of Crampton's Gap."

After a while, teamsters came to understand the disappearances had less to do with the supernatural and more to do with the more human tendency to club the drivers and steal their goods atop South Mountain.

So the teamsters got together, Moore says, and torched the town of Blair. Patty Cannon escaped on a black stallion with a bag of gold - enough start-up capital for her life of crime on the Eastern Shore.

Now there is a good chance Patty Cannon never set foot west of Annapolis and that any association with witches in Western Maryland is spun out of black cloth. But the beauty of the Internet is that in truth, it DOESN'T MATTER.

Someone will come across this on the Web by doing a blair+witch+truth search and only read half of it before e-mailing all 3,975,979,375 people on his buddy list that the Blair Witch is real and that she is named Patty Cannon. And since she was a documented, tried-and-convicted kidnapper on the Eastern Shore, the student disappearances "fit the pattern" of her witchly behavior in Burkittsville. It all has the ring of truth about it.

Not to mention that listed among her witch's brews is a cure for AIDS. Honest.

Tim Rowland is a columnist for the Herald-Mail

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