Home » Ghosts in the Darkness: A History of the Blair Witch Legend Part I

Ghosts in the Darkness: A History of the Blair Witch Legend Part I

The Blair Witch Project

Twenty years ago a movie called The Blair Witch Project was made by taking hours of found footage recorded by three missing film students and editing it into a short, cohesive narrative. This film was then released into cinemas where it quickly became something of a sensation…

And in the summer of 1999, millions across the world felt the same fear that residents of Burkittsville, Maryland have been experiencing for centuries. 

Fear of the woods and the dark and the unknown.

Fear of pain and suffering. Fear of being afraid.

Fear of the Blair Witch. 

With the release of the Blair Witch game for the Xbox One and PC, the video game industry joins Hollywood in continuing to exploit centuries of Maryland folklore and tragedy, seeming to forget that behind the legends and the whispers the history of the Blair Witch is one which lays claim to a large number of real life victims, all of which deserve to be remembered and have their voices heard.

Heather Donahue once said the evidence of the Blair Witch legend could be seen all around us. “Etched in stone,” she said, referring to the grave markers that surrounded her in that Burkittsville cemetery. But, as Heather’s own family knows all too well, that’s not always true, because sometimes the legend of the Blair Witch doesn’t leave anything behind to bury.

The truth of Elly Kedward and the Black Hills will always be somewhat illusory. Both there and not there simultaneously. Schrödinger’s Witch. You can read the lore, you can study the mythology, and you can learn the history… but none of that guarantees understanding, because the real story often hides between the lines of text, shrinking away from the light.

A book of shadows.

Does something evil lurk in the Black Hills forest in and near Burkittsville, Maryland? Those of the skeptical persuasion often scoff at such a notion.

But history? History tells a different story.

One not etched in stone, but written in blood.

This is the history of the Blair Witch, as told by those that lived it, those that studied it, and those whose lives it has claimed.

Also See: 20 Years on, Nothing Compares to TBWP

Part I: Thou Shalt Not Suffer a Witch to Live 

Timeline (1632 – 1939)

1632 – Martin Pheypo leads a party of twelve men into the Appalachians, planning to establish a trading post and a garrison. Along the way he encounters unexpected difficulties, and Pheypo is forced to return to Baltimore having failed to accomplish his mission. (BWD)

1734 – The township of Blair, Maryland is founded. (CBW)

1769 – The registry of the seafaring vessel, The Reliant, shows that a woman named Elle Kedward sailed from Ireland to Baltimore in the summer of this year. (CBW)

Feb. 1785 – Several children in the township of Blair accuse Elly Kedward of luring them into her home to draw their blood in order to create “magic potions.” Kedward is found guilty of witchcraft and banished from the village during a particularly harsh winter. (CBW, BWL, BWD)

Nov. 1786 – All of Elly Kedward’s accusers, and half of the town of Blair’s children, vanish. Fearing a curse the entire township flees as soon as the weather breaks. They vow never to speak Elly Kedward’s name again. (CBW, BWL)

Nov. 1809 – A book about the Blair Witch legend is discovered, entitled The Blair Witch Cult. This rare book, commonly considered fiction, tells of an entire town cursed by an outcast witch. (CBW, BWL)

1824 – Burkittsville is founded on the remains of the township of Blair after a railroad developer stumbles across the abandoned town. (CBW)

Aug. 17, 1825 – The Tappy East Creek incident. Eleven witnesses testify to seeing a pale woman’s hand reach up and pull ten-year old Eileen Treacle into Tappy East Creek. Her body is never recovered. For 13 days after the drowning, the creek is clogged with oily bundles of sticks. (CBW, BWL)

1827 – In his journal entries this year, Dr. Samuel A. Hale writes of his difficulties establishing a church in the town of Burkittsville. (BWC)

Mar. 1886 – The Coffin Rock incident. Eight-year old Robin Weaver is reported missing and search parties are dispatched. Although Weaver returns, one of the search parties does not. Weeks later their bodies are found at Coffin Rock, tied together at the arms and legs and completely disemboweled. (BWL)

1911 – Burkittsville town records show that the Pryce family (Darren, Amanda, Mortimer, Barry and Joseph) all passed away this year from influenza. Local folklore attributes these deaths to the Blair Witch. (BWC)

1912 – Rustin Parr’s twin brother, Dale, dies in a hunting accident. (BWD, BWF2)

Nov. 15, 1939 Tales of The Uncanny Vol. 3, Number 6 is released on this date. The cover is painted by artist Charles Patterson and the magazine contains a story (also illustrated by Patterson) called The Book of Shadows, which features the Blair Witch. (BBS)

GENERAL LORE

Blair / Burkittsville

On Jun. 14, 1632, Martin Pheypo writes a letter detailing his failure to establish a trading post in the Black Hills, claiming that his group’s Yaocomico guide refused to enter the forest for reasons that they were unable to comprehend, even attempting to drive off their horses to prevent them from continuing on their journey. (BWD)

“While many villages indeed flourished near what was later to become the town of Blair, there are no indigenous records of any kind that point to natives in or around the Black Hills Forest.”
Excerpt from The Blair Witch Project: A Dossier (BWD)
...I am attached to this countryside. Not, I assure you, simply because the village… has become known by my own name. Though I admit to some desire to have the Blair name live on in history, it is the people here who command my allegiance to this land.
Virginia is settling in; truly, she is a different person than the delicate girl you remember from Mayfair. I had shared your trepidation over her adjustment to life in the colonies, especially after the terrible events on the Honeycutt during her voyage here. You would be astonished to see the garden she has made here alongside our cabin. It is a treasure of spices and herbs: she has even found a leaf which makes a passable tea. A good thing: I have become ill these last two weeks, and have lost five stone. The tea settles my stomach, and allows me to both eat, and sleep.”
Excerpt from a letter written by Colonel Nathaniel Blair to his father, sent seven days before the Colonel succumbed to his illness and died (BWD)
“After his death, Nathan Blair’s wife virtually ran the burgeoning outpost. A rare example of a woman wielding power in Colonial America.”
Excerpt from The Blair Witch Project: A Dossier (BWD)

“Burkittsville was actually founded on another old town by the name of Blair, and it was founded here in 1734 to protect the western approaches to Baltimore from attack by the Indians and so forth.” – Bill Barnes (CBW)

“They were building a railroad through here and the gentlemen building the railroad was out riding his horse and got lost. (He) stumbled up onto an old road and it led into what was Blair at the time. He had a friend named Burkitt and Mr. Burkitt was a developer and he talked him into coming here and developing this area, and he named it Burkittsville. The town was actually formed about 1824.” – Bill Barnes (CBW)

“In 1824, a Baltimore land baron named Peter Burkitt founds Burkittsville on the spot where Blair once stood. His town incorporates portions of the Black Hills.

Burkittsville is quickly settled, mostly by German immigrants – names such as Lenhardt, Moeller, and Bauch dominate the town tax rolls.

Most of the immigrants are farmers: they grow wheat, corn, and rye; they raise sheep, cattle, and pigs. Simple, hardworking folk, by and large Lutherans, not given to superstition.” – D. A. Stern (CRP)

The Nanticoke Demon, the Black Hills and the Blair Witch

Many are surprised to discover that the folklore surrounding the Black Hills doesn’t begin with the story of Elly Kedward. While Kedward and the woods in and near Burkittsville, Maryland have become inexorably linked, Native American tribes had their own legends about the area that predate her tale.

“Pau tanahe was the strongest hunter of all the braves in his tribe. He told the elders that the Black God was keeping the food for himself. Pau tanahe vowed that he would place an arrow in the heart of this Black God and retrieve the food that was meant for the people of his tribe. The elders tried to warn him that when someone walked into the Black God’s realm they could never escape. Pau tanahe laughed at the elders and went to kill the Black God.
Pau tanahe painted himself with the wards of his tribe and left. Some of the bravest of the tribe followed Pau tanahe to the edge of the Black God’s realm. Pau tanahe smiled and said to them, ‘Soon there will be food for the people of my tribe and a dead god can no longer keep what belongs to us.’
Pau tanahe turned and walked a few steps more and vanished. Some say the Black God’s hands reached up from the ground and pulled him into the underworld. Others say that the snow was so strong that the raging wind covered him with snow and then swept him away. The elders tell of the times that people have gone to the place where Pau tanahe walked into the Black God’s realm and can hear him screaming for help. The elders say that the Black God stole Pau tanahe’s spirit and hung it in sticks tied together. The elders tell the tribe that the spirits of those who tempted the Black God inhabit the very limbs of the Black God’s forest.”
Excerpt from the book Ancient Evil of the New World (BWV1) 

Some Native American legends refer to a malignant spirit that inhabits the Black Hills forest called Hecaitomix. The demon caused dissension and division – turning tribe against tribe, tribe against chief, and wives against husbands. (BWF4, BWV1)

“Nanticoke accounts offer a version of the Hecaitomix legend. They say she kidnapped a boy and trapped him underneath a rock in the Black Hills area, and that the boy bleeds eternally, feeding her spirit. The story is referred to as ‘The Bleeding Boy.’ Burkittsville locals in the late 1800s and early 1900s believed the rock to be Coffin Rock, possibly because of the Robin Weaver incident of 1886.” – Cade Merrill (BWF4)

“There is a legend among the Nanticoke, a legend that dates back to the time when we first came to this land, a thousand years ago. A story of a powerful evil that haunts these woods around us… The stickman is Okee’s totem. These (evil) things you describe are Okee’s doing... We give the evil different names, but they speak of the same thing…
When the Nanticoke first came to this land, Okee the demon lived here, in the forest. He came to the Nanticoke village and stole the children. He ate their flesh and drank their blood. One day a young brave named Eaglefeather decided that the tribe had suffered enough, and he was determined to put an end to Okee’s evil. He went to Okee’s house and called out the demon. They fought a great battle. But in the end, the demon was too strong, and Eaglefeather fell. But Eaglefeather had foreseen his own death. Before the battle, he had eaten the berries of the rowan tree, which is poisonous to the spirits. When Okee devoured the man, he devoured the plant, and his body died. But his spirit still roams these woods, angry and vengeful.”
Excerpt from Blair Witch: Graveyard Shift (BGS)

There can be no denying, however, that it is the story of the Blair Witch that has become known the world over.

“Here was a legend that had developed in this area over the course of a couple of centuries…whenever a particular bad sequence of events happened in this community there seemed to be a tendency to blame it on Blair Witch.” – Michael DeCoto (CBW)

“If you notice there’s an interval of about 60 years between events.” – Charles Moorehouse (CBW)

“Every kid around here knows the (Blair Witch) story. When I was growing up my brother used to terrify me with tales of the old woman in the woods.” – Bill Barnes (BWD)

HEATHER DONAHUE

You had an encounter with the Blair Witch?

MARY BROWN

Yes. That is a really, kind of, scary story… To kind of make ends meet, my dad and I would go fishing down by Tappy’s Creek… I was laying down on the leaves, a pile of leaves, kind of watching my pole and looking up at the sky… And all of a sudden I felt like something was near me… You know, kind of an eerie feeling… It was like a woman, only on her arms and on her hands and everything it was like hair. Like a real dark, almost black, hair. Like a horse.

HEATHER DONAHUE

Like fur?

MARY BROWN

Yeah, like a fur. Like horse fur. Then on her arms, she had like a shawl. Wool shawl over her.

HEATHER DONAHUE

And she scared you? She threatened you?

MARY BROWN

…She didn’t say anything, but she just kept staring, and then she opened up her shawl… and under there was hair on her body like a horse.

HEATHER DONAHUE

So she was hairy from head to toe?

MARY BROWN

Yeah, and… you could see she was a female.

HEATHER DONAHUE

Right. How about her face?

MARY BROWN

It was just kind of, like, strange looking.

Excerpt from Heather Donahue interview with Mary Brown (BWP)

“The legend says if you look directly at the witch you’ll die just from the fright of it. That’s why Rustin Parr stood in that corner. They say no one’s ever seen her and lived to talk about it.” – Lane Waller (BW3)

“According to the legends, once the Blair Witch takes the children, they’re forever changed. They somehow belong to her. Or are possessed by her.” – Cade Merrill (BWF2)

“Real theory. One that I’ve read online. Whatever spell the witch put on these woods, you have to be out here at night for it to get you. You have to spend the night.” – Lane Waller (BW3)

Witchcraft

Witchcraft has always been a central ingredient in the Elly Kedward legend, but whether she was a servant of the devil, bleeding children in order to feed some dark need, or an innocent herbalist unfairly maligned by her accusers, differs depending on who is telling the tale.

“Witchcraft is basically a science. You have the delineation between Paganism or Polytheistic religions… and witchcraft, which is a scientific study of energies and materials.” – Lucan Johnson (CBW)

“In Paleolithic and Neolithic times, opium was extensively used by those engaged in the practice of witchcraft, both for its psychotropic and narcotic effects.”
Excerpt from The Blair Witch Project: A Dossier (BWD)

“The Salem Witch hunts? Simple case of bad bread – the grain in the bread caused hallucinogenics. You get a bunch of kids hallucinating that someone is making fun of them or torturing them and of course parents are going to react in a protective manner and before you know it, people are dying by the hundreds because so and so did something evil. Most of the time it wasn’t anything to do with evil, these were people that were trying to help through natural lore, herbalism… any kind of medicine that may not have been standard practice.” – Lucan Johnson (CBW)

“By the Revolutionary War… witchcraft was a thing of the past. Except in the rural areas, in there we had a lot of superstition among the populations and people still practiced witchcraft. Two examples come to my mind, one being the 1786 case of the Blair Witch of Maryland and the other one being the Bell Witch of Adams, Tennessee in 1817.” – Charles Moorehouse (CBW)

“Book of Shadows: A witch’s spellbook. The phrase is believed to have originated with Merlin’s legendary grimoire.” 
Excerpt from the book Superstition - Credulities (BBS)
“Witches, as I have said, were about the devil’s business. They tempted with the lure of riches, and power, and the pleasures of the flesh. They used an array of enchantments and magic granted to them by Satan.
Their ultimate goal, of course, the corruption and degradation of all that is good and holy in man.”
Excerpt from the journal of Dominick Cazale, dated Jun. 30, 2000 (CRP) 

1785: THE BLAIR WITCH

Blair Witch

Myths and legends tell the story of an Irish woman named Elly Kedward, who was warned by her Great Aunt of a curse upon her blood, and who gave birth to seven stillborn children. Her Aunt taught her to create mystical wards (sometimes called “twana”) from sticks and twine in order to keep the evil at bay, but after losing one husband to illness and another to war, Kedward fled from the curse and headed for the new world. (BWC, BWV1)

One obscure (and largely discounted) version of the legend says that the Blair Witch wasn’t really Elly Kedward at all, but a woman named Annabeth Hutchison. As the story goes, Hutchison’s face had been horribly scarred by the pox at a young age, ostracizing her and causing her to wear a black veil wherever she went. Fleeing from her own dark past and seeking the man responsible for her mother’s death, Annabeth travelled to America on the ship Reliant. There she met Elly Kedward, the woman whose name she would later take for her own upon arriving in the town of Blair. (BWF8)

“The Blair Witch story begins like all other witch stories and legends – with an old, haggard lady. And in this particular case she was a Catholic living in a predominantly Protestant community.” – Charles Moorehouse (CBW)

“(The witch’s) name was Elly Kedward and she took a bunch of the children – kidnapped them – and carried them off into the woods and they never found them again and people became very afraid and they pulled up and left and abandoned the town. And it stayed abandoned for 40 years.” – Bill Barnes (CBW)

“The story goes that she had bled a few children… probably because of some sort of illness that she detected or something to that effect. The children went back and reported it to their parents. This is, of course, at that time an early sign of witchcraft. She was tried, summarily convicted, and banished. The winter she was banished was supposedly the worst ever and no one knows what happened to her. She was left by herself out in the woods.” – Lucan Johnson (CBW)

“This is long past the time of the Salem witch trials, and even further removed from the days of the great European witch hunts: Elly Kedward’s execution is a historical incongruity.” – D. A. Stern (CRP)

“What they did is they blindfolded her, took her out into the woods – and this was in the middle of the winter – tied her to a tree, and left her, where she soon succumbed to the elements.” – Charles Moorehouse (CBW)

While almost all versions of the Elly Kedward tale stated that her “banishment” consisted of her being tied to a tree and abandoned in the middle of the Black Hills forest, there are some variants which state that she was tortured as well. “They came upon me with all manner of abuses until my head and belly felt ready to split. I saw a bone from my ribs come out through my dress. Another from my arm.” Jen Van Meter wrote in her adaptation of Cece Malvey’s Wood Witch Said. (BWC)

“It was testifi'd, That at the Examination of the Prisoner Kedward before the Magistrates, the Bewitched was extreamly tortured.”
Excerpt from The Blair Witch Cult (BCOM)

“Tied to the tree where they banished her to. And the bad little boys from Blair village sneaking out to the woods to see if she was still alive and they let their big dogs bite at her. And they poked her with sticks and then when the blood came out of her, they put their palms in it and pressed it on her flesh! Then, when they found she was still alive, they untied her, and they put the ropes around her neck, and they hanged her from the big tree!” – Trysten Ryler (BW2)

“According to this book I read, published in 1809, they didn’t just tie Elly Kedward to a tree. I mean they did tie her to a tree, but they tied her up really high and they strung these heavy rocks to her arms and legs as weights stretching her. They left her to die on a makeshift rack.” – Lane Waller (BW3)

“The following year, the young lady who was her first accuser and most of the other children who were her accusers and children of the village vanished throughout the course of the winter. By the end of the winter over half the towns children had disappeared.” – Lucan Johnson (CBW)

“...The daughter of the town magistrate disappeared. Over the course of the next few months, every child who had accused Elly Kedward of witchcraft vanished.”
Excerpt from the book Frederick County Tales of the Supernatural (BWV1)

“Immediately the townspeople blamed these disappearances on Elly the witch. The people simply vacated the area (and) abandoned the community and they never spoke about the incident again.” – Charles Moorehouse (CBW)

“Due to the ferocity of the winter, the town’s meager food supply was reduced even more. They would not survive the winter without help. Several of the town’s strongest men traveled to nearby Frederick for more food. They never returned. When spring returned and the snows receded, Blair was a town of ghosts, empty homes that explained not the absence of their tenants.”
Excerpt from the book Ancient Evil of the New World (BWV1)
“As he related to me, he had lived in a small town 40 miles to the north. The place had been abandoned he told me, as it had come under a curse…
The well built homes that still stood there were boarded up and empty, with no sign as to why their denizens had chosen to leave so abruptly… 
This man had heard that the town had been cursed by a witch, and he claimed he had seen a cemetery full of the gravestones of children, but whether that is true or not, I could not say.”
Excerpts from journal entry, dated Sep. 17, 1822 (CBW)

1809: THE BLAIR WITCH CULT

Discovered in 1809, The Blair Witch Cult is a handwritten book about the history of witchcraft that also contains a series of allegedly first hand accounts regarding the influence and horrors of the Blair Witch. (CBW, BWD)

“Most of the legend is based from this Blair Witch Cult book, which no one’s read in at least one hundred years.” – Miriam Lane (SBW)

“I never read the whole thing, because it was so fragile. And I would like to have copied it, but I was afraid I’d break the spine.” – Bill Barnes (SBW)

“It’s a story about some of the things that went on in Blair, right after the time of Elly Kedward… Oh, all sorts of horrifying things. Witches sacrificing children, witches changing into wolves, rats and all sorts of other animals. A lot that’s surely apocryphal… it starts off with the author explaining how witches first came to America, even. How there was a group of them on trial in England who escaped onto a ship, and then killed and took the place of some of the highborn women already on board. When they land, some go north to Salem, some go to the other colonies, like Maryland.” – Bill Barnes (BWD)

“...about Sun Rise, he was in his Chamber assaulted by the Shape of this Prisoner; which look'd on him, grinn'd at him, and very much hurt him with a Blow on the side... and... Shape walked in the Room where he was, and a Book strangely flew out of his Hand, into the... six or eight Foot from him.”

“...he wak'd on a Night, and saw plainly a Woman between the Cradle and the Bed-side, which look'd upon him. He rose, and it vanished; tho' he found the doors all fast... he saw the same Woman, in the same Garb again; and said, In God's Name, what do you come for? He went... The Child in the Cradle gave a great Screech, and the Woman disappeared. Blood was..."

"...with the doors shut about him, he saw a black Thing jump in at the window, and come and stand before him. The Body was like that of a Monkey, the Feet like a Horse, but the face much like a Man. The Day after, upon inspection, Hair of Horse lay in...”

“...did in the holes of the said old Wall, find several Poppets, made up of Sticks and Rags and Hogs-bristles, with headless...”

“She was indicted for Bewitching of several Children in the Neighbourhood, the Indictment being drawn up, according to the Form in... pleading, Not Guilty...”

“That the Shape of the Prisoner did oftentimes very grievously Pinch them, Cloak them, Bite them, Prick them with Pins and Bleed them… That it was Elly Kedward, or her Shape, that grieviously tormented them, by Biting, Pricking, Pinching and Choaking them.”

“This poor Child is Bewitched; and you have a Neighbour living not far off, who is a Witch."

"...but besides this, a Jury of Women found a preternatural Teat upon her Body; But upon second search, within 3 or 4 hours, there was no such thing to be seen.”

“...that she had seen the prisoner at... and that it was this Kedward, who persuaded her to be a Witch. She confessed, that the Devil had Relations with Kedward and...”

“The awful hag wrenched the boy’s head from his writhing body and defiled the church with his warm blood. It was then that I noticed a dog’s teat had sprouted from her leg...”

“She controlled the animals of the forest. Even the trees seeming to do her bidding..."

"When she walked, she didn’t touch the ground. And her followers made a horrible mulch of the countless dead littering the streets.”
Excerpts from The Blair Witch Cult (CBW)

“The book is filled with blood letting, all kinds of bloody gore, witchcraft and paganism. Basically it’s a pack of lies – don’t believe any of it… But the people of the time did believe in it.” – Charles Moorehouse (CBW)

“This book was a sensationalized version of the case, almost a ‘how-to-be-a-witch’ manual, which was completely fictional, totally sensationalized…” – Lucan Johnson (BWD)

“It was about the Blair Witch and a pretty true – pretty factual – book about what really happened here. But the Maryland Historical decided they wanted it back and they took it – almost over my dead body. But I couldn’t keep it, because it belonged to them.” – Bill Barnes (CBW) 

 1825: TAPPY EAST CREEK

blair witch

“The crops had come in – wheat was mostly what the (Burkittsville) farmers grew there – and they decided to have a picnic down on the local creek.” – Bill Barnes (CBW)

“There was an incident that occurred involving a young child by the name of Eileen Treacle. This little girl was playing in a very shallow stream of water and she drowned.” – Charles Moorehouse (CBW)

“The creek was real shallow. It was only probably six to eight inches deep. A child could just wade across – or crawl across it really it was so shallow.” – Bill Barnes (CBW)

“According to the story – there were twelve witnesses who observed a ghostly white hand come up out of the water and drag the child under the water.” – Charles Moorehouse (CBW)

“That’s all they could see. Nobody ever saw a face or a body, all they remember seeing was the arm and the hand. And before they could get to her she’d… went under the rocks and the mud and everything was calm again.” – Bill Barnes (CBW)

“The river was searched. Now… you’re talking about knee deep water. It’s only two or three feet at the maximum. The body should have easily been found. It’s never found.” – Lucan Johnson (CBW)

“A young girl drowned yesterday in the shallow waters of Tappy East Creek. The Treacle family is mourning the probable loss of their youngest child, Eileen, who is ten. The body has not yet been found.
The Treacle family had joined several other local families for the annual Burkittsville Wheat Harvest Picnic on the bank of the creek. Many people claim they heard a ‘raucous splashing’ and then saw the child struggling from afar. No one was able to reach the creek quickly enough to save this young life.”
Excerpt from Burkittsville Bulletin article, dated Aug. 18, 1825 (BWF3)
“Dear Mary,
I am most awfully sorry to have to be the bearer of bad news in this letter. No, it is worse than bad news, it is horrible, tragic news. The Treacles’ little girl, Eileen, whom Madeleine and Justine played with last summer, died a few days ago. She drowned in the very same creek where she and your girls swam, and to make matters worse for her parents, the body has not been found. Jonathan and I are spending every moment we can with them, naturally, so I am sorry to say that we will not be coming to Washington this weekend. I will write more as I can.
Your loving sister,
Elizabeth Branwell-Burkitt”
Letter dated Aug. 22, 1825 (BGS) 
“Dear Sir:
I find myself forced to write this letter upon the atrocity that I found within your pages this Sunday past. I have never seen such callousness shown towards the death of a young child, especially one who was taken from this world in such a manner.
As to your humorous view of the beliefs of her parents that she was murdered by a ghost, I remind you that there have been many reports of such terrible specters witnessed in the nearby townships.
Whether or not these wild tales are true is incidental. The fact remains that a young girl has tragically drowned, and her memory should not be tarnished by such wild and torrid speculation over the manner of her death.
Sincerely,
Eugene Robertson”
Letter written to Baltimore newspaper (CBW)

“The river, according to what we’ve been told through written records, then turns oily and has a bunch of stick figures floating in it for the next week. No one can use the river for any kind of water for food or drinking or anything like that – it’s totally unusable.” – Lucan Johnson (CBW)

“There was a man downstream a little later that drank some of that water and it killed him.” – Bill Barnes (SAS)

“After that the people wouldn’t even go near the creek. They wouldn’t fish in it, they didn’t swim in it – they didn’t do anything in it, because it just scared them completely to death. And they blamed that on the Blair Witch.” – Bill Barnes (CBW)

“Dear Mary,
Jonathan would not like to hear me say it, but perhaps you are right. Perhaps this town is cursed. You were the one who told me about what happened here forty years ago: why the old town of Blair had been abandoned. And now I must tell you of something that took place only this morning, which brings all those horrible stories to my mind. The water that irrigates the eastern part of our farm is from the very same creek the Treacle girl drowned in. As Jonathan and I were breakfasting today, the overseer burst in and declared that someone had poisoned the creek.
Jonathan set off with him immediately, leaving his meal unfinished. I was too upset to finish mine. When Jonathan returned, his face was drawn, and grim. The overseer had not lied: the water, he said, was oily, and thick with a noxious-smelling substance. He had ordered the irrigation ditches filled, though he was afraid the crops had already been damaged. Then he pulled out something from within his coat and set it down on the table. For a moment I thought it a doll, but then I realized it was a bundle of sticks tied together, in the shape of a man. There were dozens of them clogging the creek, Jonathan told me. Oh, dear sister, I remembered then that horrible book you showed me, about that witch, and the pictures of the evil charms she used. This stickman, I believe, was one of those very same charms!
...Had I my druthers, we would leave this place immediately, and never return. Write me back - soon, please, dearest sister, and tell me it is all in my imagination.
Yours,
Elizabeth”
Letter dated Aug. 24, 1825 (BGS)
“Tappy East Creek has been possessed by a demon! Since Eileen’s horrible death a fortnight past the creek has been polluted by a foul oil and an abundance of strange totems.”
Excerpt from the journal of Mary Johnson, dated Aug. 31, 1825 (CBW)
“Delivered twin calves this morning. Moving the entire herd to the fallow pasture because three cattle died from creek water. Using the pond instead. I expect the town council’s going to look into this mess.”
Excerpt from the journal of Lloyd Whellons, dated Sep. 3, 1825 (CBW) 

1827: THE BURKITTSVILLE CHURCH FIRES

Throughout 1827, Dr. Samuel A. Hale wrote in his journals of the difficulty he was having establishing a church in Burkittsville.

“Three times have I sent students of mine to minister to Mr. Burkitt’s new township. Three times they have left and returned to us… Three times the house of worship has burned before the edifice was even completed… I would be done with the matter, but for the situation of Mr. Burkitt, our benefactor. He came to me this evening… It would seem Methodism gives particular offense to Mr. Burkitt, and so we have that sect to thank for his contributions to our school…
I do not know why I did not think sooner to send them Matthew Edwards… his time at all past churches has been singularly effective.”
Excerpt from the journal of Dr. Samuel A. Hale, dated 1827 (BWC)
“Matthew Edwards writes to say that construction of another church has begun. His congregants complained that this too would be destroyed. He told them ‘I shall die before another church burns in this town, for a righteous man can and must work God’s will!’ They are compliant, though stubborn, he writes, in their insistence that ‘There’s something in them woods as hates us...’”
Excerpt from the journal of Dr. Samuel A. Hale, dated 1827 (BWC)
“Much to our surprised pleasure, Edwards has got his church built in only four months. He now turns his attention, and theirs, to the ‘spirits’ in the woods. He writes of planning to take his congregation into the wood for a prayer meeting of sorts. When they see they have nothing to fear there, he supposes they will find the strength to reveal the arsonist…
The details are vague on some events, but something extraordinary took place there some fifty years ago. The place was then called Blair. It seems superstitions can certainly persist in the remote parts.”
Excerpt from the journal of Dr. Samuel A. Hale, dated 1827 (BWC)
“A year has passed, and I have had no reply from (Edwards) but one, sent on the eve of this undertaking in the wood. In a short note, he indicates he was well aware of past dealings in Blair and suggests I recall his ancestor’s famed sermon on Deuteronomy 32:35. I have meditated on the words of this famous sermon, and its phrases have suggested to me what has befallen Edwards and his flock…
‘The unseen, unthought-of ways and means of persons going suddenly out of the world are innumerable and inconceivable.’”
Excerpt from the journal of Dr. Samuel A. Hale, dated 1827 (BWC) 

1886: COFFIN ROCK 

The story of Coffin Rock is, alongside the drowning of Eileen Treacle and the murders of the Burkittsville 7, one of the more famous legends surrounding the Blair Witch.

“There was a lady lived there in town when I was a boy. She was 50 years old when I knew her, and she told me that when she was a little girl she had been walking in the woods one day and this lady appeared to her. And she wasn’t walking, she was floating in the air, really. And (she) took her by the hand and led her to an old house back in the woods and took her down in the basement and left her there – said she be back – and she left. And the little girl sit there… she said for several hours. Finally she got scared. She was able to crawl through a window and ran back to town. But in the meantime, the town had sent out a search party looking for her in the woods.” – Bill Barnes (CBW)

“Yeah, some girl back in the late 1800s – Robin Weaver I believe her name was – supposedly just wandered off, disappeared into the woods… And she got lost… Three days later, she just appears back on her grandmother’s porch. And everybody’s mystified about it… She was babbling something about an old woman whose feet never touched the ground.” – Ed Swanson (BWP)

“The first search party that had gone out to look for the little girl had vanished. So they formed a second search party to go look for the first search party.” – Charles Moorehouse (SAS)

“And (the second search party) come up on Coffin Hill or Coffin Rock and found those men.” – Bill Barnes (CBW)

“The men were laying on that rock, all dead… They were almost tied together like they were a raft.” – Bill Barnes (SAS)

“(The men were) bound hand-to-foot in a ritualistic formation, their insides pulled from them into the center of that horrible circle. Strange marks had been made in their flesh.”
Excerpt from the book Frederick County Tales of the Supernatural (BWV1)

“The first search party had been killed and laid out on a flat rock in the woods. They had been disemboweled and on their faces, their hands and feet were carved these strange pagan symbols.” – Charles Moorehouse (CBW)

“And they were heavily cut in by the ropes, so they were alive when they were tied up. And somebody had disemboweled every one of them and cut some letters and stuff in their foreheads… and it wasn’t crude you could read whatever was there. It was all symbolic type stuff and it scared them very bad – like most it would anybody. I couldn’t have stood there very long.” – Bill Barnes (CBW)

“They went into the woods prepared to find death. What they found was a desecration of humanity at the site which trappers have often referred to as Coffin Rock. On top of the rock formation the story of the torture inflicted upon these brave five men unfolded.

Each was bound to the other, each man’s hands bound to the next man’s feet, forming a solid structure out of the men. Blood at the edges of the head indicate that this act had been committed while each was alive and able-bodied enough to struggle. In the torso of each man the intestines had been torn out crudely. On each man’s sun-bleached face was inscribed indecipherable writing, cut into their flesh with an eerie precision. The men, still entranced by the horror of what had happened, left the scene to find the sheriff, and did not sketch the writing and did not remove the bodies from the rock.

Upon return, vultures were seen at the rock, but upon inspection, the bodies had been removed by persons unknown. The search party claimed that the stench of death was still thick and whomever had taken the bodies had done so in a matter of hours.” – Heather Donahue, reading from an unnamed book (BWP)

“Their bodies were in a severe state of decomposition, so the search party goes back to get help. And when they return, the bodies have vanished without a trace.” – Charles Moorehouse (CBW)

“But they could still smell death in the air.” – Bill Barnes (CBW)

“(Robin Weaver) said she never… went in the woods again.” – Bill Barnes (SAS)

“What makes (the Coffin Rock incident) particularly interesting are the contemporary newspaper accounts. A bit florid, but still – the persistence in assigning a supernatural explanation to the extraordinary is so typical. It’s the Salem Witch Trials all over again. If you can’t find an explanation for it, it must be the devil’s work.” – Charles Moorehouse (BWD)

“I think it was right before (Robin Weaver) died, so it must have been 1943, 1944 – yes, right in the middle of the war – I was just sitting on the steps of the general store with some friends of mine… and we were talking about how we should send someone who was really good at killing to take care of the Germans. And somebody… said, ‘we should send them Rustin Parr.’

Well, then I said Rustin Parr wouldn’t do no killing without those voices to guide him. And Miss Weaver – Robin Weaver – she walks by just at that moment, and she says, ‘Yeah, Jesus. Send the voices. I know those voices. Send them the voices.’” – Bill Barnes (BWD)

Cece Malvey, in his comic book Wood Witch Said, posited that it was Robin Weaver – influenced and empowered by the Blair Witch – who killed and mutilated the search party. Author Jen Van Meter, who adapted Cece Malvey’s comic book for Oni Press, wrote: “Malvey’s suggestion that Robin was materially involved in the deaths of the men is entirely unique, nothing of the sort was suspected at the time, nor have such suggestions been made elsewhere since.” (BWC) 

1911: THE PRYCE FAMILY

Local folklore tells of a hunter named Darren Pryce who either refused to give – or was tricked into not giving – tribute to the Blair Witch before entering the Black Hills forest, despite it being the local custom to do so before every hunt. Later this hunter and his family are said to have come to a variety of bad ends – some versions of the story have them eaten by wolves, others have Darren going mad and killing the rest – but town records show only that a family by that name died of influenza in 1911. (BWC)

END OF PART I 

THE PLAYERS

Bill Barnes – Executive Director of Burkittsville’s Historical Society. Known as the Burkittsville town historian.

Cade Merrill – “Cade Merrill” claimed to be Heather Donahue’s cousin and hosted a website, theblairwitchfiles.com (no longer active), where people could send him their Blair Witch related tales, which Merrill would then verify via his own research. Evidence exists that the Cade Merrill identity was, in fact, an invention shared by many different authors, and the stories presented in his books are often exaggerated and sensationalized compared to the true events they claim to depict, but nevertheless “Merrill’s” research did on occasion turn up the rare bit of new information regarding the cases and folklore surrounding the Blair Witch.

Cece Malvey – A hearing and speech impaired student at Johns Hopkins University who, in 1983, disappeared for six hours in the Black Hills forest during a botany class trip. He later tells the story of what happened to him in a crudely crafted comic book titled Wood Witch Said before hanging himself shortly after its completion.

“Claiming to have ‘heard’ these stories for the first time in 1983, Malvey didn’t mention to anyone having grown up in Burkittsville, where he would have regularly been exposed to local legends surrounding the ‘haunted’ Black Hills forest. Armed with that discovery, I have assumed Wood Witch Said to be either a hoax or the product of a delusional fantasy. This theory was both challenged and confirmed as I began untangling Malvey’s scrambled narratives, but I’ve yet to reach a satisfying conclusion as to which version is more accurate. While the incoherency of the document suggests emotional disturbance and delusion, Malvey’s library records in the weeks after his disappearance show that he had requested a number of texts on Irish oral history and literature, as well as many on Maryland regional history and legend, so there’s equal evidence to suggest a hoax. The only firm conclusion I’ve reached is that Malvey was a bitterly unhappy man, and his motives, whether conscious or unconscious, for producing this fantastic account of his six hours in the woods are, most likely, rooted in a lifetime of loneliness, depression and anxiety.” – Jen Van Meter (BWC)

Charles Moorehouse – Professor of Folklore at Hampshire College.

Charles Patterson – Local Burkittsville artist who got his start illustrating sci-fi/horror pulp magazines in the late 1930’s before achieving some mainstream success with his paintings in the 1970’s. In 1984 Charles and his son, Jeffrey, went camping in the Black Hills forest and Charles fell and hit his head on a rock, putting him into a coma from which he has never arisen.

“Patterson… began working as an artist right out of high school. In 1936 he made his first sale to a local pulp magazine, ‘Tales of the Uncanny,’ and was soon a regular contributor to many of the era’s other pulps… His best known work of this period (were his) illustrations for a series of stories featuring the occult detective, Sir Ian Connors.
Though writer August Simpson, a Baltimore native, created the series, it was Patterson who suggested incorporating bits and pieces of local mythology, in particular the ghost known as the Blair Witch, into a story called ‘The Book of Shadows’
‘August loved the idea of bringing Connors to America. He came up here for the weekend, and we went camping in the woods to soak up the atmosphere.’
...In 1965… Patterson moved back to the Burkittsville area and started painting seriously again. He lived like a virtual hermit in the woods for a few years, coming down only to buy groceries and painting supplies. Patterson credits his growth as an artist to this period in time; certainly the themes he continues to work with today - nature as a physical, tangible presence, the mixture of the real and surreal within the same canvas - date to this period.
Another pivotal event occurred in the late sixties when Patterson met Kathleen Sharrar. Sharrar, formerly a singer with the pop group Hillary’s Butterfly, had come to the area along with group leader Leroy Creegan for the 1968 Hagerstown Happening Rock Festival…
‘They were all living like a commune, in this run down old factory up in Jericho Mills, not too far from where I was,’ Patterson recalls.”
Excerpt from Frederick Post article dated Mar. 15, 1976 (BBS)

D. A. Stern – D. A. Stern has been investigating the occult and related phenomena for over twenty years. He is the author of several books, including Witchcraft: Primal Persecution and European Folklore in America. Stern has also written several books focusing on the Blair Witch legend.

Dominick Cazale – Former Priest who took Rustin Parr’s confession before Parr was executed for the murders of the Burkittsville 7.

Dr. Samuel A. Hale – Dean of Winston Seminary, Baltimore, Maryland from 1821 – 1837.

Ed Swanson – Fishermen who was one of the last known people to see Heather Donahue, Michael Williams and Joshua Leonard before they disappeared.

Eileen Treacle – Little girl who drowned in Tappy East creek on Aug. 17, 1825.

Elly Kedward – The woman history records as the Blair Witch.

Frank Lauriat – Investigator hired by Buchanan’s Private Investigative Agency to develop a profile of the three missing film students. Trained in both psychology and law enforcement, Lauriat was a key figure in establishing the F.B.I.’s Profiling Division in the 1970’s.

Heather Donahue – One of three film students who went missing in the Black Hills forest in 1994 while filming a documentary on the Blair Witch. Heather was described by her film professor as committed, energetic and creative. Someone who was trying to find her “voice”. It was Heather’s idea to film The Blair Witch Project as her student thesis. She submitted a proposal to that effect to her professor in April of 1994.

“Some of Heather’s earliest memories are of her grandfather’s tales of the ghosts and witches said to haunt (Frederick County, Maryland). She made it her mission to investigate and document the origins of these stories, primarily as an act of preservation.”
Excerpt from Heather’s biographical sketch of herself that she wrote for Professor DeCoto’s class (BWD)

“Hey, I’m from New Orleans, and I’ve been around that voodoo stuff my whole life, and I’ve seen a million and one of those tarot readers and fortune tellers, and I’ve never seen a single one of them that wasn’t entirely fake. Heather, on the other hand, was completely into that stuff. Ouija boards, tarot cards – you name it, she had it.” – Rachel Meyer (BWD)

“Heather is a stable, level-headed, determined young woman.” – Frank Lauriat (BWD)

Jen Van Meter – Writer of several Blair Witch comic books published by Oni Press and collected into one volume titled The Blair Witch Chronicles. Meter’s comics were based off of her own research on the subject, stories from the rare The Blair Witch Cult book, and a short comic book called Wood Witch Said created by Cece Malvey.

Jim Maynard – Burkittsville resident who is somewhat familiar with the legend of the Blair Witch in general, and with the Rustin Parr incident specifically.

“Oh that’s an old, old story!”

Lane Waller – Burkittsville resident and one half of “darkweb666” (alongside Talia Cole), a youtube account that posts videos delving into the legend of the Blair Witch. Lane accompanied James Donahue and his friends into the Black Hills forest in 2014 and was never seen again.

Lucan Johnson – Host of the 1971 documentary Mystic Occurrences.

“My name is Lucan Johnson and I’m a witch.”

Mary Brown – Burkittsville local who claims to have encountered the Blair Witch when she was a girl. Some sources indicate that Mary attended the same school as Kyle Brody in the 1940’s.

“There really isn’t many people that say that (the Black Hills forest is) haunted, but there was this old woman, Mary Brown, who used to… She was kind of a crazy lady.” – Jim Maynard (BWP)

“(Mary Brown) thinks she is in the film business. She also says she’s a ballerina. She says she’s a historian writing a book on American History and that she’s a scientist who does research at the Department of Energy.” – Heather Donahue (BWP)

Michael DeCoto – Heather Donahue and Joshua Leonard’s film Professor. DeCoto had never heard of the Blair Witch prior to reading Heather’s proposal, but thought the project sounded like a great opportunity to document centuries of local folklore.

Miriam Lane – Southern Methodist University Professor of folklore.

Rachel Meyer – Heather Donahue’s best friend.

Robin Weaver – The little girl who disappeared into the Black Hills forest one day in 1886, leading to a search party being sent out to look for her. This search party is later found butchered and mutilated on Coffin Rock. Robin claimed that she was lured into the woods by an old woman “whose feet never touched the ground.”

Rustin Parr – Backwoods hermit that lived in a house within the Black Hills forest and was convicted of killing seven children in Burkittsville over a six month period. Parr was hanged for his crimes in 1941.

“I will say this now about Rustin Parr; from the very moment we shook hands, I knew I had nothing to fear from him. He had a simple, guileless manner, a ready smile, and such an obvious affection for his dog that I instinctively liked him.”
Excerpt from the journal of Dominick Cazale (CRP)

“He was very uncomfortable in society, and society was very uncomfortable with him.” – Dominick Cazale (TB7)

SOURCES

BLAIR WITCH: BOOK OF SHADOWS (BBS) by D. A. Stern. Published by Pocket Books, Nov. 1, 2000. 

BLAIRWITCH.COM (BCOM) official website for the film series.

BLAIR WITCH – GRAVEYARD SHIFT (BGS) by Dave Stern. Published by Pocket Books, Sep. 28, 2000.

BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2 (BW2) released by Artisan Entertainment, Oct. 27, 2000.

BLAIR WITCH (BW3) released by Lionsgate, Sep. 18, 2016.

THE BLAIR WITCH CHRONICLES (BWC) published by Oni Press, Nov. 6, 2000.

THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT: A DOSSIER (BWD) by D. A. Stern. Published by Onyx, Sep. 1, 1999.

THE BLAIR WITCH FILES – THE DARK ROOM (BWF2) by Cade Merrill. Published by Bantam Books, Jul. 2000.

THE BLAIR WITCH FILES – THE DROWNING GHOST (BWF3) by Cade Merrill. Published by Bantam Books, Oct. 10, 2000.

THE BLAIR WITCH FILES – BLOOD NIGHTMARE (BWF4) by Cade Merrill. Published by Bantam Books, Dec. 12, 2000.

THE BLAIR WITCH FILES – THE OBSESSION (BWF8) by Cade Merill. Published by Bantam Books, Jul. 10, 2001

THE BLAIR WITCH LEGACY (BWL) DVD extra for THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT.

THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (BWP) released by Artisan Entertainment, Jul. 30, 1999.

BLAIR WITCH VOLUME. I – RUSTIN PARR (BWV1) released by Gathering of Developers, Inc. on Oct. 4, 2000.

CURSE OF THE BLAIR WITCH (CBW) premiered on The Sci-Fi Channel on Jul. 11, 1999.

BLAIR WITCH – THE SECRET CONFESSION OF RUSTIN PARR (CRP) by D. A. Stern. Published by Pocket Books, Aug. 1, 2000.

STICKS AND STONES: AN EXPLORATION OF THE BLAIR WITCH LEGEND (SAS) released DTV by Artisan Entertainment, Oct. 1999.

SHADOW OF THE BLAIR WITCH (SBW) premiered on The Sci-Fi Channel on Oct. 22, 2000. 

(Much love to Eduardo Sanchez, Daniel Myrick, Gregg Hale, Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael Williams without whom there would be no legend.)

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Written by R. K. Stewart
A mad poet of Sanaá, Yemen, who flourished around 700 A.D, R. K. Stewart visited the ruins of Babylon and spent 10 years alone in the great southern deserts of Arabia - the "Empty Space" of the ancients - long held to be inhabited by evil spirits and monsters of death. He died in 731 A.D., devoured in broad daylight by an invisible demon (but you can still follow him on twitter @rksdoom)
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