- The Washington Times - Friday, October 27, 2000

Sheriff's deputies are on alert, street signs are fixed securely into the ground and the townspeople have been warned.

The tiny village of Burkittsville in Western Maryland is gearing up for a possible repeat of the unwanted tourism and vandalism prompted by last year's wildly popular pseudo-documentary "The Blair Witch Project."

The much-hyped sequel opens today, and it continues to spin a fictitious tale about the town's grisly, occult past. The 200 or so residents are expecting more than just local trick-or-treaters on Halloween.

"I really, really hope that people don't believe it this time around," said resident Andrea Cox, referring to crazed fans who inundated the town last year in search of an actual child-snatching witch. "I think it should be pretty well known by now that it's just a movie."

The Frederick County Sheriff's Office, which usually does not patrol the town much, will post several deputies there over the next few days. A letter has circulated advising families to be wary of strangers on Oct. 31.

Still, the reaction from enthusiasts is not expected to be as drastic this time around.

"I'm not expecting people running around in back yards with video cameras again … looking for the Blair Witch," said Sgt. Tom Winebrenner of the sheriff's traffic unit.

"Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2," like its predecessor, centers around the story of three young filmmakers who vanish in the woods near Burkittsville as they track a legendary 200-year-old witch.

The big-budget sequel to the low-budget cult hit follows another fictional group of youths who trek to Burkittsville to investigate the Blair Witch myth. But unlike the first film, the sequel does not try to fool viewers into thinking it is a true story.

Town road signs prized souvenirs for faithful fans began disappearing the night the original film was released in July 1999.

The sheriff's office was quickly fielding hundreds of telephone calls about the bogus film plot. Callers inquired about dions and where they could stay.

Someone left chalk markings on the weathered tombstones at the old hillside cemetery. One carload of fans offered a retarded resident a beer in exchange for witch-hunting directions.

Believers have even organized search parties to look for the fictional documentary crew, which purportedly vanished in 1994. And camcorders are commonly shoved in residents' faces.

Even in the days prior to the release of "Blair Witch 2," some pilgrims could be found roaming about.

"We had to stop by and get a picture of the town sign, and a postcard with Burkittsville," Mike Feinberg, 29, of Chicago, told the Associated Press. "Now we're looking for the lady who sells T-shirts."

The town fought back earlier this year when the creators of "Blair Witch 2" arrived to discuss their plans for including townspeople in the sequel.

Attacked as heartless opportunists, the filmmakers walked out of the heated meeting after Mayor Joyce Brown's husband, Sam, shouted: "We've already been raped. Now they want us to be prostitutes."

Like the original, very little of the new film actually was filmed in Burkittsville just an aerial shot of the town and a look at the famous "Welcome to Burkittsville" sign, according to Sgt. Winebrenner.

Filming took place in other parts of Maryland, such as Baltimore and Seneca Creek Park near Gaithersburg.

Burkittsville was indeed founded in 1824, as the original movie says, but not, as it contends, on the site of an 18th-century community called Blair, where witchcraft was practiced.

It originally was known as Harley's Post Office, named for one of two farmers who settled the area. Henry Burkitt was the other farmer.

There are no public restrooms, pay phones or stoplights in town. The closest movie theater is in Frederick, about 10 miles away.

Miss Cox and others have created a Web page to dispel the rumors about their town's history.

Web page www.burkittsville.org says: "There are no reports on missing people fitting the actors' descriptions. No film students or search-party members have been murdered in or around Burkittsville."

The humorous Web site offers answers to its top 10 most frequently asked questions.

Among them: "Can you help me with my history paper on the Blair Witch?" The response: "Please don't even think about writing a history paper on the Blair Witch. It is just a movie. It is no more true than 'The Wizard of Oz.' "

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