About two weeks ago, Burkittsville Mayor Debby Burgoyne received an email that sparked some memories she had tried to put behind her. It was one of about 15 similar emails she’s received recently.
The email read: “I had a question for you, is the Blair Witch Project based on a true story or is it total fiction? I had wondered if maybe there was someone working in the Burkittsville office that could tell me more about that?”
Burgoyne was not in office when “The Blair Witch Project” and its sequel, “Book of Shadows: The Blair Witch 2,” were released in 1999 and 2000, respectively, and put Burkittsville on the national map.
She remembers the town being taken by surprise as tourists poured in, curious about the witch that had supposedly haunted the nearby woods.
Over time, there were reports of vandalism in the town cemetery, and some “welcome” signs were stolen. Residents complained about tourists taking over parts of the town and disrupting their daily lives.
Now, a third movie, “The Blair Witch,” is set to be released on Sept. 16, and Burgoyne said there seems to be renewed interest in Burkittsville. She wants the town to be prepared for tourists coming back.
“We have the benefit of knowing what we might expect,” she said. “We may as well use it.”
In the next few weeks, many alleys off East Main Street will be blocked to keep tourists from wandering. Some welcome signs have been taken down. Burgoyne has asked Frederick County sheriff’s deputies to provide extra patrols in the next few months.
Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins said Friday that he has made Burkittsville a priority.
Burgoyne said she’ll direct tourists looking for places to stay to hotels in nearby Middletown and Brunswick.
Set in Burkittsville but filmed mostly in Montgomery County, “The Blair Witch Project” tells the story of the disappearance of three fictional filmmakers who fell victim to the Blair Witch, who had supposedly been stalking the woods around Burkittsville since the 18th century. The movie was a box-office smash, earning $248.6 million worldwide.
The second movie, in which a group of tourists come to Burkittsville to explore the mythology of the Blair Witch after seeing the film, earned $47.7 million.
The new movie tells the story of a group of friends who head to the forest. They are searching for a group member’s lost sibling after discovering a video showing what they believe to be the sibling’s experiences with the witch.
Other town officials said the third movie likely will not reach the success of the first two films. The town may not see the type of tourism it had with the previous two movies, but they want to be prepared just in case.
Rebecca Remaley, a Town Council member who lives a few blocks away from the cemetery, said she will welcome tourists as long as the town can control where they go.
“We’re a welcoming community,” she said. “There was just those instances where people seemed to forget that actual people lived here. We want to limit those.”
Burkittsville residents, however, seemed less welcoming. Of six residents interviewed this week, four said they had no interest in seeing tourists come to Burkittsville to ask about the film. Two said they weren’t thrilled, but were OK with it as long as the tourists respect residents and property.
Bill Clipper lives on East Main Street and lived there when the first movie was released.
He remembers nights when he could look out his back window and see groups of tourists holding candlelight vigils in Burkittsville’s cemetery. Other times, he’d be watering his flowers or walking his dog when a vehicle crammed with young people would stop and ask him about the Blair Witch.
Looking back on the period, Clipper said he found most of the tourists “annoying” and “disrespectful.” He doesn’t want to go through that again.
“There’s a certain amount of curiosity. I get that,” he said. “But I’d still prefer that people not come.”
Kim Hughes did not live in Burkittsville when the first two movies were released, but said that a few years ago, she was watching TV when someone knocked on her window to ask her about the Blair Witch. That instance and stories she’s heard from longtime residents make her want to avoid new tourists.
Joyce Brown, the mayor of Burkittsville when the first films were released, said most tourists at the time were friendly and curious.
She said she doesn’t expect to see an increase in tourists with the new film, but if it happens, she’d be happy to tell the visitors about Burkittsville.