When most people hear about the Blair witch, images come to mind of a horror film which was released in 1999 with a very low production budget. The movie was directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez and it was so successful that it spread across the world. However, Sánchez and Myrick based their production on a legend about a woman who many people claim was real: Elly Kedward. What did Elly do for her to be called a witch? What terrible events are said to have occurred in the last 300 years in certain forests of Maryland, USA? What is the origin of the curse connected to an infamous witch?
It seems that the origins of the legend begin in Maryland in the forests of the Black Hills - a place in which, according to local traditions, Native American tribes dared not enter. Local folklore says that around 1630 Colonel Nathaniel Blair led an expedition to cross the forest in order to find a suitable place to build a fort. Nathaniel is said to have sought help from a tribe in the area - but in response they sabotaged his expedition. In spite of this, Blair and his men built the fort which they baptized with the colonel's surname. Over the years, the site would grow to become the city of Blair in 1634.
Although the Native Americans refused to enter the forest, legends say that Colonel Blair and his men built a fort in the forest of the Black Hills. (Ken Mayer/CC BY-SA 2.0)
Different stories tell that 150 years later, around 1785, a Blair resident named Elly Kedward (an Irish immigrant) was accused of practicing witchcraft by several children. The children said that she had dragged them from their homes with the intention of drinking their blood. Terror was unleashed on the entire population and Elly Kedward was convicted of witchcraft and exiled from Blair forever. Tied to a wagon, the woman was abandoned in the woods during the harsh winter.
As the days passed, the people of Blair began to breathe easy believing that Elly had died from the cold or had been eaten by the wild beasts that lived in the mountains. However, 3 of the children, accompanied by their dogs, returned to the forest to see if she had actually died and, to their surprise, they encountered the alleged witch still alive. The boys ordered their dogs to finish the job by biting her, while they beat her with tree branches. After that, they decided to release her from the cart and hang her from a tree until Elly Kedward died. From then on, the stories say that numerous strange happenings began to take place in the forests of Black Hills.
Elly Kedward was accused by several children of having dragged them out of their houses with the intention of drinking their blood. (Collin Knopp-Schwyn and Immanuel Giel/CC BY-SA 3.0)
The myth continues that a year later, in November 1786, half of the village's children, including the three who killed Elly, had disappeared. None of them were found – neither alive nor dead. Fearing that these disappearances were due to the intervention of evil forces and the existence of a curse, the residents left Blair and vowed never to say the name “Elly Kedward” again. Yet, a book is said to have appeared in 1809 called "The Blair Witch Cult". This book, an unusual work of fiction of very poor quality, tells the story of a village cursed by a witch. The village is Blair and the witch, Elly Kedward. However, in this story the witch is hunted and then burned for her crimes.
More than 40 years had passed before someone returned to reside in Blair. By 1820, a man named Henry Burkitt bought the abandoned town from the government. Little by little he rebuilt the buildings, which were in ruins, and in 1824 he renamed the city after himself. He called it Burkittsville - a town that does exist and is visited by many tourists thanks to the legends of a witch.
Modern Burkittsville. (Bob Carney/CC BY-SA 2.0)
August 1825: 11 residents claim that a woman’s extremely pale hand emerged from Tappy East, a river that crosses Burkittsville. The hand allegedly pulled 10-year-old Eileen Treacle underwater. The search for the young girl took weeks, but her body was never found. Shortly after, it was discovered that the river was blocked due to an incredible number of branches, affecting the water’s cleanliness (it was contaminated for several months). This is what most likely caused the young villager’s strange death.
Later, in March 1886, 8-year-old Robin Weaver was reported missing in the forest. Various rescue teams searched for several days until they found her. The small girl said that she had met an old lady in the forest who was not walking, but floating. That strange lady took her hand and led her to a house where she was left in the basement, with a promise that the old woman would return. Robin waited for a long time, but started to get scared and she finally fled.
Those who did not return were never members of the rescue teams. Weeks later, five other rescue workers found bodies in a place known as Coffin Rock. The corpses were tied together hand and foot and had been disemboweled. The rescuers returned to the village to tell others what they had seen, but when they returned to the location the bodies were gone.
Finally, between November 1940 and March 1941 there was another incident, with eight children disappearing from the town. And the restless and exceedingly unpleasant lives of the people of Burkittsville was further disturbed when the hermit Rustin Parr entered the market and shouted, "I've finally finished!" After interrogation, to which they received no response, the hermit led the cops to his cabin, where they would understand everything...
After four hours of walking to reach the small hut, they discovered the bodies of seven of the children buried in seven small graves that were located behind the house. When the bodies were exhumed, they found signs of violence: some were even disemboweled and all appeared to have been victims of an evil ritual – marked with strange symbols on their hands, face, chest, and ankles. Kyle Brody was the only one who survived the massacre. He was found standing in a basement corner. Parr told authorities he heard the voice of an elderly woman in his head ordering him to kill children and she told him how to complete the diabolical rituals. The myth ends with Parr tried for his terrible crimes, sentenced to the gallows, and executed.