[MD] Burkittsville – Real ‘Blair Witch’ Ghosts – Pt. 2

This continues the stories
about the real ghosts and spirits
that haunt the site of The Blair Witch Project.
Be sure to read The real ‘Blair Witch’ ghosts – part one.)

Hauntings are almost guaranteed at any site that’s witnessed battles, suffering… and graves where the dead were not allowed to rest.

Burkittsville and vicinity have all of these from Civil War times.

By 1862, wounded and dying Civil War soldiers in this area were placed in as many as 17 makeshift hospitals. Some of those “hospitals” were actually Burkittsville homes and businesses,  including the town’s tannery.

The soldiers’ ghostly voices are still heard throughout the town, but the tannery is particularly significant.

The tannery was torn down, but the site is still haunted. Anyone who parks his car there overnight may find the vehicle marked with footprints from soldiers’ boots, where the car was kicked or even trampled by the ghosts of marching men.

But there are other ghosts in the area, too.

Stories–loudly proclaimed as “fiction” by some Burkittsville historians–explain why the area may be haunted.

In one account, the retreating Confederate Army paid a man named Wise to bury approximately 50 bodies. Mr. Wise accepted the money, but then tossed the bodies in an abandoned well.

Shortly thereafter, he began seeing the ghost of Sergeant Jim Tabbs of Virginia, who complained to Mr. Wise about being uncomfortable. Mr. Wise returned to the mass grave and discovered that the body on top was that of Sergeant Tabbs, and the corpse was face down. Mr. Wise turned the body so it was facing upwards.

He thought that would be the last of it.

He was very wrong.

Perhaps the spirits of these men revealed the truth to the local officials. Whatever the cause, the authorities confronted Mr. Wise. They forced him to dig up–and properly bury–the fifty bodies that had been left in his care.

Stories say the ghosts never bothered him again, but did they truly rest in peace?

Many other fallen Southern soldiers were left behind as a necessity of war. The good people of Burkittsville recognized that something must be done for the dead, so they buried them in shallow graves. The local residents expected that, once the fighting stopped, the troops would return to bury the men properly.

When the fighting stopped, no one returned for these comrades’ bodies. Finally most — and perhaps all — of the bodies temporarily buried in the older section of Burkittsville’s Union Cemetery, were exhumed in 1868 and re-interred in Washington Confederate Cemetery.

Was this sufficient to put their souls at rest? According to Troy Taylor in his book, Spirits of the Civil War, there have been odd and ghostly occurrences in the vicinity of those shallow graves. Many nights since then, eerie lights from long-extinguished campfires appear in the nearby open fields, and dot the mountainside.

However, the mountainside is also the source of a ghostly energy that visitors to Burkittsville can experience even now. Its history is one of the great stories of the Civil War.

At sunrise on Sunday, September 14, 1862, both the Union and Confederate soldiers expected to surprise each other with an attack. It was later known as the Battle for Crampton’s Gap, but the location is now called “Spook Hill.”

On that fateful morning, the Union soldiers carried only rifles into battle. They were able to travel faster than their Confederate counterparts, who were still pushing cannons uphill when the fighting began. The Union Army’s First Division, Sixth Corps, were overwhelmingly successful in battle.

Many Confederate soldiers died struggling with the heavy cannons. Their lingering spirits are the “spooks” of Spook Hill.

The site of this battle can be found at the edge of Burkittsville, near the Civil War Correspondents’ Memorial Arch, in Gathland Park. If you stop your car at Spook Hill and set it in neutral, you will feel the car being pushed by the spectral hands of the Confederate troops.

They are still struggling to push their cannons to the top of the hill, and achieve victory in the battle which they lost over 130 years ago.

In public, Burkittsville residents claim that this is merely an optical illusion. However, a local resident, Stephen, quietly assures me that the road has been tested using construction levels and transits. Cars do indeed roll uphill, though not as readily as they did before the road was recently repaved.

trees-haunted-pennymathewsOthers insist that the hill is magnetic, and that force is what pulls the cars towards the top. No one has successfully tested that theory yet.

If Spook Hill contains massive amounts of a magnetic ore, this would explain why Heather’s compass did not work properly in the movie, The Blair Witch Project.

Nevertheless, with ghostly campfires, bodies in dry wells and shallow graves, footprints at the former tannery/hospital, and the events at Spook Hill, the tale of what happened to three college students in The Blair Witch Project seems almost pale by comparison to real life.

For more information about haunted Burkittsville and vicinity, ask your local library for these books and videos:

Websites about Burkittsville, and Civil War ghosts:

    • Burkittsville, Maryland’s website
    • Cathe’s Ghost Encounters of the Civil War Kind
    • Author Troy Taylor’s website, Ghosts of the Prairie
    • Ghostly photos, including some from Gettysburg, appear at the Ghost Web site (IGHS)

This two-part article originally appeared at Suite 101, in November 1999.

Photo credits:
Foggy sunrise, by Steven Soenens
Stone Angel, by Brenda Mihalko
Campfire, by Niels Timmer
Skull, by Benjamin Earwicker of Garrison Photography
Trees, by Penny Mathews

[NH] Hollis – Blood cemetery’s other eerie events

Other eerie events at Blood Cemetery in Hollis, NH, reported by readers:

misty photo at Blood Cemetery

Trees moving when there is no breeze. Several have noticed this. It’s easy to compare the trees’ movement at Blood Cemetery with nearby wooded areas. In each story, the trees were still (not moving) elsewhere, but the trees were swaying and/or the leaves fluttering vigorously only within the immediate vicinity of Blood Cemetery.

Fog” that slowly seems to engulf this cemetery and nowhere nearby, yet the cemetery is near the top of a hill. We have several independent reports of this, including one from a former policeman.

A Nashua nurse was in her car with friends, and they were listening to the radio. As they approached the cemetery, static interrupted the music, followed by dirge-like organ music. Shortly after they passed the cemetery, the static returned and then their previous music was restored.

There are natural explanations for this, but it is such a common story in the vicinity of haunted cemeteries in the northeast, and the nurse is otherwise very level-headed, so this tale is worth noting.

Several readers have reported sensing something angry in the cemetery. A few others have seen a lone figure standing in the cemetery after dark.

However, the Hollis police are rumored to play pranks on people near Blood Cemetery at night, to discourage visitors and vandals.

According to one police officer, they cover themselves with ghostly sheets, and hide behind the headstones.  When someone enters the cemetery, the police leap up, shouting, and chase the trespassers out.  This seems to be effective at keeping pre-teens out of the cemetery when the site is closed to visitors.

Nevertheless, we doubt that anyone’s out there with a fog machine, a wind machine, or broadcasting dirges on the radio.

“Blood Cemetery,” aka Pine Hill Cemetery in Hollis, New Hampshire, is one of New England’s most interesting haunted cemeteries.

[MD] Burkittsville – Real ‘Blair Witch’ Ghosts – Pt. 1

By now, most people know what’s fact and fiction in the movie, The Blair Witch Project.

Cannon at battleground near Burkittsville - Blair Witch countryHowever, few know the actual haunted history of Burkittsville, Maryland, where the movie was set.

The town began as “Dawson’s Purchase” in 1741. In the 1790’s, Joshua Harley and Henry Burkitt arrived in the area. From the start, they competed to control and eventually name the town.

Although Burkitt owned three-quarters of the land by 1810, the competition seemed concluded in 1824 when Harley secured the official Post Office as “Harley’s Post Office.”

However, Joshua Harley’s death in 1828 left Burkitt with the last word. He named the town Burkittsville before he, too, died in 1836.

The participants in this 40+ year rivalry may haunt the town, but there are far better explanations for Burkittsville’s ghostly spirits.

In fact, paranormal events and tragedy cover more than 100 years of Burkittsville’s history.

gargoyle-nidaros-sculptureAs early as 1735, nearby Middletown was settled by German immigrants.

According to legends repeated in the Middletown Valley Register in the early 20th century, the community was terrorized by a monster called a Schnellegeister.

The word means “fast spirit or ghost” in German, but neighbors nicknamed it the “Snallygaster.”

Whatever its name, its colonial reputation mixed the half-bird features of the Siren with the nightmarish features of demons and ghouls.

The Snallygaster was described as half-reptile with octopus limbs, and half-bird with a metallic beak lined with razor-sharp teeth. It can fly. It can pick up its victims and carry them off. The earliest stories claim that this monster sucked the blood of its victims.

It is disturbingly similar to the movie’s descriptions of the Blair Witch.

No one knows whether the Snallygaster caused the hasty sale of most of “Dawson’s Purchase” (later Burkittsville) in 1786, and the remainder in 1803. However, George Wine, who bought the final acreage, did not live to confirm the purchase.

The name “Snallygaster” has been a joke to some in the 20th century, but more sober minds recall that it has been documented in the Burkittsville area as recently as 1973.

Another 18th century German settlement, Zittlestown, a mere seven miles north of Burkittsville, was also plagued with supernatural events. Like Middletown, residents feared a large and vicious animal-spirit which was rarely seen.

An 1880’s book by Madaleine Dahlgren (widow of Admiral John A. Dahlgren), documented the troubles of that community.

However, most of Burkittsville’s ghosts are men who lost their lives in the Civil War.

Their stories, from an unscrupulous Civil War gravedigger to spectres of the dead who push cars uphill today, are in The Real ‘Blair Witch’ Ghosts – Part Two.

Photo credits:
Gettysburg at dawn, by Fiona Broome
Church sculpture, by Roar Petersen

[NH] Hollis – Blood Cemetery’s Small Grey Ghost

Reported by Fiona Broome, Halloween 1999

After years of researching ghosts in the northeast, I enjoy visiting Blood Cemetery (aka Pine Hill Cemetery) in Hollis, NH.

It’s an isolated spot with more than its share of ghost stories, but I like it there. Well, I used to like it there…

The evening before Halloween night in 1999, the sunset was magnificent. It was a warm evening, and it seemed a fine time for some photos at Blood Cemetery.

Since this ancient New England cemetery is on a hill, its headstones can look magnificent — or eerie — against a colorful sky.

Everything was fine until I was about halfway through my roll of film. The light was starting to fade, and my attention was drawn to an area just east of the Farley family graves.

Looking through my camera’s viewfinder, I was dismayed to see something greyish move between me and one of the headstones. It had very fuzzy edges, and it was the same color as the headstone.

“Oh. Great,” I sighed. “It’s a cat.”

I waited for it to move out of the way so that I could take more photographs.

Then, as I watched, it vanished into the headstone.

I nearly dropped my camera.

Really. It vanished. It took about half a second for the image to completely disappear.

It went into one of those half-tall headstones. (It was not a child’s marker, as I found out when I returned on November 1st. The link to that story is at the bottom of this page.)

The grave is near the center of the cemetery. There is no way an animal could leave the graveyard without being seen, even at dusk. The cemetery isn’t that large, and a wide grassy area surrounds the headstones.

Plus that, the stone that it vanished into is one of the smaller stones in the cemetery. There wasn’t any place for an animal to hide.

(I looked, just in case. I really wanted a reasonable, logical, normal explanation.)

I saw the remains of a faerie ring a few feet away, but that’s all.

Over 15 years later, I still ask myself: Why did I think it was a cat?

It would have been a very large cat. It was about 2 1/2 feet tall, and I’m not certain how wide. It was big. It was very fuzzy around the edges, which — from a logical (perhaps skeptical) viewpoint — suggested a massive Angora-type cat that had just been rolling in the dust so his fur was standing up.

It was too “fluffy” (fuzzy-edged) to be a dog. And, it was far too large for any other kind of grey-colored field or domestic animal.

Too late, I realized that I’d seen… a ghost?

I don’t know. Maybe. I don’t know what else it could have been. But I took a few photos anyway, just in case. (They didn’t reveal anything startling.)

Since then, I’ve promised myself that I will never not take a photo, when something unexpected shows up at a cemetery or any haunted site.

But, about 24 hours later, my Halloween night experience was even stranger.  It’s in the next article:  Ghostly Mischief on Halloween Night

[NH] Hollis – Ghostly Mischief on Halloween Night

Abel Blood's headstone, Hollis, NH
Abel Blood’s haunted headstone at Pine Hill Cemetery, Hollis, NH

Reported by Fiona Broome, Halloween 1999

The weather turned unusually warm on Halloween night. In the northeast, Halloween can be sultry or freezing cold. This year, the weather in southern New Hampshire was perfect.

After dropping my son at a church youth social, I decided to return Blood Cemetery (aka Pine Hill Cemetery) in Hollis, NH, to take some quick photos from the roadside. (Like many New England cemeteries, Pine Hill is closed from dusk to dawn.)

I carried my “old reliable” 35mm point-and-shoot camera which I’d used for years without a problem.

I’d taken over 100 photos with it during the two weeks before this, and it had worked perfectly. In fact, about half of my photos are taken in low-light conditions using the flash.

On this evening, the batteries were fresh, the film was fine, and there was nothing to jam the camera.

Since it was Halloween evening, I felt a little nervous as I approached the pitch dark graveyard. Its reputation for hauntings didn’t bother me as much as being alone on a very deserted road.

Because the cemetery had closed at dusk, I stood at the side of the road, looking into the eerie darkness. And I started taking photos at random, pointing the camera into Blood Cemetery.

I pushed the button to take a photo.

Click.

Nothing happened. No flash, just the film advancing.

Click again. Still no flash, as I was using up film.

Click. Click. Click.

It took me eleven photos to realize that my flash was not going to work.

Yes, eleven flashless photos of total darkness.

Then the police — who patrol the cemetery regularly at this time of year — arrived and asked me to “move along.”

(My team and I always respect laws and the police when we’re investigating a haunted site. And, when the police ask us to leave, we do so, immediately.)

I left, muttering to myself about my camera. Fresh film, fresh batteries, a good camera… why had it suddenly failed?

For the next few minutes, I went through a mental inventory of reasons why the flash had abruptly stopped working, for eleven photos in a row.

About two miles from the cemetery, I stopped at a red light. Figuring that I had nothing to lose, I picked up my camera and took a quick photo of… well, the car seat. After all, it was right there.

FLASH!

Yes, the flash was suddenly working again.

I drove another ten minutes to another old cemetery–but this one does not have a “haunted” reputation. There, I took another dozen photos to finish the roll of film, and the flash worked fine every time. (That’s the night when I photographed my best picture of a ‘ghost orb’ at Schoolhouse Cemetery in Nashua, NH.)

Frankly, although it doesn’t feel that odd to me, I may have to accept that Blood Cemetery is, indeed, haunted.

I’ve inspected my camera and batteries, and can find no other reasonable explanation for the abrupt and location-specific failure of the flash.

I know that this sounds like a campfire tale from a Scouting trip. However, it’s what really happened.

I can’t think of a reasonable explanation. Not for eleven photos with a very reliable Olympus camera. The camera had worked fine for years before, and — as I update this story in 2016 — that camera has never failed since.

Blood Cemetery seemed like a comfortable old graveyard before these experiences. But, it took me months to feel comfortable returning there. Even today, I’m a little edgy about that cemetery.

Something’s just not right at Blood Cemetery.