From Civil War notables to Harry Truman and the Duchess of Windsor, the Maryland Historical Society has celebrated plenty of history-makers in its 156 years, but apparently nobody has yet lectured on the art of making up history.
Now comes Julia Fair, historian of the twitchy horror film "The Blair Witch Project," a purported documentary that frightened millions of moviegoers last summer. She'll lecture on faking history for a fake documentary.
"There are now real answers about the true fake Blair Witch history," she says.
Fair will be at the Historical Society Sunday afternoon in conjunction with the Maryland Film Festival, which opens today. Much of her "Blair Witch" paraphernalia is included in the Historical Society's elaborate and exhaustive movie-struck exhibit "Filming Maryland, a celebration of films made in Maryland," which runs until Oct. 8.
Shot like a film school documentary for about $35,000 and percolated by a hyperactive Web site that received more than 2 million hits before its opening, "The Blair Witch Project" scared people silly and made an amazing $140 million, the largest percentage return in history. And the accountants are still counting.
"Blair Witch" professes to be made from movie and video footage found a year after three student filmmakers vanished in the woods near Burkittsville in Frederick County while trying to document the legend of the Blair Witch.
Given a certain suspension of disbelief, the film is convincing as a documentary and -- helped along by the Web site and screaming crowds in the theaters -- it convinced lots of people they were watching real events.
The Historical Society received more than 300 requests to see manuscripts and documents cited in the film or on the Web site, especially a copy of "The Blair Witch Cult." This rare book, which supposedly tells the tale of a town cursed by an outcast witch, was allegedly displayed at the society. In reality, the book was a children's book battered, aged and gussied up by Fair. The Historical Society had to create a form denying any Blair Witch artifacts existed in their archives.
"People wouldn't believe us," says Abby Lattes, the society's publicist. "They said, 'So, that means you won't let us see it.' "
But now on exhibit are several documents and some of the video film packs, film canisters and audio tapes lost by the missing filmmakers, all of which were created for the back-story of the film with Fair's help. She's an excellent researcher of the false, fake and fictitious.
"I guess we can say we now have the real fake manuscript on display," Lattes says. "History is nothing more than the belief in the senses, the belief in falsehood." -- Frederich Nietzsche
When we caught up with Fair, 23, on her cell phone, she was cruising through Orlando, Fla., where she lives. She was getting her grandmother's 1930s wedding dress in shape so she can wear it at her own wedding. She's marrying Dan Myrick, a "Blair Witch" director, in July. But she doesn't say where or what day. Maybe she wants to avoid the Witch.
The Blair Witch is a vengeful old haunt who has orchestrated the disappearance and murder of children in the neighborhood of Burkittsville every few decades since 1785, the year she was found guilty of witchcraft and banished from a town called Blair, which preceded Burkittsville.
Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez wrote, directed and edited the film and made up the Blair Witch.
"I tried to put it in historical context," Fair says. "I researched the times and the history of Maryland."
In the history Fair helped make up for "The Project," Blair was abandoned by the townsfolk who feared it was cursed after their children disappeared.
Burkittsville, according to Fair's film history, was founded on the site of Blair in 1824 by a railroad magnate who wanted to exploit limestone deposits in the area.
But there are no limestone deposits, no Black Hills Forest for anybody to disappear in (much of the film was shot in Patapsco State Park), no earlier town called Blair, no missing children or filmmakers and no witch.
"There is a true history of Burkittsville," says Fair. "There were really two farmers who founded Burkittsville."
The real Burkittsville is a charming, sleepy, crossroads hamlet where Civil War wounded were treated during the Battle of Crampton Gap, a prelude to Antietam.
Myrick and Sanchez actually filmed only a few scenes in the Burkittsville cemetery and a shot of the town sign "Welcome to Burkittsville," which was promptly stolen when the film opened and became an unexpected and unlikely smash hit. The residents were a bit unnerved when a steady stream of fans flowed through town in search of Blair witchcraft.
Fair has never been to Burkittsville and says she's not going. "They'd kill me," she says. A local historian told her, "You're ruining the history of my county."
But it is a true historic fact that the Blair Witch got her name because Sanchez's younger sister went to Blair High School in Montgomery County. It's a fake historic fact that the three filmmakers in the movie went to Montgomery Community College. It's a real historic fact that Myrick and Sanchez and Fair went to Central Florida University. "Historians relate not so much what is done, as what they would have believed." -- Ben Franklin
Fair conjured up the Blair Witch as a woman named Elly Kedward in the anti-history of the town of Blair.
"My personal opinion is that the area is cursed," she says. "Something's wrong there. Elly Kedward was cursed because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Fair invented a land grant for the area that was patented to one Nathaniel Blair, who assigned a group of settlers to go out and settle his land. They were warned by the Native American Yocimocoe tribe not to go into the Black Hills Forest because it's cursed.
The Blair Witch exhibit in the Historical Society's "Filming Maryland" show includes an authentic-looking "deed of land," No. 142, dated July 13, 1781, to Mr. Nathaniel Blair for a plot of land "a few days travel from Baltimore for the establishment of a new township in the region," consisting of 17 people representing 11 families.
Fair researched historic deeds, letters and court records to give her documents authenticity. They're nicely discolored and worn with age, too.
"Another theory, holds that Elly Kedward was cursed in Ireland," says Fair. She was strongly influenced by memories of her grandfather who came from Ireland.
The mythical Kedward was supposedly born in County Wicklow, where she bore eight children, all of whom died. Her husband was killed in a war with Spain. Her name appears in ship records manufactured for the movie.
"She came as an indentured servant," Fair assures us, "and came out to a small settlement in Blair County."
At the Historical Society, a slightly earlier history is revealed in a "Petition of Guardianship," dated Oct. 3, 1770, which vests Elly Kedward with responsibility for the children of John Crandall, an officer in the Continental Army residing in Baltimore.
Worn and brown with age -- or coffee -- the petition notes Mrs. Kedward has just arrived from Ireland and is signed by both Kedward and Crandall. This document was sent to the filmmakers from an anonymous groupie. Fair calls it a "fake fake." "When a history book contains no lies, it is always tedious." -- Anatole France
Fair's tour de force is perhaps her invention of the history of the short, sad and murderous life of "an old hermit named Rustin Parr," a pivotal personage in the film, never seen but recalled in the filmmakers' interviews.
At the behest of the Blair Witch, between November 1940 and May 1941, Parr is supposed to have abducted seven children from the Burkittsville area and then ritually murdered and disemboweled them.
The Witch seems to have had a penchant for disembowelment. In 1886, five men who had gone out in search of a lost little girl were found tied together and disemboweled on the very appropriately named Coffin Rock.
Fair researched actual documents from the early 1940s to flesh out, so to speak, the unreal tale of Rustin Parr.
"We found a birth certificate," she says, "but we think it's fake. I have his death warrant."
She created it on the model of a transcript of the actual trial of a man who killed his wife and children.
"It was really creepy," she says.
Her rendition orders the sheriff of Frederick County to carry out the hanging of Rustin Parr, which he did. It's reported in the Washington Press on Nov. 22, 1941. You could look it up on the Blair Witch Web site: www.blairwitch.com/ parr5.html.
"The truth is, when you look at history, it's interesting, and it makes the story full," Fair says. "My problem was keeping inside the parameters of the believeable but outside the parameters of the factual." "The best thing we get from history is the enthusiasm it rouses." -- Goethe
Who: Julia Fair
What: Lecture on the fake history of "The Blair Witch Project"
Where: Maryland Historical Society, 201 W. Madison St.
when: 2 p.m. Sunday
Admission: $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and children
What: "Blair witch" artifacts included in the exhibit "Filming Maryland"
Where: Maryland Historical Society, 201 W. Madison St.
When: Continues through Oct. 8
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
Admission: $4 for adults, $3 for seniors and children