Thursday, December 20, 2012

Supernatural Friday: Who Haunts the Heights of South Mountain?

Welcome author Kathryn Hohmann, as she blogs about who haunts the Heights of South Mountain for today’s Supernatural Friday.

Remember that box-office smash, The Blair Witch Project? 
It’s the story of three students who set out in the darkened woods of central Maryland to investigate an old legend called the Blair Witch.  In the 1700s, a woman named Blair -- accused of witchcraft and cast out of a village -exacted her revenge by ritually murdering the village inhabitants.  In the movie, the hapless students go in search of the witch and after a night of paralyzing fear, they disappear, never to be heard from again.  Because the movie was portrayed as a documentary, fans were so determined to find the “real” Blair Witch that they swarmed to the town of Burkittsville, Maryland from as far away as London. 
 It’s no coincidence that the film makers picked the location around South Mountain, a region steeped in history and spooky legend.  Although the Piscataway Indians traditionally lay claim to these rich hunting grounds, the first white settlements date to the early to mid-18th century.  In those days, belief in the supernatural was common.  The area was likely considered a threshold between this world and the next, a “power spot” or “thin place,” where the barriers between past and present are permeable.   Ghost tales shared by settlers describe strange winged creatures that swooped down from the ridge of South Mountain to carry off inhabitants.  
 Then came the war between the states.   Being a border state, Maryland was divided so sharply between Union and Confederate that some families broke apart, brother fighting brother.  The conflict culminated on September 14, 1862, when armies faced off on the ridge of South Mountain in a clash that foreshadowed the battle at Antietam -- the single bloodiest day on American soil in the nation’s history. 
That was 150 years ago.  Yet even today, some visitors to South Mountain are frightened by hazy shapes in Confederate dress or claim to see misty lights and ghostly campfires burning on the old battleground, especially during the damp and dark September evenings.  During this year’s re-enactment, a few adventurous souls made the trek to the top of South Mountain, gathered at twilight,  lit candles and honored the dead.  There’s a marker that commemorates a regiment of Rebel soldiers who vanished in the aftermath of the battle.  There’s documentation about a Union burial duty that might have disposed of bodies, but no definite explanation for the soldiers’ disappearance.  Questions only lead deeper into the mystery.
Then there’s another phenomenon that defies explanation,  an eerie place called Spook Hill.  Local legend holds that -- at a certain juncture in the road--- vehicles can be stopped, put into neutral and simply drive themselves uphill.  Skeptics are quick to dismiss the phenomenon by explaining that the roadway is nothing more than an optical illusion and merely appears to slope uphill, but history says something else entirely.  On September 14, 1862, at the base of South Mountain, Union fire forced the Confederates to abandon their cannons and make a run for safety.   The giant weapons went rolling downhill, out of control and crushed the Rebels who had been fortunate enough to survive the sharpshooters’ bullets.  Legend says that Rebels killed during the retreat haunt this stretch of road, their souls forever tasked with the duty of pushing their cannons back up the mountain. 
Those drawn to South Mountain sense the imprint of the past on the present.  There aren’t definite answers, not about the Rebels who vanished without a trace on the mountain top or about the slant of the road below.  But one thing is certain:  It’s not a witch named Blair that haunts the hills of central Maryland, not even close.  It’s something, or someone, in blue or grey.

About Kathryn Hohmann:
Kathryn Hohmann is a writer from southwestern Montana.  Her newest book, Soldiers Rest, is a novel inspired by the true tale about Rebels who vanished in the aftermath of a Civil War battle. She is co-author of Why We Ride, about women and horses and a textbook on emergency response.  Kathryn can be reached at

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