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‘Tis the season: The leaves are browning, there’s a chill in the air, and pumpkin spice has infiltrated entire grocery stores. With witching season upon us, you might be looking for a scare. In the D.C. area, a number of urban legends—from the famed Goatman to the real story behind The Exorcist—have been passed around over the years. But how scary are these stories, really? Below, we ranked five of the most popular tales.
The Curse of Moll Dyer
Salem isn’t the only town with a dark past when it comes to witchcraft and falsely accused women. In the 17th century, a Leonardtown, Maryland, resident named Moll Dyer was accused of witchcraft and run out of town by her fellow neighbors. Days later, her body was found frozen to a large stone. Today, the 875-pound boulder Dyer allegedly died on has been moved to the downtown area, in front of the Old Jail Museum. But does Dyer’s spirit still haunt the town? Dive into City Paper’s 2017 feature on Moll Dyer to find out.
Spook Factor: 3/5 Pumpkins. Witches are scary, but what’s even scarier is the spirits of witches (or accused witches) wronged by their community.
There is a bridge in Bowie that, according to legend, will cause your car to stall if you drive over it at night. That’s not all: The sound of a crying baby will draw you out of the car and, if you look over the bridge to the creek below, you might see a lifeless baby floating down the river. That’s pretty much it. The Crybaby Bridge urban legend isn’t unique to Bowie—similar urban legends are told in Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah. Would the real Crybaby Bridge please stand up?
Spook Factor: 1/5 Pumpkins. Like I’m supposed to be afraid of a crying baby?
The Goatman of Beltsville is perhaps one of the best-known urban legends in the area. According to legend, the Goatman was a science experiment at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center gone wrong—DNA splicing that resulted in an axe-wielding half-man, half-goat abomination that terrorized rural parts of Prince George’s County. Over the years, the story of the Goatman has found its way into the pop culture lexicon, most notably as the antagonist in an issue of the short-lived (but nevertheless great) X-Files comic book series.
Spook Factor: 4/5 Pumpkins. I’m not saying the Goatman is real, but you’ll never catch me wandering around the woods of Beltsville, especially at night.
Before the Oscar-winning film by William Friedkin changed the course of horror cinema forever, there was the book by author William Peter Blatty. But Blatty’s book isn’t a complete work of fiction. Blatty says he drew inspiration from an old Washington Post article about the exorcism of a young boy just outside of D.C., and a recent book by Maryland writer and journalist Mark Opsasnick took a deep dive into the exorcism in Cottage City that inspired the book and movie. Did it really happen? Well, that just depends on what you believe.
Spook Factor: 4/5 Pumpkins. I want to believe.
The legend of the Bunny Man is one that actually has some seeds of truth to it. It dates back to the early ’70s in Fairfax when reports surfaced of a man dressed in a bunny costume threatening people with an axe. Of course, the story has been twisted and turned into a tale of a homicidal maniac who dresses as a bunny and attacks people with an axe around the Colchester Overpass in Clifton.
Spook Factor: 5/5 Pumpkins. I’m terrified of any adult who dresses in a bunny costume.