Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Frightening Thought: Whose Woods These Are I Think I Know...

I had a view on Greece I wanted to express today, but decided instead to share this view from my New Jersey garret window.  It seems a far more comprehensible scene at the moment.  Besides, after Leighton’s searing to the nerve piece this week on looming Brazilian class warfare, I saw no reason to risk Foreign Affairs filing another grievance with the blog gods claiming “turf invasion.” 

So, today I'm aiming for the pastoral.

Picture a late autumn day by quiet woods far removed from any public road.  We’re not talking Robert Frost here, though the weather is about the same.  

Deer graze in peace by a pasture while just beyond the borders of the farm the hunters wait.  And geese drift upon a pond—still but for the ripples they create—seemingly oblivious to platter size snapping turtles lurking below.

Matt Groening's Scream travesty
Okay, so it’s more like a Stephen King pastoral, but don’t blame me for the tension of the setting, blame Jason.  And I don’t mean the one with the fleece.  I mean the Jason.  The one with the hockey mask.

For not so distant from my tranquil woods sits the actual site of the fictional Camp Crystal Lake.  From here launched one of America’s most successful media franchises, the very one that turned slasher Jason’s hockey mask into an immediately recognizable symbol of pop culture.  

My Woods
Thank you, Friday the 13th (1980), for giving my woods that unique, special touch it lacked when the only distraction to its sylvan setting was the occasional wandering seven hundred pound black bear and entourage.  It makes me wonder how peacefully Thoreau would have slept had he known his beloved Walden Pond had a psycho past. 

John Blair (1802-1899)
I mean we’re talking about a sleepy, northwestern New Jersey community of less than 6000 souls nestled within the Great Appalachian Valley.  It was named after one of the richest men of the 19th Century, John Insley Blair, who practiced philanthropy and managed his vast railroad and business empire from this rural town until his death at the age of ninety-seven--less than thirty days from the 20th Century.

Today, Blairstown is home to a prestigious private school, a private airport, and woods filled with summer camps for city kids—yes, all of the above is terrific fodder for a story, but why did they have to pick my woods for the film. 

Main Street Blairstown
I wasn’t living here when the movie was shot, but locals tell me they didn’t think much about it at the time.  Today, though, there’s no escaping that Friday the 13th stands high in this community's history of significant cultural events.  Indeed, when twenty years later The Blair Witch Project launched as one of the most successful independent films of all time, some thought it another film linked to Blairstown but that distinct horror honor belongs solely to the woods of Maryland. 

Jason's woods
I still haven’t seen Friday the 13th.  I spend a lot of time in those woods and have no desire to link the film’s images to my reality.  No need to be looking over my shoulder any more than the thought of it already has me doing—especially when I walk Jason’s woods after dark.  And just in case you think all this is a bit silly, Blairstown has another unique place in the history of modern American horror stories.  But this time the story is for real.

Computer generated composite of Princess Doe
Two years after Jason first stalked Blairstown’s woods, and less than a month before he took up wearing the hockey mask in a sequel, the body of a petite fourteen to eighteen year-old female turned up murdered in a Blairstown cemetery.  She was named Princess Doe and became the first unidentified body entered into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) computer system.  Nearly thirty years later, the crime remains unsolved. 

The wind is now rattling the panes of my garret window.  

Perhaps it’s a sign for me to return to fictional thoughts.  That’s not to suggest I actually believe Jason’s out there haunting my woods (he said prayerfully)…but I do have a farmer’s message for any itinerant, machete wielding wannabe: I use double-ought in my shotgun, sucker.

Jeff — Saturday


  1. Jeff, it's funny, at first I saw the pics and thought, 'How beautiful.' Then you mentioned Friday the 13th and the unsolved murder and they took on a creepier malevolent air - which is the sort of perception horror movies play on. I grew up with Jason, Michael Myers and Freddie Krueger as cinematic bogeymen. Funnily enough, a few of these films were repeated recently. Friday the 13th was and remains pure schlock; the first Halloween and the first Nightmare on Elm Street (forget the sequels) still truly terrifying.

  2. Great post, Jeff. WooWOOwoooWOOOOOwoooo

    I once read THE SHINING in an old hotel, the Dorset, in New York. Got to the point where the "hero" can't get the room door open and hears the curtain rings sliding over the rod. Threw the book across the room, turned on all the lights, and waited for daybreak.

  3. I have made it to nearly old age without having seen a horror movie and I don't see that changing.

    My oldest and her crowd were very much into the Blair Witch project. I think all my kids talked a lot about Freddie Krueger without having been fans of the movies. Two of them hadn't yet been born when "Friday the 13th" came out.

    I am a city person. I never really understood why people went to live in the country, away from everybody else, in order to feel safe. Safe is lights in nearby homes, traffic, people next door. I look at houses and see opportunities for the bad guys. Lots of greenery around the house means someone could be hiding there.

    I never needed horror movies; I can imagine plenty without any help.

    My oldest daughter lives in a very busy are. A streetcar stops right outside her door. It doesn't matter what time she is coming home, there is always foot and car traffic. I like it; I'm glad she does, too.

    I've read about Princess Doe. How can a young girl be gone so long without anyone looking for her? Parents are endowed with fear the minute the child is born. They are too old for me to impose any rules on them but we agree that if they tell me they are coming home and then plans change, they need to call so I won't be awake all night listening for the key.

    I live on a dead-end street that runs off a dead-end street (cul de sac is a little too upmarket)and I can be in the big city in less than 30 minutes. That is bucolic enough for me.


  4. Thanks ya'll!


    "Creepy, haunting heir" describes one of my neighbors perfectly! How did you know? As for the three films you mention I'll have to take your word on them as I've not seen any. I grew up in the land of George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead," and came to believe that what we see on the screen might be true. That's why I don't watch horror films or FOX News.


    Ah, the Dorset. Yes I had my own haunting experience there a few years back though it didn't involve visions of Nicholson (thank G-d) and is not a story I could repeat as artfully as you did yours.


    I can agree with your position on horror flicks (see above) but I cannot go along with your views on the country life. Not all country folk are slashers or serial killers (unless of course the address on the hunting license is "Elm Street, Amityville") and in small towns you have a much better chance of actually knowing your local felons.

    On a (more) serious note, serendipitous good came out of the Princess Doe investigation. "America's Most Wanted" went on the air in part because of information obtained in the course of that investigation answering questions regarding the slain child of the show's creator, and memorial services are regularly held for the anonymous Princess Doe child by Blairstown folk who remember and care.

    Now, if you'll excuse me I've got to load the shotgun and get ready for bed before the werewolves start to run...


  5. Jeff--

    That shotgun might not do the trick. I hear Julian Assange is about to release transcripts of what you did that night at the Dorset.

    Didn't know the room was bugged, did ya?


  6. Exactly what I'd expect to hear from a Bulls fan.

  7. Heh, nothing wrong with buggering!

  8. Glad to see I finally touched upon a subject of apparently broad interest. :)

  9. There more of us out there than you`d think.