Initially reported in the Washington Post and picked up by newspapers from around the country, the story of the 14 year old Mt Rainier boy who had successfully received an exorcism in the 1949 was a local legend for some time. An excellently researched full description of that incident is available here, but suffice it to say that a young boy, incorrectly reported to be living in Mt. Rainier, Md, on the outskirts of DC, was taken to the local Catholic parish for assistance. While details are contested, it seems that the Catholic Church did perform an exorcism for him, both here in DC and in St. Louis. A diary kept by one of the priests chronicling their struggle has been bandied about, or at least a few versions of it, and it makes for hair-raising reading. Much of it is chilling, but one particular bit leapt out at me:
(the boy) was transported back to Maryland for a short-lived visit and on one of the the train rides he became maniacal, striking Father Bowdern in the testicles and yelling, "That's a nutcracker for you, isn't it?"
Sorry, couldn't resisit that glimpse of the devil in action.
Father Bowdern recovered by all accounts, the mysterious boy as well, and the story died down and was largely forgotten, except for a young English major at Georgetown University at the time. William Peter Blatty was twenty years old when he heard the story, and would, twenty years later, write the novel and even produce the movie that brought the 1949 incident back to life. By all accounts, The Exocist is purely a work of fiction, and any connections to actual events are loose, but the story has been woven into the fabric of Georgetown ever since, helped in no small part by generations of college students who keep the legend alive.
Best known, of course, are the famed "Exorcist Steps", shown here. A popular stop in any college freshman's initial tour of the city, they have served to help many a young man to bring an evening to a successful conclusion by exploring the "haunted steps" with a date. At the risk of being a spoiler, I should warn you young ladies: the steps have had no reported ghosts, and were simply used in the movie for their undeniably spooky nature.
A bit of the original story did happen in Georgetown, though. The initial exorcism reportedly took place at Georgetown University Hospital, which is of course still there. While here, the possessed boy was supposed to have ripped part of the bed off and used it to attack the parish priest performing the ritual. I feel that I can attest that some portion of the demonic spirit still resides there. Both of my daughters were born at Georgetown and, from time to time, I sense that elements of the spirit remained with them. Screaming uncontrollably? Check. Spitting? Check. Striking testicles and laughing? Check. Strange utterances in Latin? Not yet.
Which isn't to say that we haven't had exorcisms in Washington, DC. Besides the 1949 incident, which, whatever the real state of the lad in question, was regarded as a real exorcism by the Catholic Church, another incident took place a bit earlier. In September of 1907, the Evening Star reported that "a fine old home" on the corner of 11th and D St, NW, had been having a misunderstanding with the spirit world. The owner had been having difficulty keeping tenants, what with the hauntings and all. He walked around the corner to St. Patrick's Church, which is still thriving on 10th Street today, and pressed two priests into service.
The priests were somewhat reluctant, but were eventually swayed by the persistence of the owner. At 11 pm, Father Boyle and his assistant arrived at the house and got to work. Working through the night, the priests chased the demon from room to room. Never visible, it made itself known through moaning and wailing that moved constantly. Finally, events reached a crescendo when the unknown spirit shook the house with winds "of gale force", scattering furniture, and forcing the priests from the house.
Father Boyle, undoubtedly wise in the ways of the spirits, understood that an exorcism is a process and not an event, and offered to return the next day and finish the job. However, at this point, the owner felt that if men of God were driven out, what chance had he, so he simply choose to raze the building and start anew. I imagine it didn't hurt that the house was on a quite valuable downtown lot.
Incidentaly, this corner no longer exists. D St was ended at 9th when the architecturally challenged FBI Headquarters was built many years ago. Near as I can tell, the house stood roughly where the Bank of America ATM is now, on the north side of the 1000 block of Pennsylvania Avenue. Which explains why it ate my card so many years ago.