On Aug. 20, 1949, The Washington Post ran a front-page story under the headline "Priest Frees Mt. Rainier Boy Reported Held in Devil's Grip." William Peter Blatty, at the time a Georgetown University student, later used this and other accounts of demonic possession to write his 1971 novel, "The Exorcist."
Here is an excerpt from the Washington Post story. The reporter, Bill Brinkley, later worked for Life magazine and became a best-selling novelist. He died in 1993 from an overdose of barbiturates.
In what is perhaps one of the most remarkable experiences of its kind in recent religious history, a 14-year-old Mount Rainier boy has been freed by a Catholic priest of possession by the devil, Catholic sources reported yesterday.
Only after 20 to 30 performances of the ancient ritual of exorcism, here and in St. Louis, was the devil finally cast out of the boy, it was said.
In all except the last of these, the boy broke into a violent tantrum of screaming, cursing and voicing of Latin phrases--a language he had never studied--whenever the priest reached those climactic points of the 27-page ritual in which he commanded the demon to depart from the boy. "I command you, whoever you are, unclean spirit, and all of your associates obsessing this friend of God . . . give me your name, the day and the hour of your exit, together with some sign . . . I command thee to obey in all these things not ever to offend this creature of God . . ."
In complete devotion to his task, the priest stayed with the boy over a period of two months, during which he said he personally witnessed such manifestations as the bed in which the boy was sleeping suddenly moving across the room.
A Washington Protestant minister has previously reported personally witnessing similar manifestations, including one in which the pallet on which the sleeping boy lay slid slowly across the floor until the boy's head bumped against the bed, awakening him.
In another instance reported by the Protestant minister, a heavy armchair in which the boy was sitting, with his knees drawn under his chin, tilted slowly to one side and fell over, throwing the boy on the floor.
The final rite of exorcism in which the devil was cast from the boy took place in May, it was reported, and since then he has had no manifestations.
A priest here voiced the beliefs that it was probably the first casting out of the devil through the ritual in at least a century of Catholic activities here and perhaps the entire history of the church in this area.
But before it was undertaken, said a priest here, all medical and psychiatric means of curing the boy--in whose presence such manifestations as fruit jumping up from the refrigerator top in his home and hurling itself against the wall also were reported--were exhausted. The boy was taken to Georgetown University Hospital here, where his affliction was exhaustively studied, and to St. Louis University. Both are Jesuit institutions.
Finally, both Catholic hospitals, said the priest, reported they were unable to cure the boy through natural means.
The ritual was undertaken by a St. Louis priest--a Jesuit in his 50's--who devoted himself to the task through prayers and fasting. The details of the exorcism of the devil from the boy were described to The Washington Post by a priest here.
For two months the priest stayed with the boy, accompanying him back and forth on the train, sleeping in the same house and sometimes in the same room with him.
The priest witnessed many of the same manifestations reported by the Protestant minister this month to a closed meeting of the Society of Parapsychology. It was at this session that Dr. J.H. Rhine, director of the famed parapsychology laboratory at Duke University, who came up here to study the case, was quoted as saying it was "the most impressive" poltergeist (noisy ghost) phenomenon that had come in his attention in his years of celebrated investigation in the field.
Repeatedly, each time the ritual was performed, the violent reaction would come from the boy at the passages in which the priest ordered the evil spirit out of him.
At these points, the boy would break into the fury of profanity and screaming and the astounding Latin phrases.
But finally, at the last performance of the ritual, the boy was quiet. The successful exorcism came after the boy had been taken into the Catholic Church, with the consent of his non-Catholic parents, and had received religious instruction.
The father of the afflicted boy was reported to be a mechanic, but the name and other details of the family were withheld at their request. It was early this year that members of the boy's family went to their minister and reported strange goings-on in their Mount Rainier house since January 11.
The minister visited the boy's home and witnessed some of the manifestations.
But though they seemed to the naked eye unexplainable--such as the scratchings from the area of the wall in the boy's presence--there was always the suggestion, he said, that in some way the noises may have been made by the boy himself.
Retaining his skepticism in the matter, the "minister" then had the boy stay a night--February 17--in his own home.
It was there, before his own eyes, he said, that the two manifestations that he felt were beyond all natural explanation took place. In one of these the boy's pallet moved across the floor while his hands were outside the cover and his body rigid.
In the other the heavy chair, with the boy immobile in it, tilted and fell over to the floor before the minister's amazed eyes, he said.
Some of the Mount Rainier neighbors' skepticism was startingly resolved, it was reported, when they first laughed it off, invited the boy and his mother to spend a night in their own "unhaunted" homes, only to have some of the manifestations--such as the violent, apparently involuntary shakings of the boy's bed--happen before their eyes.
© 2000 The Washington Post