Excerpts from "the first rough draft of history" as reported in The Washington Post on this date in the 20th century.
William Peter Blatty came across the following account of demonic possession in The Post as an English literature student at Georgetown University. The story later inspired his 1971 horror novel, The Exorcist. Recent reporting by magazine writer Mark Opsasnick suggests, however, the possession may have been a clever fraud. An excerpt from The Post of Aug. 20, 1949:
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 between 20 and 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 the climactic point of the ritual, "In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, I cast thee (the devil) out."
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 had 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 a 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 ...
A priest here voiced the belief 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 in the entire history of the church in this area. ...
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.
Only then, said a priest here, was a supernatural cure sought.
The ritual was undertaken by a St. Louis priest -- a Jesuit in his 50s -- who devoted himself to the task through prayers and fasting.
The ritual began in St. Louis, continued here and finally ended in St. Louis.
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. ...
Even through the ritual of exorcism the boy was by no means cured readily.
Repeatedly, each time the ritual was performed, the final violent reaction would come from the boy when the words were spoken, "I cast thee out" -- a reaction of profanity and screaming and the astounding use of Latin phrases, the priest was reported as saying.
In one manifestation the boy reported that he had seen a vision of St. Michael casting out the devil.
Finally, at the last performance of the ritual, the boy was quiet. Since then, it was reported, all manifestations have ceased.