In the summer of 2022 we were able to visit filming locations for the classic horror flick as well as some of the real life locations from the story that’s said to have inspired the movie!
What is the story?
Known as “the 1949 exorcism,” a teenage boy known as Roland Doe (to protect his privacy) was said to be possessed. Strange happenings started around his family’s home in Maryland. His bed would shake, things would fly across the room, you name it. Eventually, they went to stay with family in the Saint Louis area; part of the story goes that the word “LOUIS” was scratched into his body by unseen hands.
The home in Saint louis is where the exorcism began, but it is not where it would end. The exorcism would go on for WEEKS. There was a point where they even though the exorcism was complete, only for the young man to relapse a few days later. Raised in a Lutheran family, they decided that baptizing him as a Catholic was the next step. The attempted to baptize him at Saint Francis Xavier Church, but an outburst on the way there lead him to being baptized in the rectory (more on that below). Eventually, Roland was taking to the Alexian Brothers Hospital where his exorcism was finally completed.
The story eventually ended up in the newspapers, despite the church’s attempt at secrecy. William Peter Blatty came across the story and was inspired to write “The Exorcist” which went on to become the 1973 horror classic.
Unlike the events they drew inspiration from, the movie takes place exclusively on the east coast rather than traveling to Saint Louis. Roland also goes from being a teenage boy to being a young girl named Regan. The home pictured here was the exterior of her home in the movie. They actually had added to the exterior for shooting so that her room would be closer to the stairs for the final scene – you can see if you compare the photo to a copy of the movie poster. Please remember if you visit the area that this is someone’s home – be respectful!
The film ends (*SPOILER* if you haven’t seen it – but it’s been out since 1973…) with Father Karras takes the demon from Regan in order to save her before falling to his death down these stairs. They are located directly to the left of the home and are visited frequently; when we stopped there a tour group was going by. They didn’t go up the stairs to see the house though. When we put in the address for the stairs it took us to the street the house was on, so we started at the top. They are very easy to find if you happen to be in the DC/Georgetown area!
Stair prints available here.
Real Life Locations
In 1949, Roland and his parents came here from their home in Maryland to stay with relatives. The neighborhood is beautiful and very quiet. Please be respectful if you plan on driving by the address – after all, these are people’s homes! Strange happenings still seem to continue in this home to this day, as if the exorcism left some kind of negative energy.
To help in the exorcism, the priest performing it thought it would be helpful if Roland was baptized as a Catholic. His parents, aunt and uncle brought him to this church here but something crazy happened during the drive there. Roland seemed to have one of his episodes and – according to the book that I read – he attacked the driver, nearly causing them to wreck before attacking his own mother as well. They ended up taking him to the rectory for his baptism instead. As I mentioned before, his exorcism was finished at the Alexian Brothers Hospital. The original building no longer stands so we didn’t try to go see it. The church is in a very busy part of town so just beware when you’re driving/walking through here!
Church prints available here.
References: “The Devil Came to Saint Louis” by Troy Taylor