ST. LOUIS (KSDK) - On the 40th anniversary of the legendary horror classic "The Exorcist", the world's leading expert on the events that inspired the film came to Saint Louis University with some new questions about the famous story.
Thomas B. Allen, the author of "Possessed", the most comprehensive historical account of the 1949 exorcism in St. Louis, spoke to a large crowd at the SLU library this week. Interest in the gripping tale about a 13-year-old boy from Maryland, who many believe was possessed by the devil, has only increased over the years.
Allen befriended Fr. Walter Halloran, one of the Jesuit priests from Saint Louis University who performed the rites of exorcism on the troubled boy. Before he passed away, Fr. Halloran gave Allen the chilling 29-page diary of the exorcism that lasted from January to April 1949 It is the only modern record describing the ancient ritual of exorcism.
How and why that diary remained intact is a question Allen still can't answer.
"I don't know," Allen said.
The 13-year old boy's parents moved from Maryland to a relative's house in Bel Nor, in North St. Louis County. The story goes that word "LOUIS" appeared in red welts on the boy's torso--the family took this as a sign to move to St. Louis and enlist the help of Jesuit priests.
The ritual was led by Fr. William Bowdern with help from Fr. Halloran, who was still studying to become a Jesuit at the time.
Eyewitness accounts of supernatural events during this ancient ritual formed the basis for many of the famous special effects in the movie "The Exorcist", which is based on the bestselling book by William Peter Blatty.
"Fr. Halloran said he saw scratches running down the boy's arm, before his very eyes. And he said it was like a cat dragging claws down the arm."
The ordeal ended at the old Alexian Brothers Hospital in South St. Louis. The room where it ended was sealed off for years and kept intact, with the 29-page diary still in a desk drawer in the room. Allen says the infamous diary of the spellbinding episode was found accidentally by a construction worker when that part of Alexian Brothers was being demolished (Alexian Brothers is now St. Alexius Hospital). Eventually, the hospital gave the diary to Fr. Halloran, who then made a copy for Allen.
Allen still can't quite grasp why the Alexian Brothers sealed the room, preserving the memory of the exorcism and the diary.
"They kept the room as it was and they kept the diary in there. Years after it ended," Allen said this week. "Supposedly, there is some information available from the Alexian Brothers that has material on this. I've never seen it, I hope to see it someday."
While fascination with the story never seems to go away, a healthy skepticism about the supernatural events also remains. \
"Fr. Halloran always kept the perspective that they were helping a 13 year old boy who was in trouble. That was the perspective," Allen said.
"Fr. Bowdern went to his grave with the belief that he had tussled with the devil. He wrote a letter to William Peter Blatty (author of "The Exorcist") that said, 'I was there, this was the real thing'. He said it was the real thing."
This week, we asked the star of the famous movie, Linda Blair, if she believes demonic possession is possible.
Blair, who's grown accustomed to the question, laughed it off and insisted people misunderstand the book and the movie. The actress says the story is simply a metaphor about good versus evil and added people who have grown obsessed with possession "need to get a life".
Friday on Today in St. Louis, Thomas B. Allen will explain whether or not he believes the 1949 episode was a case of demonic possession or simply a misdiagnosed psychiatric condition.
Also on Friday, you'll hear from neighbors of the Bel Nor home where some of the exorcism happened. One woman recalls several sleep-overs at the home as a child. Did she experience anything unusual? And what did she make of the recent cable episode of "Ghost Adventures" based on the house? You'll find out on Friday.
To see more about the Roman Catholic ritual of exorcism and the locations where the St. Louis exorcism happened click here: http://cjky.it/1dsD2rm.
To see our story about what became of the 13-year old boy at the center of the story, click here: http://on.wusa9.com/10P4WrS.
And what about Ouija boards? Ouija boards figure prominently in the back story of the St. Louis Exorcism and in the famous book and movie. Here's what experts have to say about that: http://on.ksdk.com/1fioNJU.