I remember seeing my parents reading William Peter Blatty’s bestselling novel The Exorcist when I was growing up. A couple of years later the controversial movie came out and I remember when the Catholic Church denounced it and people were horrified to see a young Linda Blair simulate sex with a crucifix and spit up green pea soup. I wanted to see the movie but my parents wouldn’t let me (I was 12 at the time) so I had to content myself with reading Mad magazine’s parody of that movie. A couple of years later the movie was re-released. I was 14 by then and I was finally allowed to see that film. I remembered being totally scared shitless so much that I had a hard time falling asleep that night. That film was re-released in order to prepare the general public for the sequel (which I saw and it’s basically forgettable enough that it didn’t scare me at all). I saw it again as an adult when an extended-director’s cut was re-released to the theaters in 2000 and I found that it still held up as a scary movie after all these years.

Parts of the movie were shot on location in Georgetown. There are a set of outdoor concrete stairs located at the corner of Prospect and 36th Streets, Northwest that are still referred to as the “Exorcist steps” by the locals because the film’s climatic scene was shot there.

Even though both the novel and the film were set in Washington, DC, the story was based on an incident that took place just over the DC border in Maryland. Basically an exorcism was performed on a teenage boy after he constantly acted out and there were news stories about that exorcism at the time. When William Peter Blatty wrote his novel based on what he remembered reading in the local newspapers, he changed the kid’s gender and made the kid just a few years younger than her real-life counterpart while shifting the action from Maryland to DC.

For years I have heard that the events really took place in Mount Rainier but I never got around to checking it out or even look for that home. In the days before the Internet, it would’ve entailed me doing some intense research at a few libraries and I wasn’t that inclined to do so. (I had done enough library research when I was a student at the University of Maryland.) Even after the Internet made tracking down that house easier I didn’t get around to it even though I do go to that area on a regular basis for various art events.

After I made my latest trip to Mount Rainier to attend a meetup of local artists and filmmakers I finally decided to make a visit to that home once and for all just so I can say that I did it at least once in my life. I did a quick Google search and I discovered that there are not one but two potential locations of the original Exorcist home. According to local legend, the Exorcist house was located at 3210 Bunker Hill Road in Mount Rainier, Maryland. That house has long since burned down and a small public park now sits in its place with a nice looking gazebo.

Here is where things get really interesting. A local writer named Mark Opsasnick decided to do his own research into the original story behind The Exorcist and he found that the boy’s family had never lived in Mount Rainier. Instead they lived in the nearby town of Cottage City (which is only located about three miles away from Mount Rainier) at 3807 40th Avenue. That home still exists and here’s a photo of it.

As you can see, it’s a typical family home that’s located in an older suburban neighborhood. There’s nothing unusual about it other than the fact that it’s located across the street from the Cottage City Town Hall (where the local Cottage City officials meet) and it happens to be located along the walking trail that retraces the various places where British troops landed when they launched the Battle of Bladensburg during the War of 1812. (I actually went on that walking trail a couple of years ago so it was ironic that I actually waked past the reputed Cottage City Exorcist house without even knowing it.)

Why is there a discrepancy over where the boy really lived? The only clue I could find was at this link where a longtime Mount Rainier resident who knew the boy’s family recalled that the family did live in Cottage City but they subsequently moved to the Mount Rainier home in an attempt to get away from the strange happenings that had started in Cottage City. However there are other accounts that dispute this, as you can see in the comments section at the end of this blog post about the Exorcist house.

As for any Exorcist fans interested in visiting either home, keep in mind that the Cottage City place is a private home so you’re only going to be able to view just the front of the house. As for the Mount Rainier location, since it’s now a public park, you could always pack a picnic lunch, eat a meal under the gazebo, and try to imagine the story of a child who got possessed by the devil in such a peaceful location. Just keep in mind that the park is closed between sunset and sunrise so you can forget about doing any nighttime searches for demons or other things that go bump in the night.

If you want to read more about the real life story behind The Exorcist, you can read either Mark Opsasnick’s very long, detailed, and thoroughly researched article or, if you’re pressed for time and/or you’re not into reading long stories, you can read a shorter version on the Wikipedia.