Exorcism of 1949 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

By Amy Garland

The exorcism of 1949 -- made famous by the 1971 bestseller by William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist, and the 1973 horror film by the same name -- has become part of Saint Louis University legend. Here are the questions most frequently asked about the exorcism.

Where did the exorcism take place? The fourth floor of DuBourg Hall?
"The exorcism encompassed a lot of time but also geography," Allen said. The rite was started at the boy's relatives' house in a northwest St. Louis suburb, which many say was Bel-Nor. After several nights of disruption to the family, the team moved to Alexian Brothers Hospital in south St. Louis city. (Allen said the Jesuits chose Alexian Brothers for the hospital's reputed discretion; it had served as a rehabilitative facility for alcoholic priests.) After a short time at the rectory of the St. Francis Xavier College Church on SLU's campus -- where the boy converted to Catholicism (from Evangelical Lutheranism) -- the group moved back to Alexian Brothers, where the final days of the exorcism were carried out. That hospital building was razed in 1978. The College Church rectory was torn down in 1966 to make way for the current rectory.

Who was "Robbie Mannheim"?
"Robbie Mannheim" was Allen's alias for the 13-year-old boy at the center of the exorcism story; the Catholic Church referred to him as "Roland Doe." None of the eyewitnesses publicly revealed the boy's true identity, and Allen never disclosed the name from the unedited diary.The Jesuits and Alexians kept track of him, though, Allen said; Robbie married around 1970, had children and never suffered anything like possession again. When Allen was researching Possessed, he wrote to Robbie twice. "I neverheard back from him, and I have to respect his privacy," he said. "But if he were not alive, I'd know it."

What were the signs of Robbie's demonic possession? Did he rotate his head 360 degrees and projectile vomit, as in The Exorcist movie?
According to Bishop's diary, before the exorcism began, the signs were obvious but not really violent: scratching sounds coming from the walls and floor, movement of a mattress and other objects, scratch marks on Robbie's skin. During the exorcism ritual, Robbie exhibited much more violent and inexplicable behaviors, including apparent seizures, many scratches and "brands," spitting at the priests and family members present, shouting and laughing fiendishly, using "abusive and dirty" language, urinating and singing phrases from songs he didn't seem to know while not possessed, including "Old Man River," "Blue Danube" and the hymn "Old Rugged Cross."

Was Robbie possessed by Satan?
It isn't possible to prove definitively whether Robbie was possessed, Allen said; the boy might have been mentally ill or perhaps the victim of something "paranormal," as many
have speculated. Allen said Halloran never was certain about what was wrong with the boy but was most concerned that Robbie was "scared, confused and caught up in something he didn't understand." Bowdern told William Peter Blatty, "The case in which I was involved was the real thing. I had no doubt about it then, and I have no doubt about it now."

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of Universitas magazine.

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