September 17, 2016 — I broke two traffic laws and wrecked up my wheel alignment to screech into that Exxon. All because of a simple observation made by Lindsey: “Oh look, the Exorcist Steps.”
I’ve been to the Exorcist Steps before. Lots of times. It’s one of my original OTIS posts from back in the day. So from that perspective, there was no reason for me to play Dukes of Hazzard across Canal Road to see the steps.
We had just spent the afternoon visiting museums downtown. The Exorcist Steps wasn’t on our itinerary. As soon as Lindsey said that, though, I hit me right in the moment that we needed to see the steps again. Because there was a brand new reason to.
I guess a quick summary of the Exorcist Steps is in order in case some of you who are reading this are in utero. The Exorcist Steps are a steep, thin, dark, row of stone steps in the Georgetown neighborhood of D.C. that played a very important role in the 1973 movie The Exorcist. The house exteriors for where the exorcism took place are at the top of the stairs (so that means you can recreate the iconic poster, minus the fake third story they put on the house). And then, of course, the ending took place at the bottom.
But on October 30, 2015—42 years after the movie debuted—D.C. installed a plaque at the base of the stairs honoring its place in movie history. Basically, the most powerful district in the world finally acknowledged what us plebeians always knew: The Exorcist is awesome.
I couldn’t make it to the plaque unveiling ceremony, but it could only have been great. Both William Peter Blatty, the author of the book upon which the movie was based, and William Friedkin, the director of the movie, were present, as was the mayor of D.C. and the president of Georgetown University, which also has a role in the film. In other words, this wasn’t just a tiny enclave of exuberant movie fans showing the results of a modest Kickstarter. This was civically legit. Even if both outputs would probably have been close to the same.
A friend of mine was able to stop by prior to the unveiling ceremony to pick up the official program for me (so, thanks, MJR. Know that it has a place of honor on a shelf in my study). Inside the program is the full text of the “ceremonial resolution” from the council of D.C. (called the “William Peter Blatty and William Friedkin Recognition Resolution of 2015”) declaring October 30 as The Exorcist Day in Washington, D.C. There was no year on that resolution, so I assume every October 30 is The Exorcist Day in the nation’s capital.
They didn’t so much as look at the plaque. And I kind of don’t blame them. It's easy to miss.
It’s a small plaque, set about head height on a brick wall a good twenty feet or so from the actual steps. Pretty easy to miss. It’s a cool plaque, though, with the poster image emblazoned in brass and all the words that make me excited: Exorcist, Blatty, Friedkin, Miller, October, motion picture. It also lays out the number of steps—75—so no more having to count on your own.
But the plaque does need a bronze spoiler alert above it, as it describes the ending of the movie that these steps are such an intrinsic part of.
Also, it calls them The Exorcist Steps instead of The Exorcist Stairs, so I guess that makes it official and the opposite of what is my habit.
After checking out the plaque, we ascended the steps and then tried to take some photos looking downward, but we had to wait a while. A good flow of people came through, all of them there to check out the steps. There’s no reason to otherwise, really. Unless you’re one of the many joggers who like to risk pulling a Father Karras to use it as exercise equipment.
The best moment was when a family ascended, huffing to the top, the teenaged kids explaining with exasperation why the steps were important to a mother who must have been the prime audience for the movie when it came out. Although they might have just been parroting the plaque, I guess.
As we pulled out of the parking lot near the base, I kept my eyes away from the GPS unit and nailed to the intersection in front of us. Just in case someone went through the same epiphany I had.
The stairs haven’t been fed blood since the early 1970s, after all.
Other OTIS Articles on The Exorcist:
1. The original OTIS visit to the steps.
2. A visit to the ash-filled bust of actor Jason Miller in Scranton, PA.
3. The real-life exorcism sites in Maryland that inspired the book/movie.
4. The real-life exorcism sites in Missouri that inspired the book/movie.