The dark stone Gothic architecture throughout the Georgetown University campus definitely inspires feelings of medieval Christian spiritualism in a way that’s both fascinating and spooky. That blend influenced the mind of author and alumnus William Peter Blatty in the years leading up to the release of his novel The Exorcist, which was a New York Times best seller for nearly 60 weeks.
Blatty also wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay for the film adaptation, which has since become a staple for the prolific cinematic genre of American Horror. The story follows a young actress visiting Washington, DC who’s taken by a frightening change in her 12-year-old-daughter’s physical appearance and abruptly demonic disposition. Two different priests end up getting involved in a bid to exorcise the demon from the girl, one of them—Father Karras—ends up possessed and famously jumps down a steep set of stairs.
At 3600 Prospect Avenue in Georgetown, film fans and early-morning joggers of Georgetown flock to the same iconic steps from the movie. All in all, it’s just one of those fun facts to share with out of towners, an “And if you look over here!” sort of thing. But, for those who have seen the film, it’s difficult to walk up to the stairs, and look at the house alongside—for which the exterior was also used—and not get chills down the back of your spine.
In a USA Today interview where William Peter Blatty revisited the location with the picture’s director William Friedkin, the writer said, “Well, the first choice was choosing Georgetown. It was an automatic decision… The decision to use the steps was also automatic.” To fully understand the association between place and gripping story in Blatty’s mind, watch the film, visit the town, and see why it all happened here.