Possession is nine-tenths of the lore: Halloween is the ideal time, of course, to trot out the largely mythological story behind The Exorcist and I'm happy to see you've done just that [Chad Garrison, "Hell of a House" October 26]. The Bel-Nor twist really makes it more interesting. If I lived on that street, I would have been setting up a tollbooth to make the coming onslaught of drive-by gawkers pay for the privilege. Had the people in Amityville, New York, done just that I'm sure it would have reduced the number of curiosity seekers, whom they called "the Amityville Horribles."
Two years ago I hipped listeners of the Brain Sandwich show on KDHX (88.1 FM) to Mark Opsasnick's excellent article "The Haunted Boy of Cottage City" (www.strangemag.com/exorcistpage1.html). It appears that not even Father Halloran was convinced that "Rob Doe" (and not "John Doe" as is stated in your story) was actually possessed. According to Opsasnick's investigation, the good Father puts several common misperceptions about the case to rest. When the facts are laid bare, we seem to be looking at a boy whom evidence suggests may have been the victim of inappropriate sexual contact by the Ouija-board-lovin' aunt. Other evidence suggests the boy was a mean, sadistic, arrogant little brat before this came down. We've all gone to school with little shits like Doe and I kinda doubt they were possessed they just needed a lot of quality discipline they obviously weren't getting at home. Perhaps Satan wouldn't allow them to be spanked?
Mike Madonna, co-host
St. Louis Brain Sandwich
He's a believer: I enjoyed the article on the exorcism. I believe it is true. In fact, I'm surprised that Father Frank Cleary doesn't. I know that the mind is capable of healing the body as well as creating sickness, but this boy had welts and scratches appear in the form of letters and images, according to the diary of a colleague of Father Cleary. That has to be beyond the capacities of the human mind, therefore supernatural. After all, people refer to bad habits like smoking and drinking and uncontrolled lust as their "demons" for a reason. I believe that many things that are possessions of evil forces are rationalized away by people whose skepticism keeps them from even considering that there might be more at work than can easily be explained. We as humans should know that sometimes these demons strike people who are innocent victims, and that there is God (or higher power or life force, if you must) that is understanding of that and will help those who wish to be rescued.
Revealing the name of the boy who was exorcised was poor taste on Chad Garrison's part. There must be a reason that the priests involved wished to remain silent on the matter (as well as the boy himself). That privacy should have been respected, especially given the fact that the boy is likely still alive.
It was a fascinating article on a piece of St. Louis history that I have heard about for years. Yes it is true, there are things that go bump in the night that just cannot be explained away by the way things are as we narrow-sighted little humans understand 'em. Thank you again, Chad Garrison and the RFT
Steve delved deep: "Hell of a House" reflects my own research into the 1949 case of demon possession (Fate magazine, "The Truth Behind The Exorcist," January 1975; "Anatomy of a Demon Possession," Pamphlet Publications, 1978). I too had become owner of the "exorcist Diary" ("Case Study by Jesuit Priests"). The late father Eugene B. Gallagher, S.J., was on the faculty of Georgetown University; it was this "diary" that William Peter Blatty used for research in his book, The Exorcist.
While Garrison mentions the house on Roanoke Drive, he only fleetingly mentions Ronald Hunkeler's "Aunt Tillie." The diary lists her as Mathilda Hendericks and her death certificate lists her address at a cottage on Dale Avenue not far from Big Bend Boulevard. "Aunt Tillie" died of sclerosis of the liver. The aunt may have been an intrinsic part of the possession, as many mysterious incidents happened while the boy visited her. Debate over the "supernatural" incidents depend on eyewitness accounts. The late Ernest Schieve, a male nurse who attended the boy at Alexian Brothers Hospital at the time, reluctantly and fleetingly spoke (because of a vow of secrecy) of the boy, such as excessive vomiting that had to be cleansed for fear of overrunning his room. Ernest, a devout Catholic, cut testimony short but ended by saying emphatically, "I will speak this one time: I've seen the devil!"
Whether "Aunt Tillie's" interest in spiritism and subsequent death was a major cause of poltergeist activity in the case of the boy, the chronology of events highly suggests something supernatural happened. In one Sunday car ride to "Aunt Tillie's," a lap robe was said to mysteriously curl on the car seat and the mother and son were squeezed together. The key to the ignition had been mysteriously tucked away under the seat. Later the family asked the "force" if it was the deceased aunt: "If you are Tillie, knock three times." Three waves of air struck the grandmother, mother and boy with three distinct knocks on the floor. They asked the "force" for four knocks; four knocks were heard and claw scratches appeared on the boy's mattress. As I asked in my Fate magazine article, "Was that you, Aunt Tillie? Was that you?"
Anyone who wants to share more information can contact me at PO Box 27051, St. Louis, MO 63118.
Steve Erdmann, Sr. III
Hands off NOLA, you mean man! In regard to Tom Finkel's "New St. Louis" [October 19], I am writing to tell you what a blazing idiot of a man you are. As a fifteen-year-old New Orleans resident who is currently staying with an unbelievably nice host family in St. Louis while my city is being rebuilt, I can tell you your article about moving New Orleans up the river "a few miles" is the stupidest idea I've ever heard. I've met nothing but incredibly nice people here, but I must say, you are an ignorant, mean man. You write St. Louis and New Orleans are similar in their gaming, with the Mississippi and Mardi Gras.
Mardi Gras!? You wouldn't know what Mardi Gras was if a drunken Zulu king hit you with a precious coconut. NOLA, unlike St. Louis, has a rich and diverse culture and history that cannot simply be "relocated." New Orleans will rise again and will be better (hard to imagine) than before. And then you'll wish you could just "relocate" down the river.
A tear in the fabric: Is anyone going to go into more depth on the closing of Velvet "A to Z, October 12" [October 12]? This club has meant so much to so many people that I want to know if they are going to plan to reopen elsewhere in St. Louis.
Also, why did the city spend so much money redoing Washington if all they are going to do is put lofts in the buildings? Just look at some of the talent Velvet has brought in the past ten years and you'll see that no other venue even came close. For f*ck's sake, how many Real World cast members and visits by Vanilla Ice is it gonna take to prove that Velvet needs to stay open?
Bun of a Kind
Still cruisin': Thank you, Rose Martelli, for writing about Chuck-A-Burger "Hamburger Help Her," You should probably take another cruise by the Rock Road store. We have Applebee's across the street, as well as a very large Shop 'n Save. Ritenour High School is across from us. You may think I am being petty. People will pay a lot of attention to what is written they already question the area (north St. Louis).
The curb skirts are poodle skirts; I make the long ones, also the short ones.
As letter writer Mike Madonna rightly points out, Chad Garrison's October 26 feature "The Exorcist Was Here" erred in describing Mark Opsasnick's online article "The Haunted Boy of Cottage City." Opsasnick refers to the possessed boy as "Rob Doe."