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Movie fans have seen the scenes dozens of times. It is the stuff of nightmares: priests and parents surrounding a girl who squirms in her bed. Inside her, a battle between good and evil. No less than God and the devil are battling for her soul.

Even before the 360 degree swiveling head and the projectile green pea soup vomiting it is horrific.

But did you know that it was true?

Worried parents and a child in distress

It’s the late 1940s in middle America. St. Louis parents are disturbed by the changes they are seeing in their young daughter.

The countless doctors and specialists are unable to find a solution to the sudden transformation. A young girl, once lively and outgoing, has suddenly changed. But it’s not just the appearance of adolescence and its natural hormonal mood swings and the related arguments with parents and friends.

There’s something more. Marks on her body that cannot be explained by growing pains or normal development. The doctors can only guess.

Who knows where the idea comes from? Perhaps the mother was raised a devout Catholic? Perhaps a doctor, as confused as the others, offers a whispered last chance to the mother on his way out the door? Maybe neighbors, concerned about the goings-on in the apartment take matters into their own hands and let the local church know.

A priest arrives

Whatever the cause, the record is clear. In this case, church officials determined they needed to get involved.

Blessings and prayer don’t seem to do the trick. It is determined that the correct next step is the most dramatic step available.

They must purge the demon from the child’s body by performing an exorcism.

And though it sounds archaic now, the reality at the time was that this seemed the best course of action. The rules for an exorcism still exist in the records of the Catholic Church to this day.

Likely holding large icons and crosses to show how serious their endeavor is, priests descend on the house and surround the girl in her bed. Chants are offered, perhaps in English but it is likely to imagine they were given in Latin as well.

A child looks up to see strange men whispering incantations and saying prayers in a language she does not know – and her parents are right there too!

It’s a horror story from her perspective too, even if there never was a demon inside.

Did it work? The answer to this question is as exact as the answer to whether demons exist. Maybe not?

Or maybe.

Photo by Maurício Eugênio

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