Dave Glover Spews Pea Soup?

In 1949, Jesuit Priest Walter Halloran was a student of history at St. Louis University who also served as a driver for William Bowdern, then pastor of St. Francis Xavier College Church. On the night of March 9, Bowdern asked Halloran to drive him to a charming two-story brick house in the northwestern suburb of Bel-Nor.

Halloran assumed he would wait in the car while the priest conducted his business at the home, but when they reached their destination, Bowdern surprised him, saying, “I’ll be doing an exorcism. I want you to hold the boy down in case it’s needed.”

As the story goes, in January of that year, a thirteen-year-old boy from near Washington DC (perhaps the most frightening place on earth), began exhibiting some very strange behavior after attempting to contact his recently deceased aunt with the aid of a Ouija board.

St. Louis's own Exorcism House, the last remaining location of the 1949 exorcism that inspired the novel and movie. Picture via Destination America, which will air
St. Louis’s own Exorcist House, the last remaining location of the 1949 exorcism that inspired the novel and movie. Picture via Destination America, which will air “Exorcism: Live!” at 9 pm EDT, on October 30. 2015.

Fearing he might be possessed, the family contacted their Lutheran minister, who directed them to Father Albert Hughes, a local Catholic priest. It seems Hughes knew only slightly more about exorcism than did his Lutheran counterpart and managed to get himself injured by the boy, who still appeared very much possessed.

After that, the family decided a change of scenery may be best (because nobody wants to exorcize a demon in their own house) and they headed to St. Louis where the boy’s mother had grown up and where there are evidently priests who know more about exorcisms than do their DC counterparts.

The demon seems to have agreed because the word “LOUIS” allegedly formed on the boy’s chest. The family (in a demonstration of the same kind of good judgment that led them to allow their son to attempt to contact the dead in the first place) took that as a sign.

And that’s when Bowdern and Halloran entered the scene, along with assistant and priest Raymond Bishop who kept a detailed diary of the proceedings. After more than a month of prayer and ritual, and moves both to the rectory of St Francis Xavier Church on the campus of St. Louis University and to the psychiatric ward of the Alexian Brothers Hospital (neither of which still stand), the exorcism was finally successful on April 18, 1949.

The boy and his family returned to their Maryland home where, his true identity safely obscured, he is said to have gone on to enjoy a normal, productive, and likely Ouija board-free life. But his ordeal became the basis of William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel, The Exorcist, and the 1973 film adaptation, most well known for the spectacular spewing of pea soup.

Terrifying. photo credit: Fresh Pea and Ham Soup via photopin (license)
Terrifying. photo credit: Fresh Pea and Ham Soup via photopin (license)

But the neat little brick house in Bel-Nor, Missouri is still here. The house is occupied, though the homeowners don’t seem to want to comment about the story. Neighbors and some previous owners have associated strange, unsettling feelings with the northwest upstairs bedroom where the exorcism is said to have partly taken place. Still, others are more skeptical.

All the priests who participated in the exorcism, with the exception of Halloran remained quiet on the subject in the interest of protecting the privacy of the possessed boy. Halloran never gave details either, but he did admit that he wasn’t quite sure what he had witnessed and that the entire episode may have been attributable to mental illness rather than true demon possession.

Others remain convinced that the house itself possesses an unusually large amount of spooky presence. Tomorrow night (October 30, 2015), on Destination America, television ghost hunters the Tennessee Wraith Chasers will join psychic and medium Chip Coffey, and Archbishop James Long (of the United States Old Catholic Church) in an attempt on live television to rid the house of lingering evil. With them will be local St. Louis radio talk show host Dave Glover.

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This is what I’m hoping my Halloween will look like. photo credit: Walking via photopin (license)

And probably not tuning in will be me.

Because there are some things, whether real or not, I think probably ought not be messed with. Instead, I plan to enjoy my weekend of handing out candy to Disney Princesses and tiny Darth Vaders. Then on Monday, I’ll flip on my radio to find out if Dave Glover is spectacularly spewing pea soup.

Praying for KitKats

I don’t know how it is in your neighborhood, but mine is starting to get pretty spooky. Mummies, skeletons, and witches peek out from behind trees jumping, unwelcome, into my periphery. I love my neighbors, and they love Halloween, so I won’t really complain, but I admit, I’m not a big fan of this holiday coming up tomorrow.

As far as I can tell, fear isn’t a particularly enjoyable sensation. I have never understood the point of haunted houses or scary movies. I don’t like being startled. And I really don’t like nightmares.

Aren't you a little old to be Trick-or-Treating?   photo credit: abbynormy via photopin cc
Aren’t you a little old to be Trick-or-Treating? photo credit: abbynormy via photopin cc

But even though all of that is true, my family still observes Halloween, because I really do enjoy handing out candy to all of the creatively costumed kids and to the crowds of tiny Disney Princesses. As long as they don’t ring the doorbell past bedtime, I can even appreciate the clearly-too-old-to-participate teenagers that cut eye holes in their moms’ best sheets and show up on my doorstep.

My kiddos are all set, too. Their costumes have been pieced together and we’ve developed a plan for warm layers underneath because, of course, the meteorologists tell us that Halloween night may be bringing our first freeze of the season and I have worked too hard on these costumes to simply have them wear their coats.

I mean, I don't want to brag that I'm the best mom in the world or anything, but an awful lot of love went into that mask.
I mean, I don’t want to brag that I’m the best mom in the world or anything, but an awful lot of love went into that mask.

All that’s left is for me to figure out what the heck we are going to do with all that candy. Because, as I mentioned, my neighbors seem to love Halloween and I love my neighbors, so I will not refuse their generosity.

But trick-or-treating is kind of a strange tradition, isn’t it? It’s generally assumed that the practice is derived from the Celtic festival of Samhain. Observed as far back as at least 2000 years, Samhain marked an important seasonal transition and a time when the spirits of the deceased were believed to walk the earth again.

Since it’s probably not smart to presume all wandering spirits are friendly, gifts of food (mostly KitKats, I assume) were often left for them by the living who also cut eye holes in their moms’ best sheets or donned Disney princess dresses so any unfriendlies might not notice them.

800 years later, when the Church decided to Christianize the Celts, Samhain became a problem. It’s really difficult to overcome superstition and the desire to give KitKats to tiny Disney princesses. What the Church decided to do was commandeer the holiday and transform it into Hallowtide, a festival encompassing All Hallow’s Eve, All Saint’s Day, and All Soul’s Day, from October 31 to November 2.

Because what wandering spirit wouldn't appreciate this?  photo credit: Andrew _ B via photopin cc
Because what wandering spirit wouldn’t appreciate this? photo credit: Andrew _ B via photopin cc

Instead of fearing evil wandering spirits, the holiday became about honoring and praying for the departed. By the 11th Century, the Church had come to be pretty cool with the idea of dressing up as angels, demons, and Disney princesses as a part of the celebration and soon the tradition of “guising” emerged. Children (and probably a few neighborhood teens who were clearly too old to participate) knocked on doors, often with a song, to beg for food or money in exchange for prayers offered up for the dead. The beggars became known as “soulers” and the treat most often given was called a “soul cake.”

Soul cakes were small and round, often with crosses marked on the top. I can’t find a recipe, but rumor has it they were sweet cakes with things like ginger, raisins, and not nearly enough KitKats in them. I’m betting that’s why the tradition has evolved from “if you give me a treat, I’ll pray for you” to “if you don’t give me a KitKat I’ll egg your house.”

Where's my KitKat?  photo credit: katerha via photopin cc
Where’s my KitKat? photo credit: katerha via photopin cc

But the soul cake does give me an idea of how I can deal with the massive amount of candy that will be entering my house tomorrow night. I’m going to take a lesson form the early Christian Church and commandeer my children’s candy bags (after letting them eat A LOT of candy on Halloween night, I promise) and re-purpose as many of the sweet treats as I can into baked goods that I will serve to friends and neighbors during the coming, more cheerful holiday season.

I have been scouring the Internet for recipes that will help me do just that. My favorite so far is this one for KitKat Cookie Bars. If you know others, please feel free to share. And keep in mind that if you don’t, I just might egg your house.

Drinks with the Devil Lead to Puking Pumpkins

This morning I’ve been living the stay-at-home mom’s dream. I took my children to school, covered my kitchen table in newspaper, and carved jack-o-lanterns. Okay, maybe it’s not every stay-at-home mom’s dream, or even mine, though I’m pretty sure my kids think I make them go to school just so I can play with their toys all day long.

Remember when we were kids and we had to do this with just a spoon and a steak knife. And bandaids.
Remember when we were kids and we had to do this with just a spoon and a steak knife. And bandaids.

I really did borrow their carving tools because I haven’t carved a pumpkin on my own since my oldest could manage to rub pumpkin guts in his hair, but tomorrow are the fall parties in my sons’ classrooms and while I did manage to dodge being put entirely in charge this time, I volunteered to help.

And no fall party would be complete without a few Jack-o-lanterns, that bizarre Halloween craft that traces its roots back to a not-so-nice wandering spirit named “Stingy Jack.” According to an Irish tale, Jack was a ne’er-do-well who had a run-in with the devil, a much more famous ne’er-do-well.

Because he was such a good guy, Jack invited the devil to join him for a drink. The devil agreed and even said he’d pay the bill when Jack suggested that the devil turn himself into a coin from which he could later transform back, thereby cheating the bar owner out of the price of the drinks. As soon as the devil transformed, Jack grabbed the coin and placed it in his own pouch next to a small cross he had presumably stolen from someone much nicer than himself. The devil was trapped and Jack only agreed to release him for a promise that he’d leave Jack his soul.

pumpkindrill
Don’t worry, my boys will get to carve they’re own pumpkins, too. They might even get to use Dad’s tools.

Some versions of the tale claim that Jack trapped the devil in a tree with similar results, but regardless of how it happened, the years went by and Stingy Jack died, as nearly all ne’er-do-wells eventually do. Of course, because of his ne’er-do-well ways, Jack didn’t make the cut for Heaven. The devil wouldn’t take him in either and so Jack found himself stuck. Not knowing where to go, he asked his old drinking buddy for directions. In answer, the devil flashed him what I have to assume was truly a devilish grin and tossed Jack a burning ember from the eternal fires of Hell.

Jack wasn’t too bothered. He simply placed the ember in the trusty old turnip he happened to be carrying with him into the afterlife, because that seemed like a pretty good folklore-y kind of thing to do. And ever since then, we’ve been carving vegetables because, well…because…um…

So it turns out this story might not really address the history of today’s jack-o-lanterns at all. There’s not even much evidence that the tradition is particular Irish in origin. Jack’s story is similar to tales from around the globe, used to explain the ghostly phenomenon of ignis fatuus, or the eerie lights that sometimes appear at night over marshy areas and, like a newborn’s smile, are often attributed to gas.

The Māori people of New Zealand were carving gourds to use as lanterns as early as 700 years ago, and it worked pretty well. On a night when little ghouls and goblins are running through the streets, it seems like a good idea to light their way. The practicality of the carved gourd as a way to see where one was going and ward off the evil of the night eventually merged with the spooky tale of Stingy Jack and the Jack-o-lantern we know and love was born, maybe as recently as the early 19th century.

So today the jack-o-lantern is a staple of Halloween décor and of fourth grade classroom fall parties, where it’s featured in the “puking pumpkin” experiment. How could I not volunteer to help with that!?

Uh oh. These pumpkins don't look like they're feeling so well.
Uh oh. These pumpkins don’t look like they’re feeling so well.

After the party tomorrow afternoon you can check out a video of the puking pumpkins on my Facebook page.

I Bet Ghost Stories are Even Scarier in Pig Latin

Sometime near the end of the first century Pliny the Younger, a magistrate of Rome, heard a scary story. Presumably he was no stranger to fear. His father died when Pliny was only eight, and just a little over ten years later he was a witness to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, which resulted in the death of the uncle who had been largely responsible for raising him.

Eruption of Vesuvius. Painting by Norwegian pa...
Eruption of Vesuvius. Much scarier, I would I think, than a little old ghost story. Painting by Norwegian painter I.C. Dahl (1826)

But he was also a relatively successful man. Well educated and known as an eloquent speaker who had served as a military tribune before entering into politics, Pliny rose well above his station. History remembers him most as a writer of letters. He wrote to his friends, to influential politicians, and likely with the intention of publication. He wrote about natural curiosities, daily life, and love. And he wrote about ghosts.

He began a letter to Licinius Sura: “I am extremely desirous to know your sentiments concerning spectres, whether you believe they actually exist and have their own proper shapes and a measure of divinity, or are only the false impressions of a terrified imagination?” Of course he didn’t write in English, but my Latin is a little rusty (though I do pretty much ockray at igpay atinlay).

English: illustration from Leech's comic latin...
Pig Latin: The language of the truly well-educated.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first thing I find interesting about Pliny’s letter is that 2000 years later, we are still asking the same question, especially around this time of year. Television programming which within weeks will fill with family friendly specials featuring Santa Claus and good works is right now little more than an obstacle course of blood and terror feeding some fascination with the horrible, and a curiosity about the unexplained.

I’m not exactly complaining. In general I’m fond of Halloween. I enjoy helping the kids carve Jack-o-lanterns while the lightly seasoned pumpkin seeds burn to a crisp in the oven. And I like seeing all of the adorable children turned into begging hyper zombies just as much as the next mom. But I have to admit, I don’t really like scary stories.

It's that time of year once again, Halloween u...
Terrifying, no? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I (very) occasionally see a scary movie or watch a TV special about a haunted house or hear a frightening tale around a campfire, it follows me. My mind lingers over the details of it for sometimes weeks afterwards, returning to me at the most unexpected moments and sending a shiver down my spine. And I think that’s what happened to Pliny, too.

In his letter he relates three separate stories of ghost encounters, but the longest and most detailed is the most interesting to me because it sounds so familiar. The tale begins with an old abandoned house, deemed uninhabitable because of the strange appearance of a shackled specter. Then one day the brave philosopher Athenodorus purchased the house, determined to live peacefully there.

Maybe the rumors got to him because he didn’t head to bed that first night in his new house and instead tried to occupy his time and thoughts with his writing. When at last the chained ghost approached, Athenodorus didn’t look at him, but instead motioned for him to wait a minute (because the best ghost stories have a funny moment to temporarily relieve some of the tension).

Cover of "Groundhog Day/Ghostbusters/Stri...
Athenodorus would have been able to sleep if only he’d remembered who he was supposed to call.

Obviously, the ghost didn’t like being put off and began to rattle his chains more aggressively (singing a rousing chorus of “Marley and Marley,” like a couple of grumpy old muppets) until finally the philosopher sighed and shouted “What!?” A little startled at the blunt response and frankly a little hurt at being ignored for so long, the ghost sheepishly led Athenodorus outside and disappeared.

The philosopher marked the spot where the ghost vanished and the next morning had the place excavated only to find human remains entangled in chains. He gave the remains a proper send-off. And the ghost never bothered him or anyone again.

Of the ghost stories that I haven’t managed to avoid, this is pretty much the plot of most of them. And Pliny’s may have been the first to provide a written description of ghosts as spirits in need of help to complete a task (it’s also likely that Athenodorus was the first to say “I see dead people”).

He claims in his letter that this is a story he heard about and he wants to get to the bottom of it. The concept of ghosts doesn’t fit, it seems, into his well-educated mind, and he’s trying to figure out if the story has merit, the same way we do every time we tune in to one of those ghost hunting shows, read the latest collection of stories about this or that city’s haunted past, or book the hotel room where that grisly murder allegedly took place a hundred years ago.

haunted house in illinois - HDR
I think if you willingly decide to buy a house that looks this creepy, you probably deserve to be haunted.(Photo credit: Jovan 2J)

Pliny ends his letter admitting that Sura is likely to answer with ambiguous logic, but imploring him to offer a true opinion instead. Pliny has heard the prevalent stories that are either conclusive proof of ghosts haunting the mysterious places of earth or wildly imaginative mass hallucinations. Like most of us, especially on Halloween as our thoughts dwell on the frightening, he wants to know for sure.

Unfortunately  we don’t know Sura’s answer or Pliny’s conclusion, but we do have 2000 years of stories to weigh as we puzzle out whether or not ghosts really do exist. And we may never find a conclusive answer. But the one thing I do know for sure is that I would rather watch a heartwarming Christmas special.

Iconic screen shot from the movie It's a Wonde...
Admittedly still a little scary. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)