Posts Tagged ‘William Peter Blatty’


The Exorcist Stairs

On M Street in the upscale Georgetown neighborhood of D.C., directly across the street from the Key Bridge, are what’s referred to as the “Exorcist Stairs” (MAP).  The base of the stairs is right next to the Exxon station across from the bridge.  Climb the 97 steps to the top and you’ll reach Prospect Street where you’ll find the red brick “Exorcist House” a few steps away at 3600 Prospect Street.

Made famous in “The Exorcist,” the 1973 classic horror movie about demonic possession written by Georgetown University alumnus William Peter Blatty, the dark, narrow stairs are a part of the movie’s climactic scene in which a Jesuit priest rids himself of the devil by hurling himself out the window of a house and down the steeply sloped stairs to his death.  The stone steps at the end of M Street, were padded with 1/2”-thick rubber to film the death of Father Karras. The stuntman tumbled down the stairs twice. And during filming, Georgetown University students charged people around $5 each to watch the stunt from the rooftops.

I rode to the spooky stairwell to see them for myself.  They’re not nearly as scary in the daylight as they are within the context of the movie.  But they’re worth a quick visit, if only to be able to say you’ve done it.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

UPDATE (3/13/2019)- The 36th Street stairway between M Street and Prospect Street in Georgetown, also known as the Exorcist Stairs, has now been designated as a D.C. Historic Landmark.  The city’s Historical Preservation Review Board (HPRB) granted the landmark status to the stairway, including the retaining wall on one side, and the old Capitol Traction Station building on the other.  The Board also recommended that the site be nominated for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.  But oddly enough, it is not because of the attention and fame that the famous movie gave the stairway.  In fact, it may be in spite of it.

The Prospect Street Citizens Association, in partnership with the D.C. Preservation League, pushed for the designation to protect the stairway from demolition as part of the construction of a new five-story, 21-unit condo building, complete with a two-story underground parking garage, as well as a rooftop pool, yoga studio and communal wine cellar, that will soon be going up at the site of the iconic former Exxon station near the base of the stairway.

For the decision and recommendation, the HPRB based their actions on a report written by the city’s Historic Preservation Office, which cites the “historical significance of the station whose soaring clock tower and arched windows make it an example of Romanesque Revival architecture popular at the time of its construction. The steps and retaining wall, meanwhile, contribute to “the historical and architectural significance of the site,” the report reads.

I am glad the landmark status has been granted to the site by the city.  And I hope that it will eventually be listed on the National Registry as well.  But regardless of the city’s reasons for the 36th Street stairway’s designation, I will always seem them as the Exorcist Stairs.