In the 1973 horror film “The Exorcist,” a priest leaps from of a window and tumbles to his death down a towering staircase. These famous 97 steps, cemented in film history, are just steps away from the Car Barn.
The staircase, located at 3600 M St. NW and connected to Prospect Avenue, will be officially named and commemorated with a plaque from the city Oct. 30.
At the event, city officials will establish the famous steps as a cultural site in the District and name them “The Exorcist Steps.” The film’s screenwriter William Peter Blatty (C ’50), director William Friedkin, Mayor Muriel Bowser, D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and University President John J. DeGioia will attend the evening event, beginning at 4 p.m. and ending with a screening of “The Exorcist” at the Healey Family Student Center.
Friedkin will sign memorabilia for attendees at 4 p.m. before the plaque is unveiled at 6 p.m. The Council of the District of Columbia will also present a ceremonial resolution that honors the filmmakers and location, marking Oct. 30 as “The Exorcist Day” in Georgetown.
American University Directory of Community Relations Andrew Huff initiated and organized the commemoration in collaboration with Dupont Festival, an organization that hosts activities in the greater Dupont Circle area.
The D.C. Office of Motion Picture and Television Development provided initial funds for the project, while Huff worked with Dupont Festival to raise $7,000 in donations from District residents to fund the project.
“We have people in the neighborhood and across the city who obviously see the value in publicly acknowledging this location, this film and this book, and the cultural significance, not only to the film world, but to our city and to the Georgetown neighborhood,” Huff said.
Huff said he was initially inspired to plan the event because he is passionate about horror films but especially because he loves “The Exorcist” and its relationship with the Georgetown area.
“This is where I bring people. When I have friends or family visiting D.C. I don’t take them to the monuments or the Mall or the Smithsonian. I take them to ‘The Exorcist’ steps,” Huff said. “And I just thought after all this time and all these years that it was important to commemorate them in some way.”
According to Huff, Friedkin was keen to participate in the commemoration.
“All I did was tweet William Friedkin and tell him that we have plans to commemorate the steps and was he interested,” Huff said. “And he responded immediately that he was interested in learning more. We took the conversation offline, and the more he learned, the more interested and excited he became.”
Blatty, who wrote “The Exorcist” after hearing about a case of exorcism from a class he took at Georgetown, said that he recalled the steps being “spooky and suspenseful” in an interview with USA Today.
In 2014, Blatty started a petition to the Vatican calling for Georgetown to be stripped of its Catholic and Jesuit labels, citing that the university did not uphold Catholic morals. The Vatican replied to Blatty in a letter refusing his request.
Evans said that the event is exciting for the mayor and other city politicians.
“This dedication of the Exorcist Steps is a great example of what makes Georgetown, Ward 2 and D.C. such a great mix of history, culture and community,” Evans wrote in an email to The Hoya. “I’m excited to attend the dedication, and I think it’s really brought the whole neighborhood together.”
According to D.C. Office of Motion Picture and Television Development Director Pharoh Martin, these types of events demonstrate the importance of film to the city’s culture.
“There’s a lot of things that Mayor Bowser and the city’s doing to try to elevate D.C.’s standing as a world-class film location. But this is one thing that we can do that we’ve had in our backyard for many, many years that just had its time due,” Martin said. “We really should have already recognized this set of stairs, but it’s getting recognized and hopefully this isn’t the last film location that receives this kind of significance [in] the city.”
Huff expressed hope that the commemoration will draw attention to the impact “The Exorcist” has had on the D.C. film industry
“[People will] be able to look at our plaque that’s going to be installed at the bottom of the steps,” Huff said. “They’ll see that the District of Columbia recognizes the importance of the film industry, the entertainment industry in the city and the iconic nature of these steps and this location.”
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified American University Director of Community Relations Andrew Huff as William Huff.
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