Category Archives: William Peter Blatty

Real Places Behind Famously Frightening Stories (an article from Smithsonian Magaine)

English: Cloth Covered, Hard Bound Book, the L...

English: Cloth Covered, Hard Bound Book, the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving. Published by Thomas Crowl and Company, New York, circa 1907, with gold foil lettering and silky flower pattern cloth. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Real Places Behind Famously Frightening Stories

Light your pumpkin and read about the real places behind some of the world’s classic spo

  • By Robin T. Reid

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The Exorcist stairs in Washington DCSleepy Hollow CemeteryBronte Wuthering HeightsCape of Good HopeThe Stanley HotelThe Mikhailovsky Castle
The Exorcist stairs in Washington DC

(LOOK Die Bildagentur der Fotografen GmbH / Alamy )

When Blatty was a student at Georgetown University in 1949, he read newspaper accounts of an exorcism performed on a boy in the D.C. suburbs. He never forgot them; by 1973, they had laid the groundwork for his bestselling book and Oscar-winning movie.

Blatty set his exorcism in Georgetown and made his victim a young girl. In the film, she lived–and levitated and spewed vomit–with her mother in an imposing brick house at 3600 Prospect Street, NW (Blatty had lived on that street during college). Just a short walk away is the famous outdoor stairway that Father Damien Karras tumbled down to his death. The house is private, but the steps are very public, linking Prospect to the busy thoroughfare of M Street, NW.

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Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

(Kevin Fleming / Corbis)

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” The Sketch Book, Washington Irving
Sleepy Hollow, N.Y.

New York’s Hudson River Valley was the backdrop for “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” one of the earliest examples of ghost stories in American literature. Irving, a native New Yorker, relied on local landmarks and the lore about them handed down from Dutch settlers who arrived some 200 years before the story was published in 1820.

The real action in “Legend” begins in what is now called Patriots Park; a monument marks the site where in 1780 three men captured British spy Major John Andre beneath a tulip tree. The bad vibes from the event lingered, according to Irving, and it was not far from the “fearful tree” that the hapless Ichabod Crane first saw “something huge, misshapen, black, and towering.” That something of course was the infamous headless Hessian who chased Crane to the Old Dutch Church.

The church still stands, amidst the small graveyard where Irving’s ghostly Hessian soldier, would tether his black steed to the headstones. The writer himself is buried in the adjacent Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, which offers tours of the real sites behind the legend.

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Bronte Wuthering Heights

(Patrick Ward / Corbis)

Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
Ponden Hall and Top Withens, England

Brontë probably had two places in mind when she imagined Wuthering Heights, the haunted house in Yorkshire at the center of her only novel. The Heights’ remote, windswept location could have been that of Top Withens, a ruined farmhouse that overlooks the moors south of her hometown of Haworth. The structure itself could have been based on Ponden Hall, a 19th-century manor house also near Haworth; the single-paned window on the second floor may well have been the one that Catherine Linton’s ghost tried to climb through one wild, snowy night. (Ponden’s owners, Stephen Brown and Julie Akhurst, do offer tours to small groups.)

Cape of Good Hope

(iStockphoto)

“The Flying Dutchman”
Cape of Good Hope, South Africa

The story of a ship called the Flying Dutchman doomed to sail the seas for eternity is a trusty old chestnut much loved in the arts. Richard Wagner turned it into an opera, Washington Irving wrote about it, American artist Albert Pinkham Ryder created a moody portrait of it, and “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” introduced modern audiences to the legend.

Many believe the original vessel was sailing between Holland and the Dutch East Indies in the 17th century. As it approached the Cape of Good Hope near the tip of Africa, a fierce storm arose. The captain, perhaps eager to get the trip over with, vowed to round the treacherous coastline even if it took him until doomsday.

Those who want to see the results of his folly can stand watch from the Cape, now part of South Africa’s breathtakingly gorgeous Table Rock National Park.

The Stanley Hotel

(Stock Connection Distribution / Alamy)

The Shining, Stephen King
Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colo.

One fall night in 1974, King and his wife stayed in Room 217 of this rambling clapboard hotel in the Rockies. En route to the room, King said later, he saw ghostly children in the halls.

That encounter became a pivotal scene in his novel about a hotel caretaker who becomes possessed by the lodge’s evil spirits and in the 1980 film, starring Jack Nicholson. The Stanley didn’t make it into the movie, however; director Stanley Kubrick used Oregon’s Timberline Lodge, a spooky looking manse of stone and wood.

The Stanley embraces its notoriety just the same. Built in 1909 by automaker F.O. Stanley, the 138-room lodge offers ghost tours that include stops in the Kings’ room and the eerie long corridors. Guides also mention the ghosts King didn’t meet, such as a long-dead housekeeper who folks clothes still and a spirit who does not like anyone touching the hotel’s antique Steinway piano.

Not scary enough? Turn on any TV then and watch “The Shining,” which plays continuously on the in-house channel.

Poenari Castle

(Imagestate Media Partners Limited – Impact Photos / Alamy )


Dracula, Bram Stoker
Poenari Castle, Romania

 

The crumbling fortress perched on a cliff above the Arges River was one of several used by Vlad Dracula, ruler of southern Romania in the 15th century and the man behind Bram Stoker’s immortal (pardon the pun) vampire tale. The castle was in ruins when Dracula came to power. To restore it, the legend goes, he forced several hundred prisoners to ferry bricks and stones up the cliff along a human assembly line.

Poenari (poh-yeh-NAR) is open to anyone able to ascend the more than 1,400 steps that lead to the summit. Once there, spectacular views of the Carpathian Mountains unfold from the battlements–the same ones that Dracula’s wife jumped from in 1462 as she chose death over being captured by the Turkish army encamped below.

The castle Stoker described in his breakout 1897 novel was probably a composite of three. Of those, Poenari was the only one the real Dracula inhabited. He was imprisoned briefly in the second one, Bran Castle, also in Romania. And the third one is Slain’s Castle in Scotland; Stoker stayed near Slain’s for several years and reportedly was inspired by the grim Gothic building on the rocky east coast. It is in ruins now, while Bran is a museum.

Holy Trinity Church

(Lee Pengelly / Alamy)

 

The Hound of the Baskervilles, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Holy Trinity Church, Buckfastleigh, England

 

Richard Cabell was not a popular guy. Some said he was such a hellion that when he died in 1677, his neighbors built a sepulcher around his tomb in Holy Trinity’s cemetery to make sure he couldn’t get out; they even covered the actual grave with a heavy stone slab for good measure.

Such precautions, however, did not prevent Cabell’s hounds from surrounding the mausoleum at night, howling for their master to rise up and hunt with them across the moors of southern England. This legend grabbed the keen imagination of Conan Doyle when he visited Devon in the early 20th century, and he based one of his best-loved Sherlock Homes mysteries on those spectral hunters. In his story, giant paw prints found next to the savagely mutilated body of Sir Charles Baskerville led Holmes on a ghost-hunt.

Much of the 13th-century church burned in 1992. But Cabell’s vault is intact; peek through the barred windows if you dare.

Daphne du Maurier country

(Gary Eastwood Photography / Alamy)

 

Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
Menabilly, England

 

“Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderly again.” And so begins Daphne du Maurier’s Gothic romance about a young bride trying to live in a home possessed by the spirit of her husband’s first wife.

Manderly was largely based on Menabilly, an Elizabethan-era manor the English writer first saw in the 1920s when she trespassed on its grounds near the Cornish coast. Two decades later, du Maurier–flush with the proceeds from the bestselling novel–was able to rent Menabilly. She lived there with her family until 1969.

The manor house is not open to the public. However, the owners rent out two cottages on the grounds as holiday rentals. The beach around Polridmouth Bay–where Rebecca deWinter’s wrecked sailboat washed up–is accessible via a short hike from the village of Fowey.

Fans of the 1940 movie version of “Rebecca” shouldn’t even try to find the baronial estate that features so prominently in the Oscar-winning film. Director Alfred Hitchcock used a model for the exterior shots. He shot the movie in California since England was in the throes of World War II at the time.

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Comments (12)

I would like to tell u that I don’t believe in the sleepy hollows because its just a legend maybe it is real that would be great because I love the sleepy hollows that’s what I would like to tell u thank you very much

Posted by Brooke on February 19,2013 | 01:37 PM

Hi, I’m Romanian and wanted to tell you that the ruler that inspired Bram Stoker’s novel wasn’t named Vlad Dracula, but Vlad Ţepeş. Dracul (without the “a”) was a nickname he got for being a severe, merciless ruler. It literally means devil or demon. Dracula is just the name that Stoker gave his character, probably after mishearing Vlad’s real nickname( Romanian is a very odd and difficult language for foreigners). Vlad used extreme measures against his enemies (like impaling them in huge stakes and leaving their bodies there to rot, as a chilling reminder that he is not to be messed with) and in at least one known instance he called all the court’s trusted men and their families to a feast and he slaughtered them,because he got word they were plotting against him. Plus, the pronunciation of Poenari you wrote in brackets, is incorrect.

Posted by Diana on January 30,2013 | 09:17 PM

Doesn’t sound as if the person who wrote this piece ever read “Rebecca”. Manderly was not possessed. Nice photo of Menabilly though.

Posted by Jamie Curtis on January 27,2013 | 10:34 PM

While everyone was reading “The Exorcist”, I was not. I was living on Prospect Street in Georgetown, and the thought of reading that scary book about something that took place just a couple of blocks from my house (even though that was not the real location), was too much. I did eventually read the book, and saw the film crew around Georgetown when the movie was being filmed. It is still the scariest movie I’ve ever seen, and I have seen it multiple times! The man who was thrown out the window in the book was a friend, not a boyfriend, as I recall. I think the house in the movie was for sale a couple of years ago. Who could actually live in it – although it probably has fantastic views? Such a creepy story!!

Posted by Suzy on December 9,2009 | 12:16 PM

Sprague Mansion in Cranston, R.I., should also be of interest. There have been many sightings there by folks who no nothing about this old estate. There have been sightings of children playing and many other things seen too! Murders have been linked to the people who lived there in the past!

Posted by Melvyn G. Tavares on November 19,2009 | 08:59 PM

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article. Like most people when I heard these stories I would imagine what the places looked like. It was really neat to see some of the places look exactly what I had imagined.

Posted by Tracey on November 12,2009 | 11:51 AM

Although the final exorcisims took place in St. Louis, the boy was posessed and first had signs at his home in the Mt. Ranier neighborhood of Northwest D.C. a few miles north of Georgetown.

Posted by Aysha on November 5,2009 | 01:00 PM

Visitors to Cape Point in South Africa will have to enter the Table Mountain National Park (not the Table Rock NP as stated in your article).It is a fantastic place to visit – and the windswept heights and barren mountains lend an espceially romantic atmosphere to the whole Flying Dutchman story too.

Posted by Caroline Voget on October 30,2009 | 03:15 AM

And the exorcisms actually took place in St. Louis, in a hospital that has since been torn down.

Posted by Miles on October 29,2009 | 06:44 AM

The boyfriend took the first tumble, but Karras throws himself down the stairs, too.

Posted by Sara on October 27,2009 | 11:46 AM

Actually it wasn’t father Damien in the film that took the tumble down the steps. It was the boyfriend of the mother. Just thought you should know.

Posted by Nathan Branstetter on October 26,2009 | 12:56 PM

At some point or another every historian becomes interested in the real Dracula, Vlad Tepes. It is interesting here to learn that it is open to visitors. Great article.

Posted by Stacy on October 22,2009 | 02:02 PM

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