Hit The Road: The EXORCIST Steps

A guide to visiting one of cinema’s most famous staircases. As a bonus: the bar that inspired St. Elmo’s Bar from ST. ELMO’S FIRE.

Above lies Tim League, sprawled at the foot of the famous steps from The Exorcist.

There’s not much to mark the location of one of horror’s most famous scenes. Snugly tucked away just off the street, with bikes innocuously chained alongside the path leading to it, the steps from The Exorcist are all but hidden in the quiet streets of Georgetown in Washington, DC.

I’m sure you’ve seen the film; the MacNeil house stands alongside the steep steps which are the site of two terrible deaths. But in real life things aren’t exactly the same. Approaching the house at 3600 Prospect Street NW (map below), you’ll notice that there’s a whole wing of the place missing – specifically the part of the house where Regan’s room was located, which overlooked the steps and allowed two different people to be hurled to their stairy demises. It turns out the wing was created by the film crew.

The steps, though, are just as you saw them in the movie. By which I mean steep as hell. The stairwell, marked with banal Georgetown University graffiti (no sign of PIGS scrawled in blood red paint anywhere), has 97 steps and it’s a sharp incline. Walking down the steps is a scary experience because you’re very easily able to picture yourself tumbling down just as Father Karras did. Walking up the steps is a scary experience because (if you’re a fat load like me) you suspect you might have a coronary. It’s not unusual to see people jogging up and down the steps amidst the goons taking pictures; seems like excellent cardio.

When you visit the steps it becomes apparent that no stuntman could spill down them and survive. An inch and a half of protective rubber was laid upon the steps; the night the stunt was shot half of Georgetown showed up to watch. Locals were charging five bucks a head for people to watch shooting from their roofs. Remember, five bucks was a reasonable amount back in the early 70s – at least a reasonable amount for admission to a film set.

The bottom of the steps may be a bit of a disappointment; there’s an Exxon station off to your right and a highway beyond that. It’s a big change from the quiet Prospect Street above.

Once you’ve gone up and down the steps you may need a drink. There’s good news – the bar across the street from the MacNeil house was a shooting location in The Exorcist as well. Called The Tombs it was used in a scene where Father Karras is getting a drink; it’s probably more famous as the inspiration for St. Elmo’s Bar from St. Elmo’s Fire (in true Hollywood tradition The Tombs was not used in that film at all; interiors were shot on a soundstage while the exterior of the bar was another Georgetown haunt.

The Tombs is a basement bar; oars adorn the wall, probably gifts from the Georgetown crew team. The crowd is highly WASPy; they have a couple of decent local beers on tap. I visited The Tombs while on the Four Lions press tour; serendipity had me overhear a conversation where a field hockeyesque student talked about a guy who had been beaten at a party the night before (Halloween) for dressing as a terrorist. “Freedom of speech doesn’t mean you get to say whatever you want,” she said, proving our next generation of great leaders are being forged at Georgetown.

There’s more The Exorcist locations to see nearby on the Georgetown campus; Dahlgren Chapel, which is desecrated in the film, is there, as is the main building where the student protest scene was being shot in the film Chris MacNeil was making. And if you’re hungry after having a beer and a Stairmaster of Horror jaunt, head to Georgetown Cupcakes just down the road. Apparently they shoot the TLC show DC Cupcakes there (how can there be so many TV shows just about desserts?), but my only experience is having some yummy snacks. They have a variety of interesting flavors, including Lemon Blossom, Chocolate Peanut Butter Swirl, Maple and Salted Caramel (as well as more traditional varieties). On second thought maybe you should hit the cupcakes before the steps and burn off the calories.

Map to The Exorcist Steps:

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