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Couple unknowingly purchases 'The Exorcist' house

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Danielle Witt and Ben Rockey-Harris knew the housing market was rough and that lots of people were on the hunt for new digs when they started looking last year.

DANIELLE WITT: It feels like a contact sport, and it really just felt like - honestly like a slog. We almost saw a fistfight at one open house.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So when the couple found a nice, affordable home in Cottage City, Md., just outside of Washington, D.C., they jumped.

WITT: I mean, I'd done so much research. I looked up to see if there were easements, if there were covenants. I found the company that did the deck out back. I found their permit for it. The one thing I did not Google was about the neighborhood of Cottage City itself 'cause I didn't want to fall in love with it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But after a few days, their offer was accepted.

WITT: Literally that evening when our realtor called us and told us we got it, I Googled it - and that I think I screamed.

BEN ROCKEY-HARRIS: Yeah, yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You might have screamed, too, if you found out that you had just bought "The Exorcist" house.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE EXORCIST")

MAX VON SYDOW AND JASON MILLER: (As Father Merrin and Father Karras) The power of Christ compels you. The power of Christ compels you.

ROCKEY-HARRIS: I think we definitely looked up whether or not, like, a prior possession was an escape clause from a house under contract and realized that it wasn't.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In 1949, a 14-year-old boy was said to be possessed by a demon at his Maryland home. The details were all there in the reports at the time - the inexplicably cold room, furniture mysteriously flipped over, priests called and an exorcism performed. Decades later, Georgetown University student William Peter Blatty heard about the story and adapted it for a novel. And two years later, in 1973, there was the movie - a smash hit memorably set in D.C.'s Georgetown neighborhood. All the while, local old-timers knew about the bungalow in Cottage City. And then so did the couple who bought it.

WITT: Honestly, the first thing I thought was, oh, God, this is going to tank our resale value (laughter). You know, sometimes, you just have to think about that. And then the next thought I had was, maybe I better rewatch that, start learning more about what it is that we just bought. And also, I had no idea that that was even based on a real story.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Washingtonian magazine features the couple's story in this month's edition - "A Spooky Story for October" - but not too spooky, says Danielle Witt.

WITT: You know, demons are not attached to locations. They're attached to people. They're things that wander. I feel somewhat ridiculous even saying this. But thinking about it and thinking about how is a demonic possession was like, well, demons don't usually attach themselves to houses. And frankly, the way that I view it is that, you know, my house has odds of a demonic possession that are just as equal as anybody else's house. And to me, that was always the scariest part of the movie "The Exorcist" - is that this could happen to anybody.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: No, wait. That is kind of spooky, as are the Halloween plans Ben Rockey-Harris is hatching.

ROCKEY-HARRIS: I thinking I'm going to get a Catholic priest Halloween costume this year and get an amplified speaker and have "The Exorcist" soundtrack just playing on a loop on our front porch for trick-or-treaters.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But let's get down to brass tacks here. Like we said at the top, the housing market is crazy right now, so...

WITT: I guess a piece of free advice. Don't sleep on the haunted houses.

ROCKEY-HARRIS: Yeah.

WITT: I do strongly think that's why we got it for under ask, which is unheard of in this market.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Danielle Witt along with Ben Rockey-Harris.

(SOUNDBITE OF MIKE OLDFIELD'S "TUBULAR BELLS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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