The Beatnik Exorcism of Senator Joe McCarthy’s Grave in 1968

In 1968, beatnik poet Allen Ginsberg and members of The Fugs gathered at the grave of Senator Joe McCarthy in Appleton, Wis., to exorcise and purify his spirit.
The exorcism of Joe McCarthy's grave in 1968
Ed Sanders, Allen Ginsberg, and others exorcise the grave of Joe McCarthy, 1968

US Senator Joseph McCarthy, for whom the term “McCarthyism” was coined, notoriously fueled Cold War tensions in the 1950s with allegations of Communist subversion in America. Armed with a list of names, he claimed Soviet spies and sympathizers had infiltrated the government in droves, along with homosexuals who were, of course, “threats to the American way of life” due to their perceived ties to Communist espionage. Homosexuality was viewed as a mental disorder and many believed, as detailed in the Hoey Report released in 1950, that “sex perverts in Government constitute security risks.”

McCarthy was censured by the Senate in 1954, and he died several years later in 1957. His body was returned to his home state of Wisconsin, where some 17,000 people, three senators, and even Robert F. Kennedy, attended the funeral. McCarthy was interred in the St. Mary’s Parish Cemetery along the Fox River.

A decade later, at the height of the counterculture, the legacy of McCarthy lived on. A politically subversive band called The Fugs found themselves in Appleton on tour in 1968, and decided to put an end to his evil once and for all.

Senator Joe McCarthy in Wisconsin
Joe McCarthy and family at the McCarthy farmstead in Little Chute, Wis., February, 1955

Vulgar and Repulsive

Ed Sanders was arrested in 1961 for disrupting the launch of a nuclear submarine in a canoe. There, in his jail cell, he wrote his first notable poem on a piece of toilet paper. The following year he founded Fuck You: A Magazine of the Arts, which was dedicated to “Pacifism, Unilateral Disarmament, National Defense thru Nonviolent Resistence, Multilateral Indiscriminate Apertural Conjugation, Anarchism, World Federalism, Civil Disobedience, Obstructers & Submarine Boarders, and All Those Groped by J. Edgar Hoover in the Silent Halls of Congress.” The magazine included the work of William S. Burroughs, Tuli Kupferberg, Allen Ginsberg, Andy Warhol, and more.

Sanders also opened the Peace Eye Bookstore in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, which was raided by police in 1966 and resulted in obscenity charges.

Sanders, along with his friend Tuli Kupferberg, founded avant-rock group The Fugs in 1964 and were joined by drummer Ken Weaver. They represented peace, sexual freedom, and the psychedelic revolution – everything the government feared. The band is referenced in FBI documents about The Doors, calling The Fugs “vulgar and repulsive,” saying their latest album was the “filthiest and most vulgar thing the human mind could possibly conceive.” The writer, whose name was redacted, believed action needed to be taken to stop the distribution of such “trash.”

Levitating the Pentagon

The Fugs performed their first exorcism on October 21, 1967. During the March on the Pentagon anti-Vietnam demonstration, The Fugs gathered along with activists Allen Ginsberg, Abbie Hoffman, and Jerry Rubin at the Pentagon, vowing to raise it three hundred feet in the air. In the book Abbie Hoffman: American Rebel author Marty Jezer writes that they viewed an exorcism ritual as “a perfect way of attracting hippies to Washington and transforming the religious mysticism that was an essential part of acid consciousness into the political goal of ending the war.”

The group donned handmade witch costumes, meditating and chanting “In the name of the generative power of Priapus, in the name of the totality, we call upon the demons of the Pentagon to rid themselves of the cancerous tumors of the war generals.”

The Exorcism of Joe McCarthy

An offering after the exorcism of Joe McCarthy's grave
Ken Weaver of The Fugs with a female offering for the spirit of Joe McCarthy

While on tour a few months later, Allen Ginsberg and The Fugs found themselves near the final resting place of Joe McCarthy. They performed at the Cinderella Ballroom in Appleton on the night of February 19, 1968.

The following day they gathered at McCarthy’s grave to summon the dead senator and chastise him for his homophobia, and for the lives and careers his falsehoods ruined. Sanders described the ritual in his 2011 memoir Fug You: “The next morning The Fugs and Ginsberg, plus maybe fifty to seventy-five friends, gathered at Senator McCarthy’s grave on a chilly winter hillock and performed the Exorcism, which enraged right-wing commentators. I chanted a singsong conjuration of deities and power words, similar to what I had done at the Pentagon Exorcism. With Allen commenting on the Great Red-baiter’s homophobia, he led forth with an invocation to bisexual Greek and Indian gods.”

“Allen recited a Hebrew prayer and an invocation to Shiva,” he continued, “and we recited the Prajnaparamita Sutra. Then the entire crowd sang, ‘My Country ‘Tis of Thee’ and a few minutes of ‘Hare Krishna,’ after which I chanted the final words of Plato’s Republic in Greek. A young woman agreed to array herself atop the senator’s stone as an offering.”

When the ritual was finished, everyone was asked to leave a gift on McCarthy’s gravestone. Sanders took note of the offerings, which included “a bottle of Midol, a ticket to the movie The War Game, a Spring Mobilization Against the War leaflet, a stick of English Leather cologne, one stuffed parrot, one candy bar, a ChapStick, one dozen roses, one dozen white geraniums, one dozen yellow geraniums, one ‘Get Fugged’ button, some coins, sugar wafers, coat buttons, and two seeds of marijuana.”

An enraged radio personality in Chicago claimed the group urinated on McCarthy’s grave, but Sanders wrote, “We tried to be dignified and respectful.”

The exorcism was recorded and can be heard in the video below.

The Most Horrific Publicized Case of Exorcism in American History

America’s foremost exorcist, Theophilus Riesinger, faced off with Lucifer himself in the grueling 1928 case of demonic possession in a rural Iowa convent.

I’ve lived in Wisconsin my entire life, researching its fascinating and unexpected ties to the weird, dark corners of history for as long as I can remember. Sometimes it seems this state exists in some kind of anomalous vortex of the bizarre, with a unique concentration of ghost stories, murderous cannibals, circus history, world-famous hoaxes, and incredibly eccentric (or just plain mad) individuals. We have Ed Gein, Goatman, the Beast of Bray Road, pancake-serving aliens, and…famous exorcists.

Last fall I discovered Father Walter Halloran, who assisted in the exorcism of Roland Doe in 1949, was buried in Milwaukee. Having weird history like that so close to home is exciting, but it turns out that Wisconsin was the stomping grounds of another even more legendary exorcist, one who participated in a case that shocked the world.

In the first episode of a new podcast called Wisconsinology, historian Frank L. Anderson tells the story of Theophilus Riesinger, a Capuchin friar from Appleton, Wisconsin who became America’s foremost exorcist. Riesinger performed at least 22 exorcisms in his lifetime, but it was the harrowing case of demonic possession in 1928 that became the most publicized case of exorcism in American history. The details, based on eyewitness accounts, were published in the early 1930s in a 48-page booklet called Begone Satan! by Rev. Carl Vogl. It was originally written in German, but when it was translated into English in 1935, the case garnered widespread attention in Catholic publications, newspapers, and even Time magazine.

The booklet would eventually serve as research material for author William Peter Blatty, whose depiction of possession in The Exorcist very closely mirrors the events said to have taken place in an Iowa convent in 1928.

The Exorcism of Emma Schmidt

Father Riesinger performed his very first exorcism in 1912. The subject was a girl from the town of Marathon, Wisconsin who’s name was either Anna Ecklund or Emma Schmidt – she has been written about under several different names presumably to protect her identity. She had begun to manifest symptoms of demonic possession when she was just 14. Riesinger, who would became known as a “potent and mystic exorcist of demons” as noted in the February 17, 1936 issue of Time, was called upon to perform the rite.

Riesinger drove the demons out of the girl and went on to help many others he believed were in need of spiritual cleansing. Many years later, in 1928, Emma was in her 40s and found herself once again experiencing symptoms of demonic influence.

“She wanted to pray, wanted to go to church and as usual receive Holy Communion,” Vogl wrote in Begone Satan! “But some interior hidden power was interfering with her plans. The situation became worse instead of improving. Words cannot express what she had to suffer. She was actually barred from the consolations of the Church, torn away from them by force. She could not help herself in any way and seemed to be in the clutches of some mysterious power. She was conscious of some sinister inner voices that kept on suggesting most disagreeable things to her. These voices tried their utmost to arouse thoughts of the most shameful type within her, and tried to induce her to do things unmentionable and even to bring her to despair. The poor creature was helpless and secretly was of the opinion that she would become insane.”

“You cannot imagine the terrible symptoms and feelings that possessed persons have. Strange cats and dogs talk to them in the night. They cannot perform their religious duties, they are kept away from the sacraments, they are exceedingly unhappy.” – Father Theophilus Riesinger, 1936

While preaching on mission at St. Joseph Parish in Earling, Iowa, Riesinger made an unusual request of Rev. Joseph Steiger. Riesinger wanted to bring the possessed woman from Wisconsin to Steiger’s rural parish to perform an exorcism where it would avoid drawing unwanted attention. Steiger agreed, and the woman was brought to the Franciscan convent just outside of town.

“The woman was placed firmly upon the mattress of an iron bed,” Vogl wrote. “Upon the advice of Father Theophilus, her arm-sleeves and her dress were tightly bound so as to prevent any devilish tricks. The strongest nuns were selected to assist her in case anything might happen. There was a suspicion that the devil might attempt attacking the exorcist during the ceremony. Should anything unusual happen, the nuns were to hold the woman quiet upon her bed. Soon after the prescribed prayers of the Church were begun, the woman sank into unconsciousness and remained in that state throughout the period of exorcism. Her eyes were closed up so tightly that no force could open them.”

But, when Riesinger began the rite of exorcism, the woman “dislodged herself from her bed and from the hands of her guards; and her body, carried through the air, landed high above the door of the room and clung to the wall with a tenacious grip. All present were struck with a trembling fear. Father Theophilus alone kept his peace.”

The attending sisters dragged her back down to the bed and restrained her. Loud howling sounds began to emanate from the woman, drawing the attention of everyone in the convent. They came to see what was happening, but many couldn’t handle it. Vogl wrote, “The physical condition of the possessed presented such a gruesome sight, because of the distorted members of her body, that it was unbearable.”


Cursed by Her Father

The exorcism lasted a total of 23 days, during which the woman was consistently vomiting things resembling chewed macaroni and tea leaves, though she wasn’t actually eating anything, and spoke in numerous voices, making inhuman animal sounds. She seemed to understand languages she had never heard or read before, and foamed at the mouth, enraged, when Riesinger spoke Latin blessings over her. “She was conscious at once when some one gave her articles sprinkled with holy water or presented her with things secretly blessed, whereas ordinary secular objects would leave her perfectly indifferent.”

When asked how many spirits had possessed the woman, she responded that there were many, and that Beelzebub was the leader. Under Riesinger’s questioning, Beelzebub stated that the woman’s own father was the cause of the possession, having “cursed” the spirits into her, and that they had possessed her under the command of Satan himself.

At one point, when Riesinger was asking to speak with the woman’s father, whom Beelzebub said was with them, a voice claiming to be Judas Iscariot began speaking instead. When Riesinger asked what business he had with the woman, Judas replied, “To bring her to despair, so that she will commit suicide and hang herself! She must get the rope, she must go to hell!” Other voices claiming to be Emma’s father Jacob, as well as his child-murdering concubine Mina, eventually spoke, as well.

Vogl wrote that during the exorcism the demonic presence inside the woman began to physically deform her. “The woman’s face became so distorted that no one could recognize her features. Then, too, her whole body became so horribly disfigured that the regular contour of her body vanished. Her pale, deathlike and emaciated head, often assuming the size of an inverted water pitcher, became as red as glowing embers. Her eyes protruded out of their sockets, her lips swelled up to proportions equalling the size of hands, and her thin emaciated body was bloated to such enormous size that the pastor and some of the Sisters drew back out of fright, thinking that the woman would be torn to pieces and burst asunder. At times her abdominal region and extremities became as hard as iron and stone. In such instances the weight of her body pressed into the iron bedstead so that the iron rods of the bed bent to the floor.”

Riesinger said that Lucifer himself had appeared during the process. Vogl wrote, “Once Father Theophilus saw Lucifer standing visibly before him for half an hour–a fiery being in his characteristically demoniac reality. He had a crown on his head and carried a fiery sword in his hand. Beelzebub stood alongside of him. During this time the whole room was filled with flames.”

On December 23rd, 1928, when Riesinger was exhausted and appeared to those around him to have aged 20 years from performing the exorcism for three days straight without sleep, the devils finally receded back to Hell. The woman stood upright suddenly in her bed, then collapsed. A piercing sound filled the room, followed by the repeated names of the demons inside her. This slowly faded away, and was replaced by an horrible, unearthly stench. The woman opened her eyes and shouted “My Jesus, Mercy! Praised be Jesus Christ!”

Wisconsin exorcist Theophilus Riesinger
Father Theophilus Riesinger outside St. Joseph’s Church in Appleton

Some sources say the case of Emma Schmidt was the first and last exorcism officially sanctioned by the Catholic church. While some believe the events are fiction, there are allegedly papal records documenting it. Also, according to an online source, local Earling legend says that claw marks in solid oak doors can still be seen from the woman trying to escape.

The Exorcist’s Grave: The Final Resting Place of Father Walter Halloran

Father Walter Halloran assisted in the exorcism of Roland Doe in 1949.
The grave of Father Walter Halloran in Milwaukee's historic Calvary Cemetery
Grave of Father Walter Halloran in Calvary Cemetery, Milwaukee, WI

Father Walter Halloran was a Jesuit priest who assisted in the exorcism of a 13-year-old boy known as Roland Doe in 1949. Prior to his death, Halloran was the last surviving clergyman to witness the only documented exorcism in America. The case inspired the novel The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty, as well as the subsequent film adaptation in 1973, and fueled future generations with both a fear and fascination for the Ouija board.


The story, according to newspaper articles, as well as a diary kept by Father Raymond J. Bishop, began in Roland’s home in Maryland earlier that year. His aunt, a spiritualist who had introduced him to the Ouija, had recently passed away. Soon after, the family began hearing strange noises in their home and witnessed objects flying through the air. They expressed their concerns to their Lutheran pastor Luther Miles Schulze, who claimed to have experienced similar events while visiting with Roland, such as furniture and other objects moving around the house.

Schulze confided in parapsychologist J. B. Rhine, who recommended the boy see a Roman Catholic priest. Following Rhine’s advice, Roland’s family met with Father Edward Hughes, who decided to carry out an exorcism at Georgetown University Hospital. During the rite, Roland allegedly slipped his hand from one of the restraints, broke off a bedspring, and stabbed Hughes in the arm, effectively ending the ritual.

The real exorcist house in St. Louis
The St. Louis home where Father Bowdern began performing exorcisms on Roland Doe.

When the word Louis appeared on Roland’s body sometime later, the family went to stay with relatives in St. Louis. There, they got in contact with Bishop and Father William S. Bowdern. The two men visited the boy in his relative’s home, where they made numerous observations, including Roland speaking in a low, demonic voice, the bed shaking, flying objects, an aversion to the sacred, and other troubling phenomenon. This was sufficient evidence to attain permission from the archbishop to perform an exorcism.

Roland was admitted into the psychiatric wing of the Alexian Brothers Hospital. Bowdern requested that Halloran, then 26, assist with the rite. Over the course of several months, Halloran witnessed the boy’s hospital bed shaking, saw words appear in red lines on his body, and was almost hit in the head by an object flying through the air. At one point, Roland’s flailing arm broke his nose.

Despite these events, Halloran seemed to be skeptical of paranormal claims, especially in interviews later in his life. He would decline to give an official statement on the events he witnessed, as he didn’t feel he was qualified to pass judgement, but had said that he saw more evil during his service in the Vietnam war than he ever saw in Roland.

Halloran retired to a Jesuit community in Milwaukee, WI when he was diagnosed with cancer in 2003. He died on March 1, 2005, and was interred in the historic Calvary Cemetery, Milwaukee’s earliest Roman Catholic burial ground.

Historic Calvary Cemetery in Milwaukee
Father Halloran’s grave at the base of Jesuit Hill in Calvary Cemetery, Milwaukee

Weird Book Club: Possessed by Thomas B. Allen

Destination America to Air Live Exorcism This October

The Destination America channel will televise a live exorcism from the real Exorcist house with psychic medium Chip Coffey and the cast of Ghost Asylum.
The real exorcist house St Louis
The real Exorcist house in Bel Nor, a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri.

The Exorcist is widely considered one of the scariest films of all time. Not only did it manage to cause a fear of Ouija boards, it also put the fear of God into American movie-goers in the midst of America’s 1970s Satanic Panic. What many don’t realize is that the story of a child in the grips of a demonic possession is based a true story.

In 1949 a boy named Roland Doe underwent a series of exorcisms in his St. Louis home, supposedly possessed by an evil entity he contacted after his spiritualist aunt gave him a talking board to play with.

The house is still considered by some to be haunted, having been featured on paranormal investigation shows like Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures. Now the Destination America channel plans to broadcast a live exorcism of the infamous house that inspired The Exorcist novel by William Peter Blatty.

Exorcism: Live! will feature psychic medium Chip Coffey as well as the cast of Ghost Asylum, a group known as the Tennessee Wraith Chasers, as they attempt to remove whatever evil has inhabited the house for the last 66 years.

The exorcism will air live this October.

Fun Fact: The first-ever televised exorcism was aired by NBC in 1971.

The recording featured reporter Carole Simpson interviewing Ed and Marsha Becker, who believed their Chicago home was haunted. Medium Joseph DeLouise channels the spirit, and then a minister communicates with it and ultimately claims to have exorcised it. Ed later wrote about the frightening experiences he and later tenants experienced in his book True Haunting.

via Entertainment Weekly