It's one of my favorite premises in horror movies and TV Shows: exorcism and possession.
There can't be many people on the planet who haven't seen or at least heard of the film The Exorcist and famous cases like the Exorcism of Annelise Michel - the film The Exorcism of Emily Rose was based on.
It's damn near impossible to come by an account of possession or a well-documented exorcism that hasn't been sensationalized by Hollywood.
But, I did manage to find one that I hadn't heard of before. And for someone like me who has seen every movie and read a crap ton of books on the subject (both fiction and non-fiction - and fictionalized non-fiction), that's rare.
I present to you THE EXORCISM OF EMMA SCHMIDT.
Emma Schmidt (sometimes referred to as Anna Ecklund or Mary X - pseudonyms she used because of all the unwanted attention) was born in 1882 in Switzerland. Her family later immigrated to Marathon, Wisconsin, in the USA.
Very little is known about her parents, other than that they were German immigrants.
Her mother died sometime around 1890 when Emma was only about eight years old.
Of course, an event like losing a parent can have a lasting effect on a child and this was compounded by Emma being left in the care of her abusive, alcoholic father and aunt - who we'll get to a bit later.
Emma was a very devout Catholic. But around the age of fourteen, she began exhibiting some rather odd behavior. "Signs of possession," some might say.
Consumed with thoughts of destroying holy objects and harming priests, she couldn't bring herself to receive holy communion. All things religious and sacred repulsed her. Soon she couldn't bring herself to go inside a church claiming she was "being held back by hidden interior powers."
It's also claimed that she took part in "unspeakable sexual acts." Though, thankfully, there isn't much detail about just what that means. Thankfully.
So, yup sounds pretty possessed to me.
On June 18, 1912, Emma underwent an exorcism by Father Theophilus Riesinger, a Capuchin priest originally from Bavaria, by request of her concerned relatives.
Father Reisinger was fast becoming one of the most, if not the most, famous exorcists in America - even though he didn't seem to want the fame.
Of course, he didn't receive such an infamous status because of just one case of exorcism.
In total, Father Reisinger conducted at least 22 church approved exorcisms.
However, the Emma Schmidt case is the most famous one associated with the name of Father Riesinger.
Some of the cases he handled were described in a small book called "Begone Satan!" written by Reverend Carl Vogl and published in the 1930s.
Numerous fragments of it appeared in both Catholic and secular publications as well as news publications, including Time Magazine. (click here for a link to the actual book online transcript can be found in the show-notes of The Xander & Stone Podcast episode: Possession).
The 1912 exorcism of Emma Schmidt was deemed successful or at least seemed to be successful, and Father Reisinger is even quoted as saying,
"The Demons have left the girl."
Little was documented concerning this initial exorcism.
In 1928 Emma Schmidt, now about forty-six years old and living in Wisconsin, again started to exhibit signs of demonic possession.
Emma claimed it was the result of curses put on her by her Aunt Mina and her monstrously abusive father. Most folks regarded Mina to be a witch, who allegedly placed curses on Emma and put cursed herbs in her food -
Even after their death, Emma said that it did not stop their departed spirits from tormenting her and tempting demonic forces into her body and mind.
She seemed to be in the grip of a mysterious force.
A force that impeded her prayers and kept her from going to church. Every day she heard voices in her head, whispering disgusting things to her, telling her to do vile and despairing things.
In a few weeks, Emma became hysterical and irrational.
So Father Reisinger, now preaching in St Joesphs Parish in Earling, Iowa, was called in again.
Even though it was already two decades since his first Exorcism with Emily, he pretty much had a game plan and knew what had to be done.
Father Riesinger asked his old friend, Reverend Joseph Steiger, for his assistance - he wanted to perform Schmidt's second exorcism at his parish.
Father Steiger was understandably hesitant at first, but on Father Theo's insistence that Earling's location had several advantages, he eventually agreed.
The Catholic church had a convent where Schmidt could stay during the exorcism process.
Earling was a quiet town with only a few hundred residents. It's close enough to Des Moines for Emma to travel to them by train.
The convent's seclusion meant exorcism could be done in relative secrecy and keep Schmidt's involvement on the down-low.
They also hoped that being away from home would thwart the power of the demonic forces that were tormenting Emma.
Once all the plans had been made, Schmidt traveled to Earling, Iowa, and arrived on August 18, 1928.
It's said that she later stated she was almost immediately filled with rage when she arrived at the convent.
Upon entering, she said she had an urge to attack the nuns. When the nuns brought her food, she immediately knew they had blessed it, even before getting it to her.
Raging, she refused to have any of the food and drink. She proceeded to sit in her room, purring like an animal, and waiting for the arrival of Father Riesinger.
When Father Riesinger arrived at the train station and met Father Steiger, they set off to the convent. The car, however, seemingly refused to accelerate.
This did not surprise Father Riesinger, and he is quoted saying to Father Steiger:
"My dear friend, I was not wrought up about it at all. I would have been much more surprised if everything had gone smoothly. Difficulties will arise; they must be expected to arise. The devil will try his utmost to foil our plans."
The first session of the exorcism started the very same day they arrived at the convent.
Schmidt was restrained on an iron bed with her clothing and sleeves tied down to prevent her from breaking free, and the strongest nuns in the convent were called in to assist (read: holding her down)
As soon as Father Riesinger began the Rite Of Exorcism, Emma's eyes shut tightly, and she seemed to fall into either a deep sleep or even slip into unconsciousness.
But, this didn't last very long, and soon things descended into total demonic mayhem.
According to reports from inside the convent, Schmidt freed herself from the bed and somehow threw herself high up on a wall and had to be forcibly pulled down.
Then the screaming started.
Her animalistic, demonic, unearthly screams echoed through the convent.
It's said that Father Riesinger commanded:
Which seemed to make the screaming stop.
But that's when the voices began.
Screeching, bellowing voices that answered Father Riesinger's questions in German, Latin, and English.
The voices claimed to be multiple entities, including Beelzebub, Judas Iscariot, and the spirit of Schmidt's father and aunt, and they all said they were intent on torturing the woman.
Schmidt continuously vomited shocking amounts of bile and what appeared to be chewed tobacco leaves. Despite having only had small amounts of milk and water for days.
Her body became distorted. Expanding and contracting, twisting, and contorting.
Emma continued to rage.
The legion of voices that came from her delivered information about the people present at the exorcism. Schmidt could not possibly have prior knowledge.
The only person able to withstand the exhausting daily torment of exorcising Schmidt was Father Riesinger. He stayed by her side throughout the ordeal.
Father Steiger grew, I think understandably, regretful of agreeing to have the exorcism at his parish.
When he voiced his concerns and suggested that the ritual be stopped and moved elsewhere, Father Riesinger reacted with surprise. He blamed Father Steiger's second-guessing to be the devil's work putting the doubts into his head and attempting to drive a wedge between them.
It's reported that the demons possessing Emma Schmidt also had something to say about Father Steiger's change of heart. It is said that the demons/Emma bellowed out to him, during one of his visits to her room:
"….Just wait until the end of the week! When Friday comes, then…"
That Friday, Father Steiger was involved in a car accident while on his way to visit a sick woman. Turns out the demons, or Emma got that right.
Luckily Father Steiger survived the accident with only minor injuries.
But for the following weeks, the priest said he couldn't sleep at night. He claimed to hear a constant stream of "unearthly sounds" that only stopped briefly in response to his prayers.
Weeks passed, and it seemed like the attempts of Father Riesinger were not sufficient - the demons were still tormenting Schmidt.
The exorcisms continued for three months.
The first-round from August 18 to the 26th, again from September 13 to the 20th, and the last from December 15 to 23rd.
On December 15, it seemed like the exorcism was starting to take effect. The forces that were inhabiting Emma Schmidt were losing their grip and intensity.
At 9 pm on December 23, 1928, months after her exorcism began, Schmidt leaped up from her bed.
The nuns, of course, quickly moved to wrestle her back down to be the bed. Instead, Emma fell back and began softly muttering,
"Beelzebub, Judas, Jacob, Mina…Hell—hell—hell!"
A few minutes later, it was as if Emma had suddenly woken up. Her eyes flew open, and she said in her voice:
"From what a terrible burden have I been freed at last! My Jesus, Mercy! Praised be Jesus Christ!"
It seemed that Emma was herself again.
She had been released from the grip of the forces that inhabited her.
Emma Schmidt went on to have a perfectly normal life, as normal as anyone can have after an ordeal like that. It's said that she remained a devout Catholic and was never afflicted by the demons that stole four decades of her life again.
Father Riesinger continued his work as an exorcist and priest until his death in November of 1941.
The nuns that had assisted in the exorcism all requested to be transferred. All of them were relocated within the year and took the story with them.
Emma Schmidt's Exorcism was meant to stay on the down-low, and it may have been lost to history if it were not for Reverend Carl Vogl.
Rev. Vogl collected the records of the full dialogues between Father Riesinger and the demons. He included eyewitness accounts from those present at the exorcism and published them in a pamphlet titled "Begone Satan!"
Written in German and later, in 1935, translated and published in English, the forty-eight-page document was printed "to encourage those of strong faith to continue to give battle to the evil one."
There has been widespread debate over Emma Schmidt's Possession and Exorcism's validity or whether Emma had an acute mental illness like schizophrenia or psychosis.
Eyewitnesses swear that the account is accurate, and even Father Steiger's housekeeper is quoted as saying:
"I was a witness to almost the whole period of the exorcism of the Earling possession case, and I can truthfully say that the facts mentioned in Begone Satan are correct. Some of the scenes were even more frightful than described in the booklet. There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that the devils were present, and I will never forget the horrible scenes, vile, filthy, and dirty, as long as I live."
Admittedly, mental illness was not very well understood at the start of the 20th century and was often grossly misdiagnosed or wholly ignored and covered-up.
Schmidt had met with many doctors in the early years of her "possession."
None could find any issues with one leading specialist at the Time, stating that she was "normal in the fullest sense."
Perhaps one of the reasons we are so willing to believe the story of Emma Schmidt is because there is a significant lack of information denouncing it.
Emma's exorcism was one of the last to be officially sanctioned by the Catholic church.
Papal records report an exorcism of a woman at the Convent of the Franciscan Sisters over three separate sessions totaling twenty-eight days, which mirrors the case of Emma Schmidt.
With so much secrecy surrounding the story, and the only accounts coming from those who have claimed to witness the events, experts point to the case of Emma Schmidt as a valid case of demonic possession.
It is also worth bearing in mind that all the eyewitnesses are members of the church - nuns and priests and it's nice to think that we should be able to trust their statements.
Father Riesinger and Father Steiger went to great lengths to keep the story of Emma Schmidt as quiet as possible.
Still, with the publication of Begone Satan!, the information was exposed for the world to see.
Author William Peter Blatty used the story as one of the inspirations for his book The Exorcist. Later adapted into what many consider to be one of the greatest horror films of all time.
Welsh film director and writer Andrew Jones brought the story of Emma Schmidt to theaters once again in 2018 with his film The Exorcism of Anna Ecklund.
After her second exorcism, Emma Schmidt and all of her aliases faded from records. But thanks to the immortality of media and the internet, Emma's story lives on in the film, books, and the eternal discussion of paranormal possession.