In Unbelievable I write about the child who inspired the book and movie The Exorcist. While I was down in Durham going through the Parapsychology Lab archives I found a similar case. The events in this one began just weeks after the more famous exorcism ended and only 60 miles away, in the small rural town of Lively Grove, Illinois. This one involved an 11-year-old boy named Jerome Greten, and it started with a knocking underneath his bed.
The noises began on May 1, 1949 and continued every evening until June. At times they were so loud it could be heard on the next farm. Like Bouncing Bertha Sybert [another child I wrote about in the book], sometimes the bed would shake and then levitate, and it couldn’t be brought back to the floor even when Jerome’s brothers and his father Anton would run into the room and climb onto the bed with him. A crude, handmade hammer fashioned out of sticks was found underneath the bed one night. The family believed it was made by the spirit. Jerome’s father Anton kept the hammer in his desk until the day he died. I tracked down one of Anton’s grandchildren and she told me some more details of the story.
They communicated with the entity by asking questions, Anton said. Then they’d put down a blank piece of paper with a pencil or crayons and come back later for the answers. Why are you here and what do you want, they asked. Once the spirit sent a pencil flying across the room, and another time it knocked over a bottle of ink. But eventually it confided that she was a soul in purgatory, with no one to pray for her (the family was convinced the spirit was female). A housekeeper from the local church had died without a family. Maybe it was her, the family thought. Anton was a good man. Although it was a hardship for the farmer, he went to local church and paid for masses to be said for the lonely spirit.
Reverend Edward Dahmus, a Roman Catholic priest from nearby St. Liborious, was called in to see what was going on. The 70-year-old Dahmus was a retired seminary professor of Latin and Greek, and according to Rev. Dennis Voss, the current rector, had the reputation of being a very intelligent and holy man. Dahmus admitted that he had “seen and heard unusual occurrences” at the Greten farm. The Gretens told reporters that Dahmus said it was an evil spirit, but Dahmus would tell the same reporters that the events, “might have been the work of his [Jerome’s] guardian angel.” It’s the only case in the Duke archives where a priest attributed events like this to something as tender an angel. Dahmus believed it was there “to demonstrate the existence of a spirit.”
When questioned by Father Dahmus, the spirit “wrote” that it loved “Mary, mother of God.” It also said that it had once lived on the earth in bodily form, which would seem to eliminate the guardian angel theory. While some people are comforted by the thought that their deceased loved ones are now angels watching over them, that is not, theologically speaking, correct. Technically, angels are pure spirits—heavenly beings created by God. They were never corporeal. Father Dahmus may have suggested an angelic agency in order to calm an already anxious family. Dahmus submitted a report to Bishop Albert Zuroweste of Belleville, IL, but the church refused to issue a statement. The report is still in their archives, but more than fifty years later the Diocese of Belleville continues to decline to reveal what’s inside. I tried and tried to get a look at this report but no go. I’m still dying to see it!
Ten children grew up in the Greten house where these events took place and three unmarried sons continue to live there today. Jerome married, had a family and retired from managing a grocery store in a town eight miles away. Lively Grove has only five homes now, one general store and a church. They had a post office in the 1880’s, but that’s long gone. As far as Anton’s granddaughter knows, the hammer the spirit used to get their attention is still in the desk where she left it, and where her uncles live today. To this day, Jerome refuses to talk to anyone about it, even his wife can’t get him to tell her what happened all those years ago. When asked, his older brother Urban, who was 21 at the time, said, “I’d rather let a sleeping dog die.” The kids were told never to talk about what happened. “That might bring her back.“
There were a number of these cases at the time, and Rhine wrote the various priests involved, but few wrote him back.
The picture was taken from the roof of the Alexian Brothers Hospital, where the exorcism that inspired The Exorcist took place. I say another “haunted boy” in the title of this post because that was what the newspapers called the boy from the exorcist case at the time.