“Obscenity of the Worst Kind!” The Exorcist Comes to Marion

Though most of us think of the Palace Theatre as a venue offering up mostly family-friendly entertainment, there was a time when the management was willing to show something a little more daring.

It was 1974 and The Exorcist was causing a stir all over the country. The film, based on the bestseller by William Peter Blatty, concerns the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl. Even more disturbing, the events depicted in both the book and film are reputedly based on actual events. Even after almost four decades, the film still has the power to shock:

When the Palace began running previews for the film in the spring of 1974, a lot of people around town were unhappy with the thought that the Palace might actually show a film that, to quote a petition prepared by local church leaders, was “obscene, blasphemous and sacrilegious.” These church leaders eventually presented this petition to Marion City Council along with a letter urging Palace manger William Hatch not to run the film. They were hoping that Council members would sign the letter before they sent it to Mr. Hatch. In the end, five council members did just that. Council President Thomas Fetter was quoted in The Marion Star as saying the film was “obscenity of the worst kind.” Still four other council members didn’t sign the letter. In voicing his reason for refusing to sign such a letter, councilman John Maniaci said, “I have no right as an elected official to tell people they can’t go to the film if they want to.”
Exorcist Film, Marion, Ohio, Palace Theatre
The Exorcist is now generally considered an American classic. In 2010 it was added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant.

In the middle of the controversy was Mr. Hatch, and one can sympathize with the tough position he was in. The film was, after all, already a blockbuster, and he stood to make money by showing the film. (According to Todd Berliner’s 2010 book Hollywood Incoherent: Narration in Seventies Cinema, the film was the third highest grossing movie of the 1970s. Only Star Wars and Jaws earned more money.) Of course, Mr. Hatch also must have felt a great amount of pressure not to show the film: The petition presented to Marion City Council had an estimated 8,000 signatures.

In the end, it seems Mr. Hatch decided to go ahead and run the film since a number of Marionites remember seeing it there. Ironically, because of the film’s terrifying portrayal of the devil, it may have actually caused an increase in the number of people turning up at church around that time. As Mary Ann Grimes Witt puts it, “My brother, Al Grimes, saw it at the Palace. I remember he came home and was so moved by the movie [that] he re-found his religion that day!”

Train Lore in Marion County

Erie Train No. 3 pausing in Marion on its run from New York to Chicago.

On March 7th, 1885, the Marion Daily Star reported that Caledonia resident Albert Hunter – or at least pieces of him – had been found “strewn along the N., Y. P & O Railroad track from Water Street to a point a mile east of town.”

Hunter was a partner at Hunter and Pittman Dry Goods in Caledonia, and he had left his shop the night before saying he would return soon. Hunter never returned, however, and early the next morning a man named C.E. Warwick was walking along Water Street when he found an overcoat lying near the train depot. After showing it to some other people in Caledonia, they all came to the conclusion that “a terrible accident had befallen someone and [a] search was instituted for further evidence.”

Indeed, something terrible had occurred. As the search party proceeded east, “Brains, pieces of skull, entrails [and] the arms and legs were scattered along the track, the body being literally torn to pieces.” Other belongings – a watch, a pass book, a revolver – were all identified as Mr. Hunter’s. Since the revolver had one empty chamber, the obvious conclusion was that Hunter had killed himself. Whether it was the bullet or the train that actually did him in, however, was (and remains) a mystery.

I suppose that, like a lot of people in Marion, I have mixed feelings about the trains that rumble through town day and night. There have been times when I’ve thought I’d lose my mind as a train has rolled slowly by at five miles per hour (or not at all) and made me late for work. Still, who hasn’t been lying in bed late at night and listened to the lonesome (though somehow comforting) sound of a train whistle blowing in the distance? Although passenger trains no longer pass through Marion, freight trains—around seventy-five per day according to local train buff David Luyster—continue to pass through town. Quite simply, living in Marion means living with trains.

Although there were two roads passing though Marion in the 1840s, they were not without their disadvantages. For one, the roads were privately financed and thus charged a toll. They were also often impassable in bad weather. Farmers who needed to transport their crops to market needed a better solution, and when the first rail line came to Marion in 1852, the farmers quickly realized the two big advantages trains offered: they were relatively cheap, and they were reliable. As Marion became more industrialized, the importance of the railroads only increased. Clearly, then, trains have always been a fundamental part of Marion’s history and identity, and so it should come as no surprise that they turn up in some of the more gruesome and spooky stories as well.

To read more train stories, including the one about the haunted railroad crossing near LaRue, pick up a copy of Haunted Marion, Ohio.