This is the story of a 20th century exorcism, one that was supposed to remain a secret but which has inspired horror films ever since. But what was the truth behind it?
Anna Ecklund is today considered to be one of the most famous exorcisms in the United States, perhaps most famously portrayed in the 2016 film The Exorcism of Anna Ecklund. However there are varying accounts of the true story of the exorcism, and there is little certainty as to the truth behind the stories.
There has only been one book published about it, titled: Begone Satan! Written in the 1930s by Carl Vogl, it was only translated into English by Celestine Kapsner in 1973, and it was only with this translation that the story surrounding Anna Ecklund received wide attention. So, what is it about this story that has kept it alive for so long?
Anna As A Child
Interestingly, Anna Ecklund is not likely to have been her original name. Emma Schmidt is the suspected real name of Anna, which was only changed to protect her identity after the first exorcism.
Little is known for certain about her early life. She was born in 1882 in Marathon, Wisconsin. Her mother is believed to have died in 1890, leaving her with an abusive and alcoholic father. Anna was a devout Catholic and went to church regularly. However, this was not to continue.
At the age of fourteen, Anna reported that she was unable to enter a church without violent thoughts entering her mind. Ideas of smashing the holy water fonts, harming priests, desecrating consecrated items as well as being unable to receive communion were all warning signs that something was not right. It got so bad that she began to feel unable to enter the church being held back by an interior hidden power. A local church got involved to help and contacted Father Theophilus Riesinger.
Theophilus Riesinger was born in Germany in 1868. At the age of twenty, he joined the Capuchins, an order of Franciscans monks founded in the 16th century. The Capuchins were inspired to live in a radical Franciscan manner, with an emphasis on prayer and poverty. Riesinger emigrated to the United States and practiced in New York City, before moving to the Midwest in 1912.
It was in the Midwest that Father Riesinger first encountered Anna Ecklund. He performed his first exorcism on her soon after arriving in 1912, and it was deemed a success. Anna was able to return to her regular life and Riesinger developed a reputation for dispelling the evils that infect human beings. He went on to perform a further nineteen successful exorcisms.
Anna’s life, however, was only peaceful for a short while.
The Calm Before The Storm
After the first exorcism, Anna experienced a short amount of peace. Unfortunately, it did not last. Anna became convinced that her problems came from the torment that she experienced from her abusive father and her aunt, Mina.
It was widely reported at the time of Anna’s first exorcism that Mina was a witch, who would put cursed herbs in Anna’s food and placed curses on her. Despite both her father and Mina dying, Anna felt their spirits continued to usher a demonic presence into her body and mind.
The Second Exorcism
Father Riesinger had been preaching in Earling, Iowa when he was called upon to again remove Anna’s demons. He sought the assistance and aid of an old friend named Reverend Joseph Steiger, asking him for permission to perform the exorcism in his parish.
Earling had several advantages. There was a Catholic church and a convent where Ecklund could stay during the exorcism. Also, Earling, although close to Des Moines with a major railway to allow for travel, was a small town. This meant that the exorcism could be carried out in secret.
Anna arrived in Earling on August 18th, 1928. She later reported that on her arrival she experienced a feeling of unprecedented rage. When she arrived at the convent, she wanted to attack the nuns and she could tell the food she had been given had been blessed. Anna refused all food and drink from the convent. Her odd behavior began to show in other ways, such as purring while she waiting for Father Riesinger.
Riesinger’s journey was not easy. He arrived at the train station and was met by Steiger who was supposed to drive them to the convent. However, the car refused to accelerate to full speed. Steiger was a little shaken, but Riesinger remained unsurprised.
It has been claimed he said “I was not wrought up about it all. I would have been 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”.
Anna was tied to an iron bed and held down by the strongest nuns in the convent. As Riesinger began speaking the rites, Anna’s eyes fell shut and she appeared as if sedated. But suddenly she was able to dislodge herself from the bed and threw herself high up against a wall.
She began to scream and when commanded by the priest to stop, she responded in various languages. She spoke in English, German and Latin, claiming to be multiple entities including Beelzebub, Judas, as well as Anna’s father and aunt Mina.
The exorcism lasted until December 23rd and took place over three different sessions. Anna experienced horrific symptoms, vomiting bile and tobacco-infused liquid. Her body distorted through expansion and contraction, and she screamed at the people present, telling them information that she could not know in various voices.
Even Steiger grew increasingly worried at this, and suggested the exorcism be moved. However it was allowed to be continued and at 9pm on December 23rd, Anna finally leaped up and claimed to have been freed from a terrible burden. Anna was able to go back to her life as a devout Catholic. She was finally free.
The Legacy Endures
The exorcism was meant to remain a secret, but Reverend Carl Vogl gathered eyewitness accounts of the exorcism and published his pamphlet Begone Satan! It soon attracted media attention, including Time magazine.
Still to this day the validity of the account is debated. Eyewitnesses claim that it is true whilst others insist that Anna was a victim of mental illness. Whatever the truth, the story of Anna is a truly harrowing tale of exorcism and the nature of evil.
Top Image: Two exorcisms were performed on Anna Ecklund. Source: LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS / Adobe Stock.
By Kurt Readman