I became familiar with the devil at an early age,
growing up in German-Irish Catholic, St. Marys, Pennsylvania.
Some nun or other told us third-graders what hell was like, and how you
burn and burn for all eternity, but never burn up:
"Do you know how long eternity is, children? When you misbehave,
children, the devil laughs, knowing that someday you might belong to
I remember this not because I was necessarily terrified and determined
to behave, but because when I shared the day's lesson with my parents,
they went to the parochial school and told the nuns that these horror
stories would cease or they would lose one paying customer. I was
impressed with their advocacy for my psychological well-being, dangerous
though this might have been to my immortal soul.
My parents tended to focus more on heaven and rewards than eternal
damnation, but my Aunt Mil enjoyed telling me stories about the presence
of the devil, of how he once put a cow in a farmer's upstairs bedroom,
and of an exorcism performed by local priests. So I believed her when
she told me, years later, that author William Peter Blatty married a
local girl and got his idea for "The Exorcist" from his visits to St.
This was interesting. I am a Blatty fan; not because of the popular
"Exorcist," but because of "Twinkle, Twinkle 'Killer' Kane," one of my
favorite novels, with its theory of madness:
"... There's a part of us that remembers what we were like before the
Fall — good, in a good world. Then something happened — changed. Trying
to grope with the new conditions — evil, pain and disease — earthquakes
and matter gone mad — that's what does it — drives us all mad — some
more, some less... Evil doesn't spring out of madness — it's the other
I wasn't completely sure that Aunt Mil had it right, so I called
Blatty's son, Michael, whom Salem readers know as a local political
figure; and sure enough, his mother grew up in St. Marys and he has
visited his grandparents there. He doesn't think it was the inspiration
for the novel, but I like to think that maybe, subliminally, it was.
Because many of us who grew up there knew about 666 being the mark of
the devil, and kept an eye out for it for the rest of our lives.
When I visited my friend, John, in Albuquerque, we took Rt. 44 instead
of U.S. Rt. 666 up to Shiprock — not because we were afraid, but because
I wanted to visit Chaco Canyon. However, I do remember hearing that
people did avoid the road, and New Mexico decided to change the route
An enterprising public works employee suggested they just turn the signs
upside down and call it Rt. 999, but instead it was changed to Rt. 491.
By the way, there's a Rt. 666 in western Pennsylvania too, about 50
miles northwest of St. Marys as the crow, and the devil, fly. No wonder
we needed exorcisms.
I dragged out the big family Bible again, and did find that the beast's
"number is six hundred and sixty-six" (Apocalypse 13:18); the footnote
says it probably refers to the Roman Emperor Nero. But what if there's a
bigger beast with the same number? (While I was there, I looked for the
painting of the Last Supper, and sure enough, the apostle we always
thought was St. John does look a tad feminine, as author Dan Brown
asserts in "The Da Vinci Code." Not that I care.)
While I'm waiting to see if the devil shows today (Tuesday), I'll just
get caught up with my daily newspapers.
Front page of The Salem News: "Vandals destroy plover eggs at Ipswich's
Inside: A story about an accused war criminal who was involved in the
genocide of thousands of Muslims during an ethnic cleansing campaign. A
drunken-driving suspect is charged with a "fifth or sixth offense."
Other news from around the world, nation and state: Suicide bombers in
Somalia; al-Qaida terrorizing Iraqi women; Saddam defense witnesses
arrested for perjury; kidnappers of British aid worker set free; famine
in Africa; U.N. troops trade food for sex with children; Canadian police
discover terrorist plot; long-eradicated diseases appearing in U.S.
again; mother killed by street gangs; FBI defending itself in lawsuit on
wrongful deaths attributed to Whitey Bulger; elderly woman found fatally
stabbed in her home; murderer wants court order for sex-change
operation; rapists, wife-beaters and perverts set free after short
Road rage is attributed to "intermittent explosive disorder." And the
Boston Herald reports that "fiend steals supplies for handicap ramp at
Get out the Bible again. Looked up "four horsemen of the Apocalypse" —
war, famine, pestilence and other kinds of unnatural death. Add
outrageous behavior to the list.
Well, 6/6/06 is almost over. Relieved that the 666 beast hasn't arrived.
But if evil isn't around today, where does all the madness come from?
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem
News, Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, (Lawrence) Eagle-Tribune, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence
Journal and other newspapers.