Real Vampires? Vampiric Figures In History and Halloween
Vampires figure prominently in horror literature and movies, and in Halloween imagery. Are there any real Vampires? Probably not, but there have been a number of historical and criminal cases involving murderers who drank the blood of their victims.
The infamous Geoffrey Dahmer is a good modern example. John George Haigh (High), the infamous Acid Bath Murderer of England also was accused of drinking his victims’ blood. Haigh was executed in England in 1949. And in the 1920s, a German butcher named Fritz Haarmann (also spelled Fritz Harmon)apparently murdered his victims with a bite to the neck before turning them into sausage.
Countess Elizabeth Bathory of Hungary (1560 - 1614) is a historical figure who probably provides the basis for many Vampire legends. In 1610, Bathory was caught in the act of torturing several young girls and subsequently was charged - along with four co-conspirators - with the mass murder of hundreds more. As the legend has it, Bathory both drank and bathed in the blood of young girls in an attempt to stay forever young. Because she was nobility, Bathory escaped execution, and was instead walled up in a room in her own castle, where she died three years later.
But the most famous of historical “vampires” was Vlad III , a Romanian nobleman who lived from 1431 to 1476. Vlad, also known as “Tepes” (Impaler) was the governor of a strategically placed kingdom on the borders between Moslem Turkey and Christian Europe. Depending upon the source, the kingdom is identified as either Transylvania or Wallachia. He was known as the Son of the Dragon (Dracula), a reference to his father’s position as a Knight of the Order of the Dragon.
In a precarious position in a brutal time, Vlad quickly gained a reputation for ruthlessness and cruelty. He led frequent raids into Turkish territory, burning crops and poisoning wells. Vlad also had a nasty habit of impaling his enemies and prisoners on high stakes, thus gaining his nickname Vlad The Impaler.
There are many legends about Vlad’s excesses. In one, he is said to have invited a collection of his political enemies to a meeting at his castle. Vlad then locked the doors and burned it to the ground with his rivals inside.
When an Ottoman ambassador refused to remove his turban, Vlad had it nailed to the poor man’s head.
And then there were forests of bodies throughout the countryside, impaled high on stakes.
There is no way of knowing how many of these stories are true. But that there are so many of them suggests that his cruelty was more than propaganda.
Although the circumstances of his death are fuzzy, it is thought that Vlad died in battle with the Turks. Legend has it that his head was sent as a gift to the Sultan of Turkey.
Others say that he was killed by the Hungarians, who buried him. But later, when his body was exhumed, the tomb was empty.
Today, ironically, Vlad Tepes is a folk hero to many in that part of the world.
Bram Stoker apparently rediscovered Vlad Dracula while researching vampire lore for a planned novel on vampires. The Transylvanian prince eventually became the central figure in the novel that bears his name: Dracula. The novel was published in 1897.
Many of the elements of the vampire story seem to have been invented by Stoker, including the idea that vampires can change into things like bats. Certainly Stoker created the idea of the Vampire as a sort of sexual predator. Since then novelists and Hollywood have further manipulated Vampire lore, adding and subtracting elements as necessary to fit the plot.
It’s interesting to note that one of the key themes of the novel Dracula seems to be that science does not always have the answer to our problems. The (mortal) characters in the novel are surrounded by (what was then) modern technology - railroads, phonographs and the like - but it is something out of myth and superstition that threatens them.
Copyright 2005 by John Retzer. All Rights Reserved.