Vampires: Is It Real?

A Real Vampire Story

Vampires - Facts and fiction behind vampire stories

The word "vampire," aside from its current slang significance, suggests superstition, ghosts, werewolves, hobgoblins, purely fabulous monsters, fiction tales of so-called "mystery and horror" based on highly wrought literary imagination rather than any shred of fact.

In these weird tales the vampire is sometimes a huge bat, sometimes a beautiful woman, sometimes, as in the case of Count Dracula, a man with a mania for sucking human life-blood. Dracula is the classic type of fictional human vampire. He was created by Bram Stoker, a British writer of horror stories, and instantly became the literary rage all over the world. The Count's popularity has lasted twenty years; he is now the hero of a play based on Stoker's book, adapted by the American journalist, John Balderstori, and enjoying runs in York City and London. Women frequently faint at the matinee performances.

It seems now proved beyond any possibility of scientific doubt that such sinister and dangerous creatures, both bat and human, actually exist. Only a few weeks ago from mysterious Haiti, but from the quite modernized town Of Aux Cayes in that tropical West Indian island, where American Marine officers in motor cars pass every day, came the authenticated confession of a coppery-haired, handsome mulatto woman, by name Anastasie Dieudonne, that she had for several months been draining the blood from her nine-year old niece.

The child, once healthy and robust, had begun to fade away. Neighbors and relatives thought she had some wasting disease. Physicians, including those of the American clinic at Trouin, could find nothing wrong with her. Then an old black native doctor was called into conference. "She is the victim," he said, "of a vampire, or a loup garon. The life-blood is being secretly sucked from her body. If the monster is not discovered, she will die." "Bosh!" said many of the natives, who are not very superstitious in a modernized town like Aux Cayes. It looked like, bosh, indeed, when the old man carefully went over the girl's entire body and found not even a pinch-prick. But he was not satisfied and made a second examination. This time he discovered, a small, clean, unhealed incision hidden on the middle of her great toe. Anastasie Dieudonne subsequently confessed that she had been giving the girl a stupefying vegetable drug and then sucking her blood. She was, of course, an unbalanced creature, driven to this dreadful practice by an uncontrollable urge. She was literally, in actual fact, a human vampire.

That there are and have been other human vampires, in both high and low walks of life, and in circumstances much more terrible and dramatic than the case in Haiti, will presently be shown.

With reference to bat vampires, Dr. August Kronheit of the German Academy of Science, and member of a number of leading American societies, has made an elaborate study of them in South America.

He discovered that the true vampire is a montrous blackish-brown bat, with a wing-spread of about two feet, with razor-sharp teeth and a hideous snout like a pig. It flies chiefly in the late hours of the night, attacking sleeping horses, other animals and human beings. It lives almost entirely by sucking blood.

Dr Kronheit cites the specific case of a young girl in Bolivia, who was sleeping during the Summer on the unscreened porch of her father's house. By merest accident the father, who was planning a hunting trip next day, went out on the porch, just as dawn was lighting the sky, to observe the weather.

He saw the huge bat crouching against his daughter's bare shoulder, and with horror recognized it for what it was. He seized it and crushed it to death with his hands. It was then discovered that the vampire had sucked almost a pint of blood from the girl.

These true accounts of the vampire need frighten no reader in the continent of North America. The true vampire bat is confined exclusively to tropical countries, and never comes even so far north as Florida. The bats of the United States are harmless and, in many cases, useful. The useful ones live on insects; others by sucking the juice from fruit on trees. In the United States there is a large bat with a wingspread of more than fourteen inches, which is sometimes called "vampire," but which is known to science under the name of "false vampire," because it sucks only the juices of fruits.

But the existence of the real blood-sucking bats in tropical countries has been conclusively proved by science. One reason why people m general have hesitated to believe in them and regarded them as fictitious is that it has been difficult to understand, in common sense, why victims do not awaken when the vampire fastens upon them. Those who did believe in them invented the fantastic explanation that some insidious, sleep-producing poison was first injected from the bat's fangs into the victim's body. The true explanation is simpler. The upper front teeth of the vampire are flat, thin, unpointed and razorsharp. The vampire, properly speaking, neither bites nor sinks fangs like a needle into its victim. Instead, it delicately shaves off a thin portion of the skin, not deep, and the wound is practically painless. Then it applies its lips only to the spot, which is little more than an abrasion, and by suction alone keeps up a constant flow of blood.

Human vampires, on the other hand, are demented or semi-insane people who have a mania for drinking human blood. Recent investigations both current and historical, have shown that it is not so rare an occurrence as one might suppose.

The most completely authenticated case in history, since it is a part of actual old court record, is that of the beautiful Countess Bathori, who lived in Hungary about three hundred years ago. The complete minutes of the trial, her final confession, the testimony of her servants, the record of the conviction and the amazing punishment inflicted on her by the law-all still exist.

She was rich and owned a castle on the edge of the Carpathian Mountains, which had a mysterious and evil reputation in the neighborhood. For many years the peasants believed that she practiced magic, and was, in league, like Faust, with the devil. They did not dream, however, of the even more dreadful secret that the castle actually hid, for what occurred there, over and over again, was more terrifying than anything in the Bluebeard stories or the horror tales of Poe.

Over a period of several years a number of young and pretty peasant girls and boys had disappeared from the neighborhood and had never been heard from again. For a long time it was supposed that they had been carried off by bandits from the mountains. But finally suspicion was directed toward the already mysterious castle of the Countess Bathori, and after an investigation a company of the King's Guard appeared suddenly one night with search warrants from the Emperor, placed the Countess under arrest and thoroughly searched the castle.

In an underground dungeon they found six of the missing children, emaciated, but still alive, chained so that they could not kill themselves, which they would all too willingly have done to escape the slower death they were suffering. The bones of several others who had finally died were found in an oubliette. The Countess herself, under subsequent threats of legal torture, confessed that each night she went to the dungeon, opened a vein in the arm of one of the prisoners, drank quantities of blood, and also bathed her face and shoulders in it. She believed, in her mad, magical superstition, that this would keep her always young and beautiful. As a matter of fact, the records say, she had a marvelously smooth and lovely skin, a complexion like "snow and roses." It was a cruel period, and Hungary in those days was a cruel country. Instead of executing the Countess Bathori, the judges sentenced her, making the punishment fit the crime, to have the skin flayed from her face and neck. So her face became an object frightful to look upon instead of beautiful, as it had once been.

The most famous case of a modern human vampire attested by the courts and legal record is that of Fritz Haarman, in Hanover, Germany, who was executed after the World War. He was a true vampire, scientifically speaking. He lured no less than twenty-seven youths into his home and drank their blood.

The existence of such living human monsters as Anastasie Dieudonne in Haiti, Fritz Haarman in Germany and the Countess Bathori in Hungary is believed to be the basis for the legends concerning a third type of vampire which exists only in superstition and folklore. That is the vampire ghost, the dead man or woman, who periodically emerges from the grave to feed upon the blood of a living person. A whole literature has been built up around these folklore legends, and there are thousands of hair-raising stories. The best of them all, perhaps, is the "Succubus" by Balzac, which was illustrated by Gustave Dore. The most famous of them is probably "Dracula," with Robert Louis Stevenson's "Ollalla," a blood-curdling story, as runner-up.

These stories, common to the peasantry of all European countries, tell how, when the vampire's grave is opened, the body, no matter how long dead, is found to be still fresh and rosy. To put a stop to the ravages of the supposed vampire, the people go solemnly to the cemetery, open the grave and drive a stake through the heart. Then the grave is closed again and boiling oil and vinegar are poured upon it.

This story appeared in The Zanesville Signal on November 20, 1927 under the title "New Facts about Vampires: Winged and Human."
What is your Vampire Name

Real Vampires in New England?
Real Vampires in New England? Did Our Ancestors Consume Corpses to Cure Disease?

Bella Lugosi beware! itís Bell versus Bella. Folklorist Michael E. Bell suggests that our local ancestors unearthed loved ones in a desperate effort to cure tuberculosis. This New England tour of vampire sites focuses on his native Rhode Island, but includes a recently discovered New Hampshire case as well.

Interview with a REAL Vampire Stalker

Our exclusive interview with the author of "Food for the Dead: On the Trail of New England Vampires". Author and folklorist Michael E. Bell, who has a Ph.D. in folklore, has been consultant to the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission since 1980. editor J. Dennis Robinson interviewed the vampire stalker and filed this eerie report.
Your study offers a wholly new definition of vampires, far from the familiar Hollywood lexicon. What exactly did our New England ancestors do with the exhumed bodies of their relatives and why?

Michael E. Bell

When consumption (which is what people used to call tuberculosis that settled in the lungs) took hold in a family, some people in the outlying areas of New England would open the graves of their deceased relatives, looking for signs that they considered out of the ordinary -- such as liquid or "fresh" blood in the heart. The heart would be cut from the body and burned to ashes. Often the ashes were administered, in water or some medicine, to sick family members. The belief supporting these practices seemed to be that there was some sort of evil, perhaps a demon, residing in one of the bodies that was draining the life from others in the family.

Is this really vampirism, or something else entirely?

The procedures are identical to those practiced in Eastern Europe, particularly Romania. In New England, the people involved never referred to their relatives as vampires. Most of them probably had never even heard of vampires. It was outsiders who recognized the practice as vampirism and labeled it so.

You're from Rhode Island, home of Mercy Brown. Is that the story that got you started?

Food for the dead

Yes, it was a descendent of the Brown family who shared his family's story with me that got me following the vampire trail. His story was that people in the family were dying of some mysterious disease and nothing that they tried could stop it from spreading. So the remaining men of the family got together and decided they had to go to the cemetery and exhume the body of Mercy, the last to die. When they uncovered her, they saw that she had turned over in the grave, and they found fresh blood in her heart. They cut out her heart and burned it on a nearby rock and fed the ashes to her sick brother, Edwin. Although Edwin died two months later, no one else became ill. So the family believed that had taken care of the problem.

And what did you find nearby in New Hampshire?

A Freewill Baptist Minister who kept a journal from 1810 to 1865 described an exhumation he had witnessed in 1810 in Barnstead, New Hampshire. A man named Denitt was dying of consumption, so people in the community went to the graveyard and dug up the body of his dead daughter, Janey Denitt. In this case, they "had a desire to see if anything had grown upon her stomach," according to the journal entry, "but found nothing as they supposed they should." The next day, the minister, Rev. Place, went to Loudon where the people told him of a similar incident that had occurred among the Shakers several years earlier.

Can you tell us what conclusions 20 years of vampire stalking research have led you to?

I believe that this practice was probably much more prevalent and widespread than we might think. The few cases I've found are just the tip of the iceberg. I think that this practice reveals how people deal with looming death that is considered untimely or premature -- they will not accept it without putting up a fight. If the medical profession says, "I can't help you," then people will look elsewhere for an answer. And folklore always has an answer. It may not be an effective answer, but in the end, even a wrong answer is better than none. Doing something beats doing nothing.

We're immersed in popular vampire fiction from Bram Stoker to Anne Rice and Stephen King. We have Buffy the Vampire Slayer in prime time, even "The Count" on Sesame Street and Count Chocula cereal for kids. Why this popular fascination with the legends of blood-sucking humans?

American Vampire

Death has always been the great human mystery. It seems that we humans are the only organism that is aware of our utlimate earthly fate, which is, of course, death. The enigma of death attracts our attention, and any creature that apparently cheats the grim reaper, such as the undead vampire, will be endlessly fascinating. The Hollywood vampire has the added appear of being romantic, even sexy, as well as being all-powerful and immortal. What could be more appealing that?

Aren't you a little concerned about the cult of "believers" who seem to take the vampire and other fictions seriously? Or as a folklorist, do you see their of acceptance of stories beyond science as a healthy thing?

MICHAEL E. BELL: It's hard to know how seriously some folks take their vampires. I think most of us have fun with vampires, and that's OK as long we keep our sense of rationality and logic. When people start actually drinking other peoples' blood or exhuming corpses in cemeteries, things have gone beyond reason. Life (and death) holds many mysteries and it is natural and healthy for us to wonder and speculate, and even to believe things that we cannot know or prove. But if acting on those beliefs puts us and others in real danger, it's time to step back and reconsider.

As a professional researcher and scholar, your approach is scientific. But how do academics respond to your choice of topic?

My fellow folklorists don't have a problem with one of their colleagues interpreting vampire traditions. Actually, the subject of vampires and other "revenants" -- those who return from the dead -- is pretty mainstream folklore material. But I think scholars from other disciplines, such as history, often see such topics as frivolous and tend to dismiss a book like mine without bothering to actually open it up and read it. Even scholars have a hard time breaking through the Count Dracula/Bela Lugosi stereotype. If academics take the trouble to look closely, they may be pleasantly surprised at what can learned about humanity by examining peoples' authentic folk practices.


By offering an historical rationale for vampirism, don't you also annoy the legend-mongers, who accept the fictional view? Are they disappointed or angered by your factual debunking of popular legends?

Sometimes, after I've discussed this vampire tradition, a person will express disappointment that I've destroyed his or her image of vampires. I'm no longer apologetic about this because the fictional vampire is really such a thin, watery figure when compared to the rich and varied vampires of folklore and history. The real vampires are much more frightening, in my opinion.

More frightening? How so?

I guess, fundamentally, it's because what you DON'T see is more threatening than what you do see. When we have an image of evil, we can objectify it and find a way to deal with it. But the New England vampires were never said to leave their graves. They killed their kin while still lying, apparently dead, inside their coffins. How can you escape from something like that? That thought always sends a chill down my spine.

Point taken. The idea of exhuming one's own relative and cutting out the heart of the corpse seems beyond imagination today, especially with our modern sterile funeral techniques. You really think this practice was common among our New England ancestors?

As I mentioned earlier, I think that there is a definite cultural pattern that was more prevalent than we might think -- or might want to think. In my view, the New England vampire tradition was basically a folk medical practice -- a desperate, final hope to save the lives of people who were loved, but whom medical science had deemed were doomed to die. Would someone relish the thought of mutilating the bodies of his wife and children? Of course not. So, they must have been driven to the brink of despair. They were just like us. What they lacked was the knowledge and understanding of how to treat tuberculosis.

Aren't you really telling us about folk medicine? Is there any evidence.that these ghoulish practices worked, or provided some relief to the.afflicted?

You know, research has shown that even when disease is untreated, many people survive. So it was with this practice -- some people lived afterwards and others died. I think the actual healing took place in the family and community. Even if the patient died, there was closure and a sense that everything that could have been done to stop the disease was done.

Both your research and the vampire legends seem to focus ultimately on human fear -- and the lengths we will go to quell it. The current anthrax scare, for example, gives us just a hint of how we might respond as a society to a deadly invisible disease. Our ancestors used legends and folklore to explain away their fears, but what happens to a scientific society that believes there is a rational answer to everything?

We go out and buy gas masks, antibiotics and bioterrorist kits --even though the experts tell us that these things will not prevent us from getting anthrax. Just because we have science to explain what anthrax is and how it works, doesn't make us any more intelligent or logical than our ancestors who dug up the bodies of their relatives. And wearing a gas mask is probably just as effective as consuming the ashes of a burned heart.

Where from here? Will you take this show on the road, or do you have another project in the works?

As far as I'm concerned, there are many vampire trails still not followed or completed. I have a feeling that I will be collecting more examples, and perhaps filling in information on some of the sketchy cases I've already found. I have other projects, from documenting the folklife of the shellfishing industry of Narragansett Bay to interpreting African-American voodoo practices, but, as it has been for the past 20 years, the New England vampire tradition will still attract my attention and hold my interest..

Thanks for your time, Michael

Thank you.
How to Take Care of a Vampire

The vampire myth is widespread, and details vary from place to place. Here's a handy list, courtesy of Cecil Adams' The Straight Dope:

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Sampiro       Albania      Stake through heart
Nachtzehrer   Bavaria      Place coin in mouth, decapitate with ax
Ogoljen       Bohemia      Bury at crossroads
Krvoijac      Bulgaria     Chain to grave with wild roses
Kathakano     Crete        Boil head in vinegar
Brukulaco     Greece       Cut off and burn head
Vampir        Hungary      Stake through heart, nail through temple
Dearg-dul     Ireland      Pile stones on grave
Vryolakas     Macedonia    Pour boiling oil on, drive nail through navel
Upier         Poland       Bury face downwards
Gierach       Prussia      Put poppy seeds in grave
Strigoiul     Rumania      Remove heart, cut in two; garlic in mouth,
                           nail in head
Vlkoslak      Serbia       Cut off toes, drive nail through neck
Neuntoter     Saxony       Lemon in mouth
Vampiro       Spain        No known remedy

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Keep a copy of this in your wallet (I do). When confronted with a suspected vampire, ask to see his passport (if it shows a birthdate in the eighteenth century, so much the better). Cross reference the place of birth with the chart. Wait until the daylight, when the vampire is dormant, and take him out with the suggested method. BEFORE STARTING THIS OR ANY OTHER VAMPIRE ERADICATION PROGRAM, CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR.

Brian "van Helsing" Scearce

Rev David Rice
Mariner's Ministries, Dana Point, California (USA)

"No one ever hits her marks like Xena
Famed for prowess with a sword
Who's as feared and as adored
You've not lived till you've been gored by Xena."
Paranormal Headquearters

The Village of Darkness