Dracula is a famous historical figure, albeit not true. But his origin story does have a place in history, through the life of Vlad the Impaler. Vlad and Dracula aren’t the only vampiric references throughout the years though. Today on the Lady Dicks Podcast we’re covering all things vampire from the Greek origin legend to the Romanian Strioli.
Today we are talking all things vampires, from Dracula and Vlad to the New England Vampire Craze. But before we get started we have a few things we need to go over.
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The history of vampires
The myth of vampires started long before the 1897 publication of Bram Stoker’s famous novel Dracula. These “evil mythological beings who roam the world at night” searching for innocent people whose blood they can taste actually date back to ancient Greek mythology.
These beings appear in the Greek mytho of a young Italian man Ambrogio. According to the story, Ambrogio fell in love with “the love of his life” Selena after visiting an Oracle in the temple of Apollo, the Sun god. However, little did Ambrogio know that the jealous God Apollo wanted Selena for his own and in vengeance he cursed Ambrogio by “causing his skin to burn whenever it was exposed to sunlight.”
Desperate, Ambrogio turned to Hades the God of the underworld, and Artemis the God of the hunt. Long story short: Ambrogio made a deal with Hades which involved him stealing Artemis’ silver bow and in response Artemis curse Ambrogio by making silver also burn his skin. But, taking pity on him, Artemis also gave him super strength, immortality and “fangs to kill beasts to use their blood to write love poems to Selena.”
When the mortal Selena eventually escaped Apollo, Artemis told Ambrogio that he could make Selena immortal, like him, by drinking her blood. This would kill her mortal body but her spirit would live on within him. It is said that their combined blood could then turn anyone who drank it into a vampire.
Strigoi: Romanian myths
The Greeks aren’t the only one to have vampire-esque creatures in their mythology, the “night walkers” or Strigoi can be found in Romanian mythology. According to traditional Romanian beliefs November 30 is the official beginning of Winter, and the moment where Night Walkers or Strigoi rise up to “compete with each other to bring misfortune and sadness” to people; the Strigoi that “wins” and manages to disturb the most people becomes the Ruler for thee next year.
On November 30, the Strigoi rise from their graves, some even emerge from living bodies and begin fighting in places that are “unclean” like “town borders, crossroads, and clearings in the woods.” These battles last until the “rooster crows” and the Night Walkers return to where they came from.
These Strigoi are said to be the “ghosts of people who lived or died under unhappy circumstances” which include things like death by suicide, or the deaths of the illegitimate, the unbaptized or the unmarried. They have red hair and bluish purple eyes and survive off human blood.
Worried you loved one might become a Strigoi, or generally want to avoid it for yourself? Bury the body with a bottle of whisky. Apparently, this prevents people from coming back as them.
Vlad the Impaler
Dracula the famous fictional character is maybe not so fictional at all. Vlad the third or Vlad the Implaler, the viovode (or prince) of Wallachia in the 12th century was actually known as Vlad Dracula. He was the second son of Vlad Draul who’s name came after he became of the Order of the Dragon a monarchical chivalric order for “select nobility”, and throughout history, he signed two letters as “Dragulya” or “Dralulya” in the late 1470s. Dracula simply means “son of the Dragon”. Vlad’s nickname Vlad the Impaler’s morbid nickname is a testament to his favourite way of “dispensing with his enemies.”
Based on most accounts, Vlad was born in 1431 in Transylvania or what is now the central region of modern-day Romania. In 1442, when Vlad was around 11 years old, his father was called to diplomatic meetings with Ottoman Sultan Murad II. He brought his young sons, Vlad and Radu, along with him but the meeting was a trap and all 3 of them were arrested. Vlad II was released only under the condition that he left his son behind and the boys were held to make sure that during the ongoing war between Turkey and Hungry Vlad II “behaved himself.”
During the time his son’s were held by the Ottoman’s, Vlad II was fighting for his title as voivode of Wallachia (prince) and eventually he would lose the place. In 1477, Vlad II was ousted as ruler and killed in the swamps near Bălteni, Romania along with his son and Vlad III’s half-brother Mircea.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Dracula, Bram Stoker’s famous novel was published in 1897 and tells the story of a vampire. A dark creature who would drink the blood of humans and hunt them down in the middle of the night. Dracula was so terrifying that critics at the time was said to be “the most blood-curdling novel of the paralyzed century” by critics. While the vampire was terrifying, people could take rest in the fact that Dracula was fictional. But most people don’t know that Dracula was based off Stoker’s real life inspiration, Vlad the Impaler… only Vlad was much worse.
Until the death of his father and brother, Vlad wasn’t known to be violent but after he set out for revenge calling himself Vlad Dracula or “son of the dragon” fighting to bring back power in the region to his family. A year after the deaths of his father and half-brother in 1478, Vlad embarked on a journey to take his father’s seat from the new ruler Vladisav II. He won the seat but his time as ruler was short lived. Just 2 months after gaining the seat, Vladislav II returned and took back the seat. And then he took the seat again after an 8 year struggle.
It was said that during his time as the prince, he committed the atrocities for which he is best known. Specifically, he had a penchant for impaling his enemies on stakes in the ground and leaving them there to die. He treated both domestic and foreign enemies with this type of torture. And one of his famed impaling happened during a battle in 1462, where he left a field filled with thousands of impaled victims as a deterrent to Ottoman forces.
Vlad’s killing technique apparently worked so well that it is said that he killed 80,000 people and impaled 20,000 of those including Saxon merchants, Ottoman deserters and treasonous prisoners of war. Legend says that he even hosted a dinner for himself in a “forest of spikes topped with impaled bodies” and displayed them throughout Transylvania. The site was so terrifying that many a sultans retreated at the sight of them.
Florin Curta, professor of medieval history and archeology at the University of Florida says that Bran Castle which is often referred to as Dracula’s castle was never the residence of Vlad. Vlad, in fact, never actually owned anything in Transylvania. It is possible that Vlad and his brother spent time at Tokat Castle while they were imprisoned in Turkey. That said, others say that Bran Castle might have served as a stopover for Vlad.
Bran Castle is the only living castle today that fits Dracula’s Castle in modern day Romania. It was built in the 14th Century and sits on a steep cliff at Bran Pass overlooking the dense forests below. The castle attracts hundreds of visitors a year who peek around its secret passageways, tunned stone staircases, conical towers and rooms filled with antiques and armour.
Visiting Bran Castle
Regardless of whether Bran Castle is where Vlad the Impaler spent his time, it is still a beautiful slice of history that you can visit today. So if you are interested in visiting Bran Castle it has a 4 out of 5 rating on TripAdvisor. You can find it in Bran, Romania and it appears to be open daily. But before you book your flight and get your tickets we have a few reviews you might want to hear beforehand:
New England Vampire Craze
We thought we’d end today’s episode with a quick talk about the New England vampire craze a much more modern story… It was Griswold, Connecticut in 1990, and a group of young boys playing near a hillside gravel mine found the first graves. Their parents refused to believe them until they were able to produce a skull. Police initially thought these bodies were the work of local serial killer Michael Ross but as they examined the decaying bones it turned out they were more than a century old. New England is filled with unmarked family plots, and archaeologist Nick Bellatoni determined that the hillside was actually a colonial-era cemetery with 29 bodies. The bodies were laid to rest in simple wooden coffins with no jewlery and little clothing with their arms crossed over their chest.
All of them except for Burial No. 4. This grave was one of the only 2 stone crypts in the cemetery and was partially visible from the mine excavation site. When Bellatoni uncovered the crypt they found a red-painted coffin and a pair of skeletal feet. But when the uncovered the full body he found that the rest of the person had “been rearranged” and the skeleton had been beheaded and buried with the skull and thigh bones resting on top of the ribs and vertebrae. Bellatoni called this skeleton JB because of the markings on the coffin lid, he was a man in his 50s buried sometime in the 1830s.
Someone identified the body as being similar to the Jewett City Vampires. In 1854, Jewett City, Connecticut, townspeople exhumed several coffins of corpses suspected of being vampires that were rising from their graves to kill the living.
Henry and Lucy Ray had a family of 5 children all whom grew to adulthood. Between the 1840s and 1850s, Henry and two of his adult sons died of a “peculiar wasting away disease.” Then, in 1954, the third son Henrey Nelson Ray was stuck by this strange disease (which today would be found to be tuberculosis) which was clearly the work of a vampire. The family dug up the bodies of the two passed sons and burned them right there in the graveyard and today they’re known as the Jewett City Vampires.
In the 19th century, New England was the site of an outbreak of tuberculosis that ran rampant through Rhode Island, eastern Connecticut and Vermont. And the reaction to this was the New England vampire panic. Consumption, we now know this to be tuberculosis, was thought to be caused by the deceased consuming the life of their surviving relatives. To stop the “vampire” from attacking and prevent the spread of the decease the bodies were exhumed and the internal organs ritually burned.
There were two famous cases of this: Mercy Brown and Fredrich Ransom.
Mercy Brown’s mother caught consumption which spread throughout the rest of the family, eventually finding its way to Mercy. Neighbours believed that be of the family members was a campire who had the illness and was spreading it. Two months after Mercy died, her father George who did not believe that vampires were to blame for the family’s sickness, reluctantly allowed the living family to exhume the bodies of his family. When Mercy was exhumed they found her to show little decomposition and her her heart had shown fresh blood. This was enough to convince villagers that Mercy was a vampire and they burnt her body. The ashes were mixed with water and given to her living brother to drink to stop the vampiric influence and unsurprisingly it was not successful.
Fredrich Ransom was of South Woodstock, Vermont. He died on February 14, 1817, at the age of 20. His father, worried that he would attach the family, exhumed his body and had his heart burned on a blacksmith’s forage. The story is strange because the Ransom family was well-to-do and it was uncommon for a member of society to fall victim to a “vampire attack.”
There are over 80 documented exhumations reaching as far back as the late 1700s and as west as Minnesota. But they believe hundreds of more wait discovery. JB’s grave remains the only intact archeological clue to the vampire panic due to most graves being lost to time or unable to be exhumed because of local objection.
Did you love this episode? Check these other historic gems out:
- The Mummy’s Curse: A bunch of people died after King Tut’s tomb was open, is the Curse of the Pharaohs real?
- Mummies Around the World: Itching for more mummy stories? Here are some tales of mummies around the world!
- Missouri’s Zombie Road: Are there zombies in St. Louis? Let’s find out…
- The Legend of Bloody Mary: Have you ever played Bloody Mary? Let’s talk about who she might be?
The Lady Dicks did not just magically come up with the information for Vampires, Oh My! Vlad the Impaler, Bran Castle, Dracula + the Vampire Craze themselves, they, in fact, did research beyond Wikipedia (thanks jerky iTunes reviewer for your one-star comment), and here are those sources:
- Everyone has heard of vampires, but have you heard of Strigoi? Hostelcluj.com.
- Vampire History, History.com.
- Vlad the Impaler, Britannica.
- Vlad The Impaler Was Much Worse Than Dracula Ever Was, All That’s Interesting.
- Jewett City Vampires, Atlas Obscura.
- The Great New England Vampire Panic, Smithsonian.
The Lady Dicks Podcast was created by Tae Haahr. The Lady Dicks are Andrea Campion, Nikki Kipping and Tae Haahr. “The Mummy’s Curse: Discovery of King Tut’s Tomb” was research, written, edited and produced by Tae Haahr. The Lady Dicks theme music, A Pink Panther, is licenced through AudioJungle.
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