The undead, nosferatu, jiangshi. These are just some of the names of beings that rise from the dead during the night in order to suck the blood of the living. Long before the Anglo-Irish scribe Bram Stoker penned Dracula, peasants in Central and Eastern Europe were bolting their doors against the scourge of loved ones coming back from the grave.
The vampires of traditional folklore bear little resemblance to their Hollywood cousins. These vampires are almost always described as ghastly, bloated cadavers that cause plagues to break out in their native villages.
Many folkloric vampires do not drink blood at all. The German Nachzehrer is the walking corpse of a suicide that eats its shroud as a way to consume its living family members. The Malaysian Penanggalan is the floating head of a beautiful woman that is followed by exposed entrails.
Beginning in the early 18th century, many officials, including the French monk Dom Augustin Calmet, began to seriously study the phenomenon of vampirism as it related to intermittent plagues that ravaged rural Europe. Calmet’s successors, from secular scientists to government officials, have continued his tradition of searching for “real” vampires. As a result, many contend that the undead have made their mark in true history, not just supernatural lore.
15. Vampire Graves In Poland
During roadway construction near the Polish town of Gliwice, archaeologists uncovered several graves that they initially thought belonged to murdered resistance fighters from World War II. As it turned out, these bodies belonged to suspected vampires from medieval times.
These vampire corpses had been subjected to strange postmortem rituals. Namely, after death, villagers had decapitated their corpses and placed the heads in between the legs of the suspected vampires. Others had their bones rearranged after putrefaction.
Elsewhere, in a medieval cemetery in Kaldus, Poland, archaeologists found an entire vampire graveyard that could be dated back to the 10th century A.D. Here, some fourteen corpses were buried together in unusual poses or had sickles placed around their throats in the hopes that the vampires would decapitate themselves upon reanimation.
14. Vampire Graves In Bulgaria
In 2014, archaeologists in the ancient Thracian region of Bulgaria uncovered a grave from the 13th century. Several of the unearthed graves displayed that many of locals had been buried as vampires. This fact was made clear when several skeletons showed that the corpses had had metal spikes driven through their chests. At least 100 graves in the 7,000-year-old region showed signs of anti-vampire activity.
According to archaeologist Nikolai Ovcharov, the Thracian city of Perperikon provides conclusive proof that a belief in vampires dates back to at least the middle ages and anti-vampire rituals were widely practiced in southeastern Europe in order to keep “evil” people from rising again.
Ovcharov and his team also discovered another method of protection — dead mothers and their children were buried in such a way as to appear like the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus. This was supposedly one way to prevent plagues.
13. Peter Plogojowitz – A True Vampire
The Peter Plogojowitz (also spelled as Petar Blagojevich) case is one of the more well-known stories in the annals of “true vampire” tales. In 1725, in the Serbian village of Kisolava, a peasant named Peter Plogojowitz died of unspecified causes. However, locals believed that he came back to life just three days after his burial.
The story goes that Peter returned to the home of his son and demanded that the young man feed him. On this night, the son consented to his father’s wishes. The next night, the son denied his father’s request for more food. Because of this indiscretion, the son and nine other villagers died of the plague.
Before their deaths, the villagers all complained about feeling exhausted. Some even claimed to have seen Peter walking through the village at night. These rumors so terrified a local priest that he contacted a local magistrate in the hopes that he would investigate. The magistrates, who feared that the vampire panic would spread, contacted an Austrian army official (Serbia was then a crownland of the Hapsburg monarchy). This officer exhumed Plogojowitz’s grave and the graves of his suspected victims. He found that all of the bodies had barely decayed and looked full of health and vitality. The army officer decided to drive stakes into all of their hearts and decapitated all of their corpses. He then went back to Belgrade to write an official report that concluded that Plogojowitz was a real vampire.
12. The Vampire Of Venice
Vampirism in Europe is most closely associated with the Slavic lands of Eastern Europe. However, archaeological finds showcase the fact that vampire rituals were practiced all throughout the continent.
In the Italian city of Venice, archaeologists uncovered a 16th century corpse that may either belong to a witch or a vampire (or both?). The woman’s decapitated head had a brick should into its mouth. According to forensic archaeologist Matteo Borrini, such postmortem rituals were a common feature of anti-vampire activity in Europe at the time. The use of a brick to block the vampire’s mouth was believed to be a surefire way to keep the vampire from spreading the plague.
After pulverizing the corpse’s bones, scientists discovered that she mostly lived on a vegetable and grain diet, thus she was most likely a peasant. The woman was also above the age of sixty and completely “ordinary” in many ways. Some speculate that the woman had died from the plague or was a suspected witch who dabbled in dispensing herbal remedies.
11. William Of Newburgh’s Revenants
William of Newburgh was an 11th and 12th century Catholic priest of Anglo-Saxon heritage. At the time, England was ruled by the French-speaking Normans who had defeated the Anglo-Saxon armies at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. William’s greatest contribution was his history tome called History of English Affairs, a recording of English history and current politics that embraced both truth and folklore.
In one famous passage, William chronicles several revenants — the English version of the vampire that may predate the Slavic creature by centuries. Revenants were believed to be animated ghosts who came back to Earth after death in order to frighten the living. One revenant recorded by William supposedly lived in Buckinghamshire. This undead ghost terrorized both his wife and her family until a local priest placed a bind on the corpse.
Another revenant was said to be the corpse of a former priest who returned to haunt his former abbey and a female parishioner. The woman asked a local monk for help. In turn, the monk promised to stand over the revenant’s grave at night with an ax. One night, when the revenant tried to leave his grave, the monk slashed him several times with his ax. The next morning, the monk and other clergyman found the revenant sleeping in a pool of its own blood and decided right then and there to burn the corpse.
10. The Richmond Vampire
William Wortham Pool was an unimposing man when he was alive. The bookkeeper was a native son of Mississippi, but he made his home in Richmond, Virginia. When he died at the age of eighty in 1913, few paid attention. Pool was interned at Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery and his mausoleum, while imposing, was not considered all that unusual.
Pool’s story took a weird turn in 1925. One month before Halloween, several railway workers were killed when the Church Hill Tunnel collapsed on top of them. Some horrified workers told reporters that the accident had somehow managed to awaken a bloodthirsty creature that fled to Pool’s resting place. Some say that the creature is still there.
9. Jure Grando
Jure Grando bears a unique distinction in that he was the first man in history to ever be officially labeled as a vampire. His case is likely the first fully documented case of vampirism in world history.
Grando lived in an Istrian village during the 17th century. At the time, Istria was primarily controlled by the Italian Republic of Venice, a major commercial empire. In the village of Kringa, Grando was nothing but an ordinary man. But when he died in 1656, Grando went from average to supernatural.
According to several villagers, Grando was seen walking through Kringa after death. Some even claimed that he knocked on doors during the night. Before long, Kringa natives were calling Grando a strigon, a type of wizard that was then common in Italian folklore. A strigon supposedly lived off of the blood of children during their lifetimes, then, in death, would knock on the doors and windows of those souls who were destined to die early.
Sixteen years after Grando’s death, the village mayor, Miho Radetic, decided to rid Kringa of the strigon for good. Nine men in total descended on Grando grave, opened it up, and found the corpse fully intact. After prayers and a wooden stake through the stomach failed, one member of the party chopped off Grando’s head with an ax. The blow caused a tidal wave of blood to pour out of the corpse. This proved to be the killing blow against the strigon.
8. Arnold Paole
The case of the Serbian peasant Arnold Paole likely had an influence on later fictional vampire tales. In life, Paole was said to be a hajduk, a type of Serbian guerrilla fighter that doubles as a murderous highwayman. Paole’s native village was Medvegia, which means that he grew up in the Hapsburg crownland of Serbia. As such, Paole served in the Austrian army against the Ottoman forces that controlled Turkish Serbia. After returning from war in 1727, Paole married and settled down to farm life as a genial, pleasant man.
However, underneath this veneer of happiness, Paole admitted to his wife that he had been attacked by a vampire during his army days. After killing this vampire, Paole claimed that he ate some of the vampire’s grave dirt and bathed his wounds in the vampire’s blood.
After Paole died after an unfortunate accident, townspeople began dying of the plague. On the fortieth day after Paole’s burial, villagers exhumed his body and upon seeing that his corpse had not yet begun to rot, the villagers drove a stake through his heart and chopped off his head. Paole is said to have let out a sigh after the stake pierced his heart.
Years later, when another vampire panic ravaged the village, the Austrian authorities sent Regimental Field Surgeon Johannes Fluckinger in to investigate. Fluckinger discovered that a new vampire, a man named Milo, had become a vampire after eating beef that had been earlier tainted by Paole. Fluckinger and the villagers destroyed Milo and all of his victims in the usual way. Fluckinger’s report back to the Austrian emperor became a best-seller and touched off an interest in vampires all across Europe.
7. The Vampire Of Croglin Grange
The story of the Croglin Grange vampire first came to the attention of readers in 1876. In that year, British writer Augustus Hare published a book called In My Solitary Life. The book records the ordeals of the Fisher and Cranswell families of Cumberland in the far northwest of England. The Fisher family’s ancestral home was a single-story stone edifice known as Croglin Grange.
After the Fishers left the Croglin Grange property vacant for an entire winter, the Cranswell family moved in with their two boys and one girl. During one hot summer night, daughter Amelia decided to enjoy the night air on the veranda outside of her bedroom. While studying the churchyard that abutted the property, Amelia apparently saw two objects float in and out of the treeline. Amelia grew increasingly fearful as these colored objects drew closer and closer to her.
After Amelia closed the veranda doors, she saw an ugly creature with glowing eyes scratching at the windows. The creature’s bony fingers broke through the windowpane and entered Amelia’s room. Before he brothers chased the creature off, it sank its teeth into the young girl’s neck. The following day, Amelia’s brothers followed the creature’s trail back to a churchyard where all but one coffin was in disarray. The intact coffin was burned, for that is where they believed that the vampire slept during the day.
6. The Vampires Of Connecticut
Few Americans know about their country’s historical vampires. 19th century New England was particularly awash with tales of plague-carrying corpses.
Connecticut’s major vampire tale concerns the Ray family of Griswold, Connecticut. During the 1840s, the Ray family of Jewett City lost several family members to tuberculosis over the course of nine years. By 1854, multiple sons and the family’s patriarch had all died of consumption.
When the eldest son Henry came down with tuberculosis-like symptoms, the family decided that an undead vampire was the cause of all of their problems. Dead family members Lemuel and Elisha were exhumed and had their bodies burned in order to stop the plague. In the 1990s, after several bodies were exhumed at a private cemetery belonging to the Walton family, archaeologists found that one corpse, which had died of consumption, had had its head removed after death.
5. The Alnwick Vampire
Few things are more foreboding than a ruined castle. Alnwick Castle in Northumberland is one such edifice. The thousand-year-old castle belongs to the Percy family, an Anglo-Norman line that claims the title of Duke of Northumberland, as well as the Earl of Worcester and Earl of Egremont. Inside of the family’s Alnwick Castle home, many believe that the ghost of a hunchback vampire roams the grounds.
This story was first chronicled by William of Newburgh. According to an early account of the legend, the hunchbacked vampire was the reanimated corpse of the castle’s former owner. During the day, the monster lived underground. At night, it would return to the world in order to spread the plague. In William’s account, the revenant was dispatched after a local clergyman whipped up a mob carrying pitchforks and torches. After locating the creature’s grave on Palm Sunday, the mob stabbed the vampire with a spade. This caused a great amount of blood to pour forth from the corpse.
4. Highgate Vampire
The story of the Highgate Vampire is one of the more bizarre occurrences to ever happen in the modern age. It all began in 1963. One night, a pair of lovers were strolling past London’s famous Highgate Cemetery (the final resting place of Karl Marx). While passing the cemetery’s North Gate, the lovers claimed that they saw a tall, dark shape floating above the cemetery’s walls. Another eyewitness would claim that the shape reminded him of a “black treacle.”
Six years later, members of the British Occult Society decided to investigate the cemetery after reading about the numerous eyewitness reports. Two men in particular, Sean Manchester and David Farrant, led the well-publicized vampire hunt inside of Highgate.
According to Farrant, he first saw the vampire while he and Manchester spent the night inside of the cemetery in December 1969. Farrant claimed that he saw a large, black figure with “hypnotic” eyes. Farrant also hinted that the creature had the ability to manipulate the weather, for when Farrant saw him, the cemetery grew noticeably colder.
When this story was picked up by local newspapers, stories began circulating about Satanists who regularly committed animal sacrifices in the cemetery. This led to speculation that the creature may have been a demon rather than a vampire.
The story reached its climax in February 1970, when Manchester told the Hampstead & Highgate Express that the cemetery was haunted by a “King Vampire” from the 15th century who had practiced black magic in his native Wallachia.
3. Mercy Brown
The last recorded incidence of a vampire panic in America occurred in the New England state of Rhode Island. In the 1890s, the Brown family of Exeter began suffering from a tuberculosis epidemic that was then rampaging across North America. In January 1892, Mercy Brown followed her older brother, older sister, and mother into the grave. When another Brown child, Edwin Brown, fell ill with consumption, the villagers decided that drastic measures were in order.
On March 17, 1892, after receiving permission from family patriarch George Brown, villagers and a local doctor exhumed the bodies of the dead Browns. They found that Mercy’s body showed signs of life, such as long fingernails and long hair. The investigators also found blood on Mercy’s lips, thus convincing them that she was sucking her brother’s blood.
In keeping with New England custom, the doctor removed Mercy’s heart (which apparently contained blood), burned it to ashes, then mixed the ashes with water. This concoction was fed to Edwin, who managed to cling to life for just a while longer. Many scholars continue to debate the origins of New England’s vampire folklore. The two most common theories are: 1) that it was based on older English folktales about revenants, and 2) it provided an explanation for the tuberculosis epidemics that were so common before the 20th century.
2. Frederick Ransom
Decades before Mercy Brown, another New Englander was accused of being a vampire. Frederick Ransom was a Dartmouth College student who hailed from the tiny town of South Woodstock, Vermont. In 1816, Ransom’s family began noticing that he was seriously ill. As Ransom grew weaker, it became clear that the young man had been stricken with consumption. Ransom eventually died on February 14, 1817.
His superstitious father was convinced that Frederick would return from the grave as a vampire. The elder Ransom had his son’s body exhumed. A local doctor then removed the heart so that it could be burned in a blacksmith’s forge. According to Daniel Ransom, the youngest son who recorded the entire ordeal in his journal, this folk remedy failed to work and the rest of the Ransom family soon died from the disease.
Many historians have noted that Rhode Island was originally founded as a haven for religious dissenters who had been banished by the Puritan authorities of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Vermont, due to its isolation and close proximity to the frontier regions of western Massachusetts, was also a hotbed of religious dissent. Some contend that this religious freedom allowed older folk beliefs to flourish.
1. Sava Savanovic
When it comes to vampire folklore, Serbia is ground zero for historical researchers, folklorists, and archaeologists. This mountainous nation in the Balkans has provided much of what we know about superstitions regarding vampires and the methods with which vampires can be dispatched.
One of the most famous Serbian vampires of all time is Sava Savanovic. According to legend, Savanovic was an old hermit who lived in a watermill in a village called Zarozje, which is not far from Serbia’s border with Bosnia. Most stories involving Savanovic record that he attacked and drank the blood of any miller who tried to mill their grain at his home.
These days, Savanovic is considered Serbia’s first vampire (there is some dispute about this). Many travelers have made the pilgrimmage to his supposed watermill on the Rogacica River. Local authorities have been known to issue mock public health warnings about the old vampire as well.
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