is no single truth behind the mythic figure that first surfaced
in Transylvania, Romania, more than 500 years ago. For centuries,
Dracula has been alternately revered, vilified and idolized.
Romanians recently discovered the marketability of this character
who is so creepily attractive to the West.
Vlad Tepes, or Vlad the Impaler, was the original Dracula, born
into a time of strife between two great powers: the Austrian
Hapsburgs and the Ottoman Turks.
some Romanians, the 15th-century prince of Wallachia and Transylvania
is still a hero. According to Romanian lore, Vlad was a just
man who defended his people from Turkish invaders and German
merchants when most surrounding principalities had surrendered
to Ottoman rule. The prince insisted that everybody, from the
nobles to the peasants, submit to his rules or face dire consequences.
The poor who didn't suffer from one of his draconian and frequently
capricious acts loved him for this.
was the honorific given to Vlad Tepes because, like his father
before him, he belonged to the Order of the Dragon, dedicated
to fighting Turks and heretics. (The diminutive "a" at the end
signified "son of the dragon.") Later, people called him "Dracul,"
meaning "devil," because the dragon symbolized the devil.
A real-life fiend, Vlad the Impaler killed 40,000 to 100,000
people, an unfathomable number at a time when murders were done
singly and by hand.
A sadist as well as a mass killer, Vlad had his victims blinded,
strangled, hanged, burned, boiled, nailed and buried alive.
Vlad once noticed that there were many vagrants, beggars and
cripples in his kingdom. He invited all the poor and sick in
Wallachia to a great feast, proclaiming that no one should go
hungry in his land. The poor and crippled were brought into
a vast hall where a fabulous feast was prepared for them. The
guests ate and drank late into the night, when Vlad appeared
and asked the assembled crowd, "Do you want to be without cares,
lacking nothing in this world?" When the answer was affirmative,
Vlad boarded up the hall and had everyone within fried to a
crisp. Vlad explained his action by saying, "No one will be
poor in my realm."
One of Vlad's more infamous victories was over a Turkish sultan
who was in hot pursuit of him. According to Greek historian
" ... the Sultan's army came across a field with stakes, about
three kilometers long and one kilometer wide. And there were
large stakes on which they could see the impaled bodies of men,
women, and children, about twenty thousand of them, as they
said; quite a spectacle for the Turks and the Sultan himself!
The Sultan, in wonder, kept saying that he could not conquer
the country of a man who could do such terrible and unnatural
things ... ."
Vlad's infamy spread far even during his lifetime. He was called
"the wild beserker, Prince Dracula" by the Germans. German pamphlets
with titles like "The Frightening and Truly Extraordinary Story
of a Wicked Blood-Drinking Tyrant Called Prince Dracula" were
sometimes illustrated with portraits of the dark prince and
his atrocities. But, although he purportedly forced gypsies
to eat each other, Vlad himself never drank blood.
Vlad's death remains mysterious: Various legends say that he
was mistaken for a Turk and killed by his own men, that he was
killed by a hired assassin, that he was killed by a political
rival. In any case, an exhumation of his grave site in the 1930s
did not yield a body.
Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula, Romania was haunted
by plenty of "undead," but it took an intellectually larcenous
Irishman with a big imagination to create the Dracula myth.
Stoker's creation was originally going to be called "Count Wampyr,"
but was changed to "Dracula" after Stoker read a footnote stating
that the name meant "the devil" in the Wallachian language.
Stoker married the name to the Transylvanian idea of vampires
that he had read about in a different text, and the Count Dracula
of Western nightmares was born.
Count Dracula stalked his victims at night, killing them by
draining their bodies of blood. He had the strength of 20 men,
subsisted on the blood of others, could shape-shift into a wolf
or bat, had no reflection or shadow, and could transform others
into vampires. He did have his limitations, however. Count Dracula
could not enter a house unless invited, lost his supernatural
powers during the day, and had to travel to England with seven
boxes of soil from Transylvania because he had to sleep on native
ground. He met his end stabbed through with a knife.
am Dracula," intoned Bela Lugosi in the classic 1931 film Dracula.
Lugosi was not the first choice of Universal Films in its quest
for a screen Dracula. But Lugosi, who was already playing Dracula
on the stage, was driven to get the part. He bombarded studio
executives with so many letters and telegrams that in the end
they had no choice but to let him play the role he felt destined
For the movie's opening night, one New York City theater advertised
that a trained nurse would be available to care for those who
fainted from terror. Dracula was a huge success and was
followed by a sequel, Dracula's Daughter.
When he died, Lugosi was buried with his Dracula cape from the
VON COUNT OF SESAME STREET
On Sesame Street, Count Dracula is an obsessive, purple
number-counter with pointy ears and a bad Romanian accent. He
loves to count and must count everything from bats to biscuits.
Fortunately, he only counts to 20.
and killer, giver of immortal life and taker of humanity, the
vampire Lestat is novelist Anne Rice's most enduring character.
More than 100,000,000 copies of her books have sold worldwide.
The Lestat first introduced to the public in Rice's 1976 Interview
With the Vampire was a darker, colder, simpler character
than the vampire who emerged almost a decade later in The
Vampire Lestat. True to his immortal nature, Lestat survived
Rice's attempt to kill him off in a fire in Interview.
In the second novel, Rice introduced a vampire-as-artist, a
wanderer with the charisma of a rock star. The new Lestat ignited
readers' passions and gave birth to fierce fan clubs, cult gatherings
and pets named Lestat.
Even today, many Romanians have never heard of Dracula in the
Western sense of the figure. But enterprising Romanians trying
to lure Western tourists are learning that vampires sell.
Dracula Land is a proposed theme park intended to bring fame
and fortune to a small town in the middle of Romania. The park
was meant to capitalize on the history of Sighisoara, haunt
of Romanian prince and folk hero Vlad the Impaler, and to link
Vlad, erroneously but dramatically, with vampire images from
Western pop culture.
Dracula Land has drawn opposition from cultural conservationists
like Prince Charles (who also shares ancestry with Vlad). According
to the United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization
(UNESCO), the "cultural value" of Sighisoara would be damaged
by the addition of a Disneylike theme park. Complaints of preservationists
and environmentalists have temporarily postponed the groundbreaking
for Dracula Land, originally scheduled for 2002.
Romanian tourism minister Matei Dan insists, however, that the
park will "certainly open in 2004." Not to be outdone, the town
of Brasnov recently announced plans for a competing version
of Dracula Land, to be called Empire Dracula.
Vampires are generally believed to be some form of dead person
feeding off the living in order to preserve their own immortality.
Vampires are not a strictly Romanian phenomenon; they are globetrotters
who, in one form or another, have haunted regions as diverse
as ancient Egypt, Tibet, Mexico, the Philippines and China.
Romanians, though, have a particularly lively and robust tradition
of vampire stories. Tales abound of strigele, moroii, varcolaci
and pricolici ‚‚ all forms of reanimated corpses or vampires.
The following tales come from The Vampire: A Casebook, edited
by Alan Dundes. Copyright 1998. Reprinted by permission of The
University of Wisconsin Press.
twenty or thirty years ago (in the early 1900s), a cripple, an
unmarried man, of Cusmir, in the south of Mehedinti, died. A little
time after, his relations began to die, or to fall ill. They complained
that a leg was (sic) drying up. This happened in several places.
What could it be? 'Perhaps it is the cripple; let us dig him up.'
They dug him up on a Saturday night, and found him as red as red,
and all drawn up into a corner of the grave. They cut him open,
and took the customary measures. They took out his head and liver,
burnt them on red-hot cinders, and gave the ashes to his sister
and other relations, who were ill. They drank them with water,
and regained their health."
-- Agnes Murgoci, "The Vampire in Roumania"
were once two partners, a thief and a vampire. 'Where are you
going this evening?' said the thief to the vampire. 'I am going
to bewitch the son of Ion,' said the vampire. 'Don't go there.
It is there that I want to go this evening to steal oxen. You
can go somewhere else.' 'Go somewhere else yourself,' said the
vampire... Both of them went. The vampire went to the door, and
the thief to the window. Ion's son inside sneezed, and the thief
said quickly, 'Long life.' This took away the vampire's power.
He was able to make the boy's nose bleed, but (the boy) did
not die. The thief then went in and told the parents what had
happened, and they gave him some oxen as a reward. It is always
well to say 'long life' when anyone sneezes."
-- Agnes Murgoci, "The Thief and the Vampire"
From the village of Nucsoara, Muscel district:
"Once a strigoi turned into a handsome young man and a young
girl fell in love with him. They were married, but the girl
also wanted a religious wedding. He rejected this idea. Her
parents insisted, so he agreed to go to the church, but when
they emerged from the church he looked at his wife in a strange
way, baring his teeth. She became frightened and told her mother
about it. Her mother said, 'Don't be afraid. He loves you. That's
why he bared his teeth.' When their parents came to visit them,
they couldn't find them. They had locked themselves in, but
the people could see them through the window. He was sucking
her blood. When the people saw it, they shot him through the
window. (recorded 6/21/1936)"
-- Jan Louis Perkowski, "The Romanian Folkloric Vampire"
The Metamorphisis of a Fiend by Jessie Deeter, an Associate
Producer for FRONTLINE/World.
Read an interview with Dracula expert
QUIZ - Do you know how to spot a "Vampire"?
Credit: Agence France-Presse
Vlad the Impaler
Credit: Rosenbach Museum & Library
Dracula book cover
Credit: Elizabeth Miller
Credit: Agence France-Presse
Tom Cruise as the vampire Lestat in the 1994 film adaptation
of Anne Rice's "Interview with the Vampire"
Credit: Agence France-Presse
Credit: Agence France-Presse