In the course of my research for The Brides, I’ve collected quite a few stories of real-life vampire panics. I thought I’d share a few of them, starting with one that’s quite recent, the Highgate Vampire.
Highgate Cemetery is located in northern London. Established in the early nineteenth century, it is the final resting place of several prominent Victorian-era individuals, including Karl Marx. By the late 1960s, though, it had fallen victim to neglect. Most of the graves were overgrown, and many had been vandalized. In some cases, the graves actually lay open, exposing the bodies inside. Apparently the local young people routinely snuck into the cemetery at night and, on a lark, photographed themselves dancing with the remains.
I am not making this up.
One night in 1969 a group of young people including a man named David Farrant, spent the night in the cemetery. Farrant later wrote a letter to a local paper, the Hampstead and Highgate Express, reporting that he saw a “grey figure” while he was there, which he thought was something supernatural.
Others jumped on the report, claiming to have seen things in the cemetery, too. The sightings included a tall man in a hat, a spectral cyclist, a lady in white, a leering face, voices, and church bells.
Notice how none of this has anything to do with a vampire?
Enter a man named Sean Manchester. The Express, always the paragon of journalistic integrity, reported him as stating a “King Vampire of the Undead” rested in Highgate Cemetery, a Wallachian nobleman who had been brought to England in a coffin. Manchester even stated a sleepwalking woman had led him to the vampire’s lair. At this point it is important to note that Manchester basically cribbed the plot of Dracula.
Despite the fact that he had absolutely no evidence for anything he said Manchester’s story gained notoriety, and both he and Farrant were interviewed on television, where they both took the opportunity to up the ante, stating that they had each found dead animals in the cemetery and that the “vampiric” activity was stirred up by Satan worshipers performing rituals among the graves.
Let’s sum up the “vampiric” activity to date. People saw things. At night. In an area that was not well-lit.
On Friday, March 13, 1970, the two men, by now arch-rivals, announced a great “vampire hunt” that saw dozens of “vampire hunters” swarm the cemetery. The local authorities proved ineffectual in stopping them. Shockingly enough, no one actually found any vampires. Manchester did claim he uncovered a mysterious vault somewhere, but it was empty, so he tossed around some garlic and holy water and left. Some years later he claimed he found a vampire corpse in a house somewhere and destroyed it.
Not to be outdone Farrant was arrested a few years later for desecrating graves in the cemetery, though he denied it. He claimed he and his girlfriend were “performing an exorcism.”
As it turns out some good did come from all this. People were outraged at the neglected state of Highgate Cemetery, and eventually a trust was set up to restore and maintain the cemetery, though a few two-stepping teenagers were probably disappointed.