Thursday, May 09, 2013

30 Days of Why I Love New Orleans - Day 25


It’s late at night, darkness has fallen, and an unwary woman walks cobblestone streets. A
streetlight flickers . . . she looks back in fear.  Shadows race eerily in the night; there’s a strange sound of movement on the wind.

                And then the vampire strikes . . . .

                Or, perhaps, he’s just a handsome, rakish, and devilish sort of rogue, and he’s said and done all the right things in a bar and the young woman is his willing victim.

                Not that vampires practice sexual discrimination in any way. Good blood is good blood.

                New Orleans is, of course, a city
rich in vampire lore, thanks to premier vampire-writer of today, the lovely and talented Anne Rice.

                But before Anne Rice, even before Bram Stoker and Dracula, vampire tales and legends were known around the world. In every country those legends are a bit different. Often what people believed can now be explained by science.

                Perhaps New Orleans, a city with such a mixed, colorful, and even violent history, it might just be natural that legends take root and with a bit of a mix from fact and fiction.

                The actual “history” of the vampire stretches way back beyond Bram Stoker’s Dracula; some believe that our modern concept may have had roots in ancient Egypt when a

blood-drinking demon was evoked. Others think of the lamia of the still-ancient world, a crone or a witch who came in the night to drink the blood of babies.

                Perhaps another concept of vampirism might have come from the infamous Countess Bathory—though she didn’t drink blood, she bathed in it.

                Our strongest modern connection, however, probably does come from Vlad Tepes, Dracula, or “Son of the Dragon.” Vlad Tepes was—we know through historical records—a brutal ruler who set his enemies on stakes to die slowly and in excruciating pain. But, then again, he was born in the midst of a violent world. We all have different ways of looking at things. To some, he was a blood-thirsty Dracula. To others, he was a national hero who led his people to victories unknown before his reign.

                During the late Dark Ages and Medieval eras, superstition ruled the world. It was easy to imagine that bad things happened because of witchcraft—and that the dead walked because the evil of Satan had somehow permeated their mortal flesh. In Europe,
plague and disease swept whole communities. People died of tuberculosis, spitting blood.

                And, of course, they were buried prematurely. So often that by Victorian times, coffins offered a window for the face—and many were buried with coffin “alarms,” ropes within the coffin to ring a bell should they find that they awoke—six feet under and staring at a wall of dirt.

                European fears and superstitions travelled to the New World from Europe and we, too, feared death and the coming of the vampire. Mercy Brown was one of the best-documented incidents in the United States having to do with the exhumation and destruction of a corpse to prevent vampirism. Poor Mercy died in 1892. Her mother had died in 1888, then her oldest sister two years later, and then her brother, Edwin, sickened.

But poor Mercy died next. Neighbors were terrified—one of the family members buried had
to be a vampire—rising from the dead to kill and kill again. There were rumors that the Brown family members could be seen walking late at night in the mists that fell upon Rhode Island.

                The family members were exhumed.  The others had decayed. Mercy looked as if she had just lain down for a nap. There was blood in her heart.

                The family had wasted away from “consumption” or tuberculosis, but little was known about the disease at the time and nothing could be done to stop it. Mercy had been buried in frigidly cold ground. That wasn’t really given much thought. She had her heart cut out and burned. The ashes were mixed with water; Edwin drank them. No good—Edwin died two years later.

                The custom of “sitting up with the dead” became very popular and remains popular. Sitting up with the dead for twenty-four hours means that someone can watch over the corpse—and make sure that it’s showing no signs of coming back to life.  This is still practiced fairly frequently in NOLA—out of respect, really, more so than a fear of the dead coming back to life. It’s a nice custom, even if it did begin strangely. All over the world, we “wake” our dead. Fear? Or tender care?

                Frankly, I have friends in New Orleans who are vampires. Not blood-drinking vampires, though cults of blood-drinkers do exist in NOLA—as well as elsewhere around the world. Most of the time, these are cults of consenting adults who draw each other’s blood or arranged to have blood drawn and then share the drinking.

                My friends tend to be “spiritual” vampires; they “drink” energy and force from the air, try to drink in negative energy around them and change it into something better. Can this truly be a talent? I don’t know. I know they’re nice people.

                “Porphyria” is a real disease that some suffer from. They constantly need transfusions. Therefore, those suffering must “drink in” the blood of others.

                Now, of course, there are those who think they are vampires—or kill as if they were
vampires. The “Axman” murders that befell New Orleans from May of 1918 to October of 1919. Nine people were brutally killed, and there were rumors that the Axman—who killed people with an axe—was a vampire, seeking their blood. There’s another story you’ll hear that people have  a difficult time verifying and the story changes depending on when you hear it. In 1984, around the city, nine bodies were found with their throats ripped out and almost no blood at all found at the scene of each murder.

                Two young women were killed in a like manner in 1978. Throats ripped up, bodies almost bloodless, the scenes of the crimes almost bloodless as well.

                What has really happened in New Orleans as far as vampires go?

                Whether you’re a believer, a person with a scientific mind who likes to put the pieces together, or simply one for a good tale or two, I suggest the vampire tour in NOLA. The past and the present collide; you get to hear tales of possible vampirism, possible mental illness—and the literary world!

                NOLA has a feel, just like the fantastic faded elegance of her past. It’s poignant and nostalgic, and the old and new beneath the moon just might make you a believer.

                I am a fan of Haunted History Tours in NOLA and if you want to venture on a great walking tour that gives you voodoo along with a bit of the ghostly—and the ghastly!—venture out on their  Vampire Tour!

                And it’s NOLA. You can stop for a bloody Mary somewhere along the way . . . .

1 comment:

Mike said...

My GF and her daughter are headed down there next month. I directed her to your blog so she could plan her itinerary!