Thursday is Halloween, which makes today the perfect time to explain Dracula’s ongoing association with Whitby.
In 1890 Whitby was a popular summer holiday destination. Bram Stoker, business manager for the Lycium Theater and writer of sensational novels, booked a room at Mrs. Veazey’s Guesthouse on the Royal Crescent. He had time to spend any way he wished before his wife arrived to sweep him into the local social scene. Stoker roamed the town.
He spent many mornings in the reading room at the Royal Hotel, [still booking guests over a hundred years later]. From the front window, Stoker had a clear view of the harbor, and the abbey ruins dominating the East Cliff.
Stoker wandered through the graveyard at St. Mary’s church, jotting down names from deteriorating stones. He watched bats flying around the tower. On days when it the weather wasn’t conducive to walking, Stoker went to the public library where he found a book recounting tales of Wallachia and Moldovia. One of them was about a 15th century prince who impaled his enemies on wooden stakes. The prince was called Dracula — “son of the dragon.”
Stoker also heard about a shipwreck that occured five years before. A Russian vessel, the Dmitry, with a cargo of silver sand* ran aground below the East Cliff.
Stoker wove his Whitby experiences into his most famous novel, Dracula, published in 1897. Dracula wasn’t the first unusual creature to scare unwary readers, but he was the first literary vampire.
In the story, Count Dracula decides to leave Transylvania and relocate in England. He sails aboard a Russian ship, the Demeter, carrying a cargo of silver sand and 50 boxes of Transylvanian soil. The ship runs aground below the East Cliff. A large dog bounds out of the wreck and up the 199 steps to St. Mary’s Church and Graveyard.
Mina Murray and her friend Lucy Westenra are visiting Whitby on holiday. Dracula stalks Lucy, who begins wasting away. Dr. Abraham Van Helsing is summoned. He prescribes blood transfusions and garlic. Garlic flowers are placed in Lucy’s room. She’s given a necklace of withered garlic blossoms to wear. But she continues to waste away. Puncture marks are discovered in Lucy’s neck. Lucy dies. But the story continues until Dr. Helsing vanquishes Count Dracula.
Dracula became a best seller, a stage play, and in 1931 it became a movie with Bela Lugosi as Dracula. Special effects that were frightening in 1931 aren’t so impressive now.
In 1992 Francis Ford Coppola released a more psychological form of horror: Bram Stoker’s Dracula with Gary Oldman as Dracula and Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Helsing.
Two years later, perhaps inspired by Coppola’s movie, Whitby began to host Goth Weekends, held in April and October. People dress up in Goth and Seampunk attire, and roam Whitby’s streets. Goth Weekends are among the world’s most popular Goth music events, known for live music and lively patrons. Check out the the fun from last April’s Goth Weekend.
*Silver sand is a fine white sand that can be used in making mortar. Today silver sand is used in gardening.
Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula, 1931
Whitby from the West Cliff, 1890
St Mary’s Graveyard by Author
Dracula Cover, 1922
How Dracula Came to Whitby. English Heritage.
Grace Newton. “Whitby Goth Weekend 2019.” Yorkshire Post. April 12, 2019
Sandra Wagner-Wright holds the doctoral degree in history and taught women’s and global history at the University of Hawai`i. Sandra travels for her research, most recently to Salem, Massachusetts, the setting of her new Salem Stories series. She also enjoys traveling for new experiences. Recent trips include Antarctica and a river cruise on the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel.
Sandra particularly likes writing about strong women who make a difference. She lives in Hilo, Hawai`i with her family and writes a blog relating to history, travel, and the idiosyncrasies of life.