Monday, 11 February 2013

Encountering the Highgate Vampire


In his book The Highgate Vampire, Seán Manchester states that the vampiric source of the Highgate infestation first showed up shortly after the infamous vampire plague of the early 1700's, the same era as Arnold Paole and Peter Plogojowitz. He further states that an Eastern European nobleman rented Ashurst House in the early 18th century. This all seems to make sense, and it suggests that Tamás Orszag of Hungary is the most likely candidate for the identity of the Highgate Vampire.

A composite of the Highgate Vampire's appearance can be gleaned from various statements in the Vampire Research Society's archive and, of course, on public record in Seán Manchester's The Highgate Vampire (published by Gothic Press).*

Accounts provided by witnesses in the Hampstead & Highgate Express, 13 February 1970 & 20 February 1970, describe "a most unusual form [that] just seemed to glide across the path ... a pale figure ..."; "Many tales are told about a tall man who walks across Swains Lane and just disappears through a wall into the cemetery ..."; " ... a 'form' moving behind some gravestones ... the thing made no sound and seemed to disappear into nowhere ..." *

Jacqueline Beckwith, a teenager living in North Hill, awoke one night with something icy cold clutching her hand which soon went numb. The next morning revealed "deep tears in the flesh where she had forced [her hand] free." *

A ghost hunter by the name of Thomas told of "a dark shape [which] moved across the path directly in front of us." On an earlier occasion he had started to walk home with his fiancee down the lane running alongside and eventually between Highgate Cemetery. "Something was standing behind the iron railings of the gate ... upon its face was an expression of basilisk horror." *

Once again, "the thing behind the gate appeared to dissolve into the shadows of the night." *

Only when discovered in the putrid chamber of its tomb at Highgate Cemetery in August 1970 do we start to gain an idea of the full extent of the Highgate Vampire's horrific countenance. At its extirpation in the grounds of the neo-gothic derelict mansion in early 1974 the appearance is one of a heavy form, gorged and stinking with blood with eyes glazed and staring horribly, glinting with the red fire of perdition. This great leech possessed sallow, parchment-like skin beneath which a faint bluish tinge could be discerned; the colour of a three-day old corpse. It had black hair and eyebrows that were especially heavy and joined across the bridge of an aquiline nose. The mouth betrayed thin, cruel lips which drew back, almost in a snarl, to reveal sharp teeth where lodged congealed gouts of discolouring blood, the offal of the previous night's feast. Some witnesses describe a tall figure with a hideous countenance. All remark upon the eyes which burned like hot coals in a face so frightening it paralysed them in their tracks. There was also the unbearably fetid stench that accompanied this presence, rank with corruption and the stench of the charnel, which indicated an undead rather than an apparition. The last moments, some of which were captured by a 35mm camera, reveal the same "burning, fierce eyes beneath black furrowed brows staring with hellish reflection. Yellow at the edges with blood-red centres, unlike anything imaginable. Flared nostrils connected to a thin, high-bridged nose. The mouth still set in its cruel expression with lips drawn far back as if unable to contain the sharp, white teeth." *

“A pyre was built in the centre of the large garden … We looked, but saw none of its awful contents before everything was consumed. At last it was hidden from our view ― its dark pestilence swallowed in the bright flames which leaped skyward while all beneath crackled and hissed. Several hours later all that remained was a great scorch-mark on the ground … We stood staring at the charred spot, not daring to believe it was finally over. I took a handful of grey dust from the blackened earth and scattered it to the four winds.” *

* (The Highgate Vampire, pages 49, 54, 65, 66, 67, 68, 85, 86 & 142, 144, 145, Gothic Press edition)

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