Festival celebrates Dracula, literature’s favorite vampire

The leaves are falling, the weather is chilly and the pumpkins are ready to be picked.

This autumn weather marks the beginning of the Halloween season and all the deliciously evil characters we often associate with it. Ghouls, zombies, banshees and witches – our Halloween lore is littered with these horrific creatures.

Of all these dastardly demons, none have persisted or fascinated us as much as the vampire. From Angel to Count Chocula, Ann Rice to Sesame Street’s The Count, we are constantly exposed to modern versions of an ancient story.

The legend of the forever undead has survived both centuries and cultures. In its constant evolution, the vampire continues to be one of the most seductive characters in cultural consciousness. Vampire stories range from the regional folklore of Eastern Europe to more widely-read novels.

Arguably the most famous of these is the character Dracula from the classic novel by Bram Stoker. Dracula was immortalized in the 1931 movie adaptation of Stoker’s novel, published in 1897. While Dracula wasn’t the first vampire story ever written, it did catch popular attention like none other had before, said Kathy Haas, curator of the exhibit “Dracula: The Making of a Monster” at the Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philadelphia.

At the time of Dracula’s publication, vampire stories were sensational reading, but not terribly frightening. The creatures existed either in times long past or were isolated from civilized society in spooky caves, which were suitable settings for the spawn of the Devil.

“What made Stoker’s novel so different wasn’t the subject of vampires, but the fact that he set the story in the present time [the 1890s] and in London,” Haas said. “It was close to home and infinitely more frightening.”

The Rosenbach Museum is home to an extensive collection of Stoker’s notes and manuscripts from when he wrote Dracula. The museum, which is also home to manuscripts from the likes of James Joyce, Joseph Conrad and Maurice Sendak, is hidden on the back street Delancey Place in Rittenhouse Square, a few blocks south of Spruce Street.

A small room is devoted to the creation and research of Stoker’s Dracula. Haas used his notes to illustrate how the creation of a monster is very much rooted in reality and normalcy.

The exhibit is part of the Rosenbach Museum’s annual Dracula Festival, which runs from Oct. 2 until Nov. 4. On Oct. 24, they hosted a lecture session about the exhibit and all things Dracula.

The main event of the museum’s Dracula Festival is the Dracula Parade, which was held on Oct. 27 at 5:30 p.m. Adults and children were invited to participate in the community event. The museum sponsored the parade, which was produced by the Spiral Q Puppet Theater.

Several puppets used in the parade hang on the exhibit room’s walls. Larger-than-life zombies and bats add another dimension to Stoker’s story.

A wall tapestry hangs over a fireplace, showing the Europe of Dracula’s time with a helpful arrow pointing from Transylvania to England, where a large chunk of the novel is set.

An original 15th-century copy of the book Dracole Waida is on display. The book details the exploits of the Romanian folk hero better known to us as Vlad the Impaler, from whom Stoker drew much of his character material for Dracula. Also on display is the only known surviving dust jacket from the first edition of the book.

The exhibit is set up in chronological order. It illustrates how Stoker used historical and personal events to shape the story. A letter from a doctor detailing the illness of a close relative is later incorporated into the book. An actual Russian shipwreck inspires similar events during the story.

These historical writings accompanying Stoker’s hand- and type-written notes are more than just trivia for the literary-obsessed. They show the development of a character and a story that we now take for granted. Stoker’s research into Transylvanian superstition, vampire lore and British train schedules shows an obsession with data verification.

“We associate Dracula with darkness and chaos, but both the Count and those who pursue him rely on meticulous research and planning to achieve goals,” says a blurb introducing visitors to the exhibit.

If the exhibit is any indication, Dracula won’t be losing popularity any time soon. In the spirit of the season, check out the exhibit before it closes. You’ll leave with a greater appreciation for the story and if you’ve never read it, you’ll be inspired to pick it up.

Mary Elizabeth Coyle can be reached at mary.coyle@temple.edu.

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