Halloween is one of my very favourite times of the year. The fact it comes just before my birthday is irrelevant – honest! I can’t help that I love all things creepy and spooky, and I’ve always been drawn to the supernatural – books, films, legends –anything paranormal really.
When Halloween comes around, I want to carve a pumpkin, decorate the house, watch scary films – and eat chocolate! Bliss.
One of my favourite Halloween films has to be Hocus Pocus, and if you haven’t ever seen it – shame on you! Released in 1993, it starred Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy as the Sanderson Sisters, a family of witches burned at the stake in 1693, in (where else) but Salem. Inadvertently resurrected by the teenage Max Dennison on Halloween 1993, the three witches set off in search of small children to kill in order to restore their youth. In spite of the storyline, it is a children’s film, creepy but very funny! My son loved it and watched it all year round – a lot.
So what is my favourite supernatural being? To anyone who knows me, that’s easy – it is, of course, the vampire. Ever since I first read Dracula when I was fourteen, I’ve read anything I could find with a vampire in. I do also have a soft spot for witches, werewolves and ghosts, although I’m not so keen on zombies! (Apart from Michael Jackson’s Thriller.)
One of my favourite urban legends, The Highgate Vampire, fascinated me so much that I set my own book,
Dance Until Dawn, in North London’s Highgate, so I could feature the famous Gothic cemetery and its legend. It’s not hard to imagine vampires are real when walking around the West Cemetery. The Victorian Gothic mausoleums and tombs were said to be responsible for Bram Stoker’s inspiration for Dracula, and it’s easy to see why.
The Highgate Vampire first made the news in 1968, with alleged sightings of a ‘ghost’ and various attacks reported. But on the 27th February 1970, the vampire made the front page of the Hampstead and Highgate Express, and ultimately the tabloids. A photograph of a young man scaling the wall of the West Cemetery armed with a wooden cross and several pointy stakes appeared in the national press later the same year. Several witnesses claimed to have seen a ‘tall man wearing a top hat and cloak,’ others said a woman in white had been seen staring through the bars of the gate, and one witness even claimed to have been bitten on the neck whilst sleepwalking along Swains Lane in the early hours of the morning. (Bear in mind we’re talking late sixties, early seventies here!)
If you look on YouTube you’ll find a clip of a programme presented by Anthony Head of Buffy fame. He walks around Highgate Cemetery, talking about the Highgate Vampire – and vampires in general.
According to legend, the vampire was eventually tracked to the Circle of Lebanon in the West Cemetery, where he was staked in his coffin and the tomb resealed with cement mixed with garlic. Another ending has a body exhumed, staked and burned at a derelict house close to the Cemetery. (To my knowledge, neither has ever been officially substantiated.)
The story changes depending which book or website you read, just like any legend. Although most agree the main protagonists at the time were Sean Manchester and David Farrant. Both have written books on the subject, and Farrant was actually jailed in 1974 for damaging memorials in the Cemetery. At one point, the men were going to have an ‘exorcism dual’ on Parliament Hill, scheduled for Friday 13th, 1973 – it never happened.
I first read about The Highgate Vampire in a book called The Vampire’s Bedside Companion by Peter Underwood. The book comes complete with photos, including one of Elizabeth Wojdyla, the young Polish girl who claimed to have been bitten by the vampire.
Whether The Highgate Vampire is ‘faction’ or pure hokum – it’s a great story for Halloween.