The Man Who Met 'Real' Vampires

Eric Nuzum, author of The Dead Travel Fast: Stalking Vampires from Nosferatu to Count Chocula, toured Transylvania and even drank his own blood in hopes of understanding the fascination with vampires.

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(Soundbite of song, "Vampires Are Alive")

DJ BOBO (Singer): Vampires, they're alive.

(Singing) I am a vampire, I'm a slave. I sleep through the daylight, hence my grave. In the darkness…

ALISON STEWART, host:

You can find anything on YouTube.

Hey, if you asked Buffy, she'll tell you vampires are real. If you ask Eric Nuzum, author of "The Dead Travel Fast: Stalking Vampires from Nosferatu to Count Chocula," he'll tell you there are a lot of people who certainly believe vampires are real.

Eric traveled to Romania, drank his own blood, and, more frighteningly, trolled the internet in search of vampire culture. And he joins us to talk a little bit about this. Hi, Eric.

ERIC NUZUM (Author, "The Dead Travel Fast: Stalking Vampires from Noferatu to Count Chocula"): Hello.

STEWART: It's a little odd, because we're co-workers.

NUZUM: We are co-workers.

STEWART: We are colleagues here at NPR, so I'll try to be official about this and not…

NUZUM: Well, this is like the third time this morning I've said hello to you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Did you get a sense of why people really believe that vampires are real?

NUZUM: Yeah. I don't know if it's necessarily that people think that other vampires are real, but they think that vampires are real to them, or that they are this thing. And I think it's because vampires are kind of like the perfect metaphor or the perfect empty vessel in which you can - it's kind of like profanity, in a sense, where people use profanity for its shock value, and then the importance of its message, were to amplify an idea. And so people use vampires in the same way, almost like, you know, this titillates me or it scares me or I don't understand this. So I'm going to put this fangs and a cape on it, and I'm going to use that to express how I feel.

STEWART: You do some really interesting research in this book.

NUZUM: That's one way to put it. Right.

STEWART: You go to Eastern Europe…

NUZUM: Right.

STEWART: …as part of a tour. It's a whole vampire tour culture.

NUZUM: There's a huge vampire tourist industry in Romania. About 100,000 people a year go to Romania just to go on vampire-themed tours.

STEWART: Wow.

NUZUM: I ended up picking one just out of the random - there's several companies that do them. So I go with these vampire enthusiasts who are probably the least equipped people to deal with this very, very rural country.

(Soundbite of laughter)

And one of them was Butch Patrick, who was Eddie Munster from "The Munsters." Now he's in his 50s, who was our celebrity host on the tour.

STEWART: Oh, my.

NUZUM: So - and this is all by accident. I didn't mean to hook up with these people. I just signed up for this tour, and here they were.

STEWART: There seems to be one individual, Vlad the Impaler…

NUZUM: Yeah, Vlad Tepes, which is…

STEWART: …that seems to be the person that perhaps this is were the vampire myth grew from. Who is Vlad the Impaler?

NUZUM: Well, you know, a lot of people think that Vlad Tepes was Vlad Dracula, was the original Count Dracula or that he was a vampire or that he drank blood or ate flesh, and none of those things are correct. He was - it was literally the name that Bram Stoker found in a book in the library and - with a footnote that he was a Wallachian and Transylvanian prince and - in the 15th century. And he was a crazy, crazy man. He basically dealt - had one solution for every problem he had, which was to kill people, to impale them. And so Stoker saw these stories that had been - most of them fabricated about Dracula, and loved the name.

STEWART: Hmm.

NUZUM: And in his notes for the novel "Dracula," which still exists in the library in Philadelphia, he had originally put the - the evil Count was going to come from Austria, and his name was going to be Count Vampere. And about a third of the way through his outline, he found the name Dracula. So he went back and crossed out every reference to Vampere and wrote in Dracula. And in the margins of his notebook, he would write it over and over again like a little girl who would write…

(Soundbite of laughter)

NUZUM: …her boyfriend's name on the side of her, you know, her notebook. It was Dracula, Dracula, Dracula - over and over again. But he knew practically nothing about Transylvania, never been there, and knew nothing about Vlad Dracula.

STEWART: Of all the pop culture references, of all the movies, all the films -excluding "Count Chocula," because we all know that one isn't…

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: …the most real depiction - what seems to be the truest depiction of the vampire myth? Or one you would send any of our listeners to, and it's like if you really want to understand vampires, watch or read this?

NUZUM: I - the things that I really like are the depiction of Dracula in the Francis Ford Coppola version of Dracula, which had Gary Oldman and Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder in it. That version of Dracula as a character is most like the way that Stoker envisioned him to be. But if you're looking for, like, vampires, it's - there really is no, like, central point, because it's been so many different things. Dracula has been depicted as a woman, a dog, an enemy of Christ, it's - at various points. And like, there are so many variations on it that I don't think anybody, like Bram Stroker would never recognize Dracula as we've kind of morphed him today.

STEWART: Of all your research, of all your travels, even drinking your own blood in your house and then…

NUZUM: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

STEWART: …hocking it up…

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: …shall we say, what is the one thing that surprised you the most in your research for this book about vampires…

NUZUM: Well…

STEWART: …and vampire culture?

NUZUM: Well, I think the interesting thing to me was how ubiquitous it is. I mean, everything from the obvious things you see around Halloween of, like, all the vampire references and id that it seems that everybody understands what that metaphor is, that it's seeped into culture in very strange ways, like Gesundheit, for example, was originally a protection against vampires.

STEWART: Hmm.

NUZUM: A variation on a vampire would attack you - usually it was a relative that would attack another relative, like, your cousin Floyd died and he would come back from the grave and attack you as a vampire. But if somebody said good health to you, it would kind of like keep him away.

And so - and a sign that you were being attacked was that you would sneeze. And so, if someone would say good health to you - and get the vampire away. And so that's where Gesundheit comes from.

STEWART: So, just these little pieces that are - every day of the week.

NUZUM: Yeah. There are thousands. We could go all day.

STEWART: All right. Well, we'll get a…

NUZUM: We won't.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: We'll get a couple of them. Well, that's what our blog is for.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Eric, good luck with your book.

Mr. NUZUM: Thank you.

STEWART: It's called "The Dead Travel Fast."

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The Dead Travel Fast

Dead Travel Fast Image

Chapter 3: I Don't Believe in God; The Crucifix Is to Keep Away Vampires

I've ridden in turbulent airplanes, ferries crossing stormy water, and roller coasters that seem solely designed to separate me from a recently consumed funnel cake, but nothing has quite matched the experience of trying to watch an old black and white movie while riding for hours in a tour bus across barely paved mountain roads in Romania.

Nosferatu.

Every time I come across it my first thought is how incredibly tired I am of seeing this movie. On this particular occasion, I couldn't decide which was worse — the movie or the act of watching the movie.

I could have looked out the window, but I was even more tired of looking out the window. All I'd seen that day were winding roads, pine-covered mountains, and tiny country houses with clay roofs.

I went to Romania to tag along with a group of twenty-five vampire enthusiasts on a Dracula-themed tour of Transylvania. It's a collection of people, ranging from the off-puttingly freakish to the shockingly normal, willing to travel halfway around the world to visit the sites of both the historical and literary Dracula, and sometimes a mixture of the two.

To this point, we'd kept to our itinerary, but things hadn't gone smoothly. To complicate matters, things are getting a bit tense on the bus: several people were sick from drinking the water, a few others were plotting how to get rid of one couple, a woman was weeping over a psychic message she received from a stray cat, our "celebrity host," the former child actor Butch Patrick (aka Eddie Munster of The Munsters), has been asleep for hours in the back of the bus, and a twenty-four-hour-old insect bite on my hand is slowly turning from pink to a disturbing shade of black.

The ride wasn't supposed to take this long, but we were forced to re-route our journey through the mountains because of flooding. The day before I arrived, it started to rain and hadn't stopped since. The floods were big news in Romania, even showing up in the international press. Earlier that day we stopped at a gas station for snacks and a Romanian man, who guessed that I was an American, confronted me. He was trying to blame me for the floods.

His argument was that the floods were the result of the Gulf War, the Gulf War was Bush's fault, and I, as an American, should feel blame for Bush. Since leaving the gas station, I was alternating between trying to understand his logic and not throwing up.

I had spent most of my time figuring out how a military action 1,500 miles away would cause a flood in the Romanian mountains and even a harder time understanding my personal responsibility for Bush. To kill time on the longer bus rides, our guide played a variety of Dracula and vampire movies. In the subjective world of vampire movies, even some of these were bottom dwellers: the movie version of the TV soap opera Dark Shadows, the pathetic and practically unwatchable Francis Ford Coppola version of Dracula, a 70s bio-drama about Vlad Tepes (entirely in Romanian with bad English subtitles), and this, the silent 1922 original Nosferatu. Whenever my mind drifts away from my personal responsibility for washed out bridges or my churning innards, my eyes wander to the screen and take in Nosferatu. Again.

From The Dead Travel Fast by Eric Nuzum. Copyright © 2007 by the author and reprinted by permission of Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin's Press.

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