Monday, 1 December 2008

Encountering The Wampyr

“Ever since I became aware that Highgate Cemetery was the reputed haunt of a vampire, the investigations and activities of Seán Manchester commanded my attention. I became convinced that, more than anyone else, the president of the Vampire Research Society knew the full story of the Highgate Vampire which is probably the most remarkable contemporary account of vampiric activity and infestation ~ and cure. Can such things as vampires really exist? The evidence seems to be overwhelming and the author [of The Highgate Vampire] is to be congratulated on his knowledgeable and lucid account of the case which is likely to become one of the classic works on this interesting and mystifying subject.” (Peter Underwood, President of the Ghost Club Society; Life-Member of the Vampire Research Society; author of over fifty books on the paranormal)

In 1990, Peter Underwood retold the events of the Highgate Vampire case (up to the discovery of the suspect tomb at Highgate Cemetery in August 1970) in his book Exorcism! (1990). He commented in chapter six:

“The Hon Ralph Shirley told me in the 1940s that he had studied the subject in some depth, sifted through the evidence and concluded that vampirism was by no means as dead as many people supposed; more likely, he thought, the facts were concealed. … My old friend Montague Summers has, to his own satisfaction, at least, traced back ‘the dark tradition of the vampire’ until it is ‘lost amid the ages of a dateless antiquity’.”

An encounter is alleged by Brian as early as July 1965. Brian claims the following:

"At the time I was residing in Islington, and I'd been invited along to a student party. I was dubious as to whether to attend or not as I was worried how the hosts' several cats would react to my dog, an aged Lurcher, but assured that this presented no problem - if needs be the cats could be locked away - and lured by the promise that a girl I was set on would be putting in an appearance, I decided to give it a try. I parked my car at The Flask public house at around 8 o'clock and set off along Swains Lane with my dog. It was a beautiful, warm summer's evening, but as we proceeded along the cemetery's outer wall, I became uncomfortably aware of a curious silence. All the birds had suddenly stopped singing. The silence ... the only way I could describe it is that it was rather like being enveloped in a large woolly blanket. This should have given me some apprehension, but my mind was on the girl at the party and I just disregarded it. I was ten yards from the North Gate when I happened to look across at it. What I saw was what appeared to be black treacle flowing down and running over the wall. It touched ground and actually flowed like a big black pool of liquid into the centre of the path about six feet before me. There was an icy coldness which grew more intense with the passing seconds, literally an Arctic cold. The hairs on my neck, for the first time in my life, actually stood on end. With dusk falling full on the perimeter wall, the path was in shadow, but there was a shadow discernible within that shadow. I thought 'What am I watching ? What the f**k is this ?'. The most horrible part was - and I still have nightmares about it, still wake up in a cold sweat - it reared up. I'd estimate its height at between seven or eight feet. I'm five feet eight inches tall and it towered over me. It was enormous! It was neither solid nor transparent. My overall impression was that it was a black figure wearing dark garments which flowed and stirred in the wind - but there was no wind. The edges of what it was wearing were moving. No face. Where eyes would have been if it were human, there were just two red pits, red glows, and I was very conscious that it was looking at me. At that point I realised that I was up against an entity that was both powerful and malignant. It was radiating evil, that's the only way I could describe it. This wasn't a ghost, this was an entity. There was nothing remotely human about it. It simply was not human. As an ex-Army Officer I'd come up against life threatening situations, but faced with that thing the fear was worse than anything you could imagine. I tried to do a banishing pentagram, tried to pronounce a Latin incantation to repel evil. I could do neither. I couldn't move. My limbs were like lead. My dog was a placid old thing. It never growled as a rule, but it did on that occasion and it was ... indescribable. The growl of a wolf. But it had no effect on the entity whatsoever. The next thing I can recall, I found myself up against the wall at the top of Swains Lane. The dog had beaten me there. Its fur was actually standing on end. I've no recollection of running, but I must've done. I made my way to The Flask. The first thing the landlord said as I entered was 'No dogs'. I really needed that. I tied the poor dog up, had a couple of brandies, but I was still shaking. Eventually, I called my friend on the pub phone and asked him to pick me up. I wasn't in much of a party mood by then. I think what should be emphasised is the incredible speed with which events took place. The appearance of the entity was very swift and from the time I first saw 'the treacle' to the time it was in front of me could only have been seconds ... although it seemed longer at the time. I am unable to canvass my dogs views on the subject as it returned to 'The great kennel in the sky' a few weeks after the incident. Whether this was coincidence or not I feel is conjectural. But it did become ill a couple of days after the incident, and died not much later. From old age, according to the vet. The dog was eight years old! And the girl ? She called around to ask why I hadn't attended. Not wishing to ruin my street-cred with her I told her I 'wasn't well'."

In the anthology, The Vampire's Bedside Companion (1975) which contains a chapter with photographic evidence from the Vampire Research Society, written and contributed by Seán Manchester, Peter Underwood wrote:

“Alleged sightings of a vampire-like creature ~ a grey spectre ~ lurking among the graves and tombstones have resulted in many vampire hunts. … In 1968, I heard first-hand evidence of such a sighting and my informant maintained that he and his companion had secreted themselves in one of the vaults and watched a dark figure flit among the catacombs and disappear into a huge vault from which the vampire … did not reappear. Subsequent search revealed no trace inside the vault but I was told that a trail of drops of blood stopped at an area of massive coffins which could have hidden a dozen vampires.”

And probably did! In the previous year, two schoolgirls had reported seeing the spectre rise from its tomb.

Two seemingly unconnected incidents occurred within weeks of one another in early 1967. The first involved two 16-year-old convent girls who were walking home at night after having visited friends in Highgate Village. Their return journey took them down Swains Lane past the cemetery. They could not believe their eyes as they passed the graveyard’s north gate at the top of the lane, for in front of them bodies appeared to be emerging from their tombs. One of these schoolgirls later suffered nightly visitations and blood loss. The second incident, some weeks later, involved an engaged couple who were walking down the same lane. Suddenly the female shrieked as she glimpsed something hideous hovering behind the gate’s iron railings. Then her fiancé saw it. They both stood frozen to the ground as the spectre held them in thrall. Its face bore an expression of basilisk horror. Soon others sighted the same phenomenon as it hovered along the path behind the gate where gravestones are visible either side until consumed in darkness. Before long people were talking in hushed tones about the rumoured haunting in local pubs. Some who actually witnessed the spectral figure wrote to their local newspaper to share their experience. Discovery was made of animal carcasses drained of blood. They had been so exsanguinated that a forensic sample could not be found. It was only a matter of time before a person was found in the cemetery in a pool of blood. This victim died of wounds to the throat. The police made every attempt to cover-up the vampiristic nature of the death. Seán Manchester informed the public on 27 February 1970 that the cause was most probably a vampire. He appeared on television on 13 March 1970 and repeated his theory.

The Vampire Research Society, whose specialist unit within a larger investigatory organisation (the British Occult Society, formally dissolved in August 1988) had opened the case twelve months earlier, established a history of similar hauntings that went back to before the graveyard existed. A suspected tomb was located and a spoken exorcism performed. This proved to be ineffective. The hauntings and animal deaths continued. Indeed, they multiplied. By now all sorts of people were jumping on the vampire bandwagon; including film-makers and rock musicians. Most were frightened off. Some who interloped became fascinated by the black arts with disastrous consequences. Meanwhile, serious researchers considered the possibility that a nest of vampires might be active in the area. Yet there seemed to be one principal source which the media had already dubbed a “King Vampire of the Undead.”

Seán Manchester led the thirteen year investigation from beginning to end. There was seemingly more than one vampire for him and the Vampire Research Society to confront. However, in early 1974 he tracked the principal source of the contamination, known as the Highgate Vampire, to a neo-Gothic mansion on the Highgate borders. Here he employed the ancient and approved remedy. No vampire has been sighted in or near Highgate Cemetery and its environs since that time. The exorcised remains of the Highgate Vampire appear on page 144 of his bestselling book The Highgate Vampire.

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