Archive for October, 2010

Sacred bleu!

October 28, 2010

That unusual cruciform French vampire killing kit that I blogged about a while ago sold for 6875 Euros ($9364). That’s more than three times the original estimate! Stephanie Meyer clearly has a lot to answer for. Then again we’ve seen Blomberg type kits go for even more than that, so perhaps the level of interest in these things isn’t dependent on pop-culture resurgences. I suspect that casual interest IS, but the sort of loon* that’s prepared to drop that much money on a curio is likely to do so regardless of whether vampires are ‘in’ or not at the time of purchase. It’s all speculation really.

My old link within the article should still be valid, but for the sake of convenience:

http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/lot_details.aspx?intObjectID=5346074

This brief update might have to suffice for a Halloween post – but if I can find the time to finish something I’ve been working on about the mummies of St Michan’s in Dublin, I will.

Note to French-speaking readers – apologies for the deliberate misspelling of the title. I have a thing for pun titles.

*No offence meant. I would count myself amongst said loons if I had that sort of disposable income!

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Where’s She Hiding the Flux Capacitor?

October 23, 2010

Must be a Roman’ SIM card…amirite?

This has to be the weakest attempt at viral self-promotion I have ever seen (if you’re using Chrome the embedding doesn’t work – see the Youtube video itself instead). The daftie narrating the video (complete with full name and plenty of face-time) shows a clip from a 1928 Charlie Chaplin movie showing a woman walking in the background with her hand held up to the side of her head. She also appears to speak at one point.

It’s a textbook argument from incredulity. Because “nobody can give [him] an explanation”, he’s decided that the woman (or is it a man – nothing like insulting long-dead strangers) is a time traveller. Here’s his intro to the video;

“This short film is about a piece of footage I (George Clarke) found behind the scenes in Charlie Chaplins film ‘The Circus’. Attending the premiere at Manns Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, CA – the scene shows a large woman dressed in black with a hat hiding most of her face, with what can only be described as a mobile phone device – talking as she walks alone.

I have studied this film for over a year now – showing it to over 100 people and at a film festival, yet no-one can give any explanation as to what she is doing.

My only theory – as well as many others – is simple… a time traveler on a mobile phone. See for yourself and feel free to leave a comment on your own explanation or thoughts about it.”

Leaving aside that by his own admission, this was a DVD special feature – not some lost piece of film he “found”, there is so much wrong with this conclusion that I barely know where to start. The sheer stupidity of the claim, plus the fact that he has short films to promote, makes me hope that this really is just a cynical piece of marketing. I do wonder though that he hasn’t convinced himself on some level that he really believes it. The phrase on the header of the page;

‘Imagination is more important than knowledge.’

…is pretty frightening. Imagination is vital in my opinion, but knowledge is sacred.

I’ll just list a few of the reasons why this video is BS:

  • How would a mobile or any other type of wireless communications device FUNCTION in a past where no network infrastructure (or orbiting satellite) exists?
  • Why would an otherwise flawlessly period-clad ‘time traveller’ draw attention to his/her self by speaking into an obviously out-of-place device?
  • Why does the gentleman in front of her not react to this behaviour?
  • If we assume from the woman’s dress that she’s intending to blend in, why would she make her anachronistic phonecall whilst walking down a street, oblivious to the bloody great old school film crew across the way? Why walk though the middle of a movie premiere?
  • Why would they make use of a hand-held phone? Why not a hands-free set or Bluetooth headset?
  • The mobile phone he describes is an object of the first decade of the 21st century. As time travel has yet to be invented or even theorised, we have to assume that a time traveller is from the far future. Why the hell would they be using a device like that? There is no reason to suspect that communications devices will remain in the format, size, and mode of operation of an iPhone. If anything we’ve seen them grow in size in the last five years.

So, if it’s not a cellphone, why would an old woman be holding any palm-sized device to her head (if, indeed, she’s holding anything)? One excellent suggestion from the Youtube comments is this little beauty. Exactly the sort of item that this guy discounted out of hand in his video – an ear trumpet. But not the stereotypical ‘Allo Allo’ musical-instrument shaped ear trumpet, but a more high-tech and portable device. There are many other possibilities, but this is the most elegant solution. And it doesn’t necessitate the abandonment of science as we know it.

Some commenters on Youtube have objected that one would not talk into what is effectively a hearing aid. One obvious, obvious answer, You Tubes, is that she’s talking to someone out of shot. The very fact that she’s using the aid suggests that she’s trying to hear something further away. Or perhaps she’s just mumbling to herself? Or, since we’ve already accused her of looking like a man, could she not be a bit of a mentalist?

Even if this really were ‘unexplainable’ – why on earth jump to the conclusion that we’re watching a time traveller? It’s utterly unsupportable and runs counter to everything we know about history and science. But it does get you a lot of hits on your Youtube channel, and a lot of visits to your website where you are coincidentally pimping your own filmmaking efforts.

One Staked Every Minute

October 16, 2010

Whenever I think to write on another subject, another one of these flaming VKKs crops up. This time, it’s pretty poor. The ones I looked at last time are at least superficially convincing. The thing featured in this video for the US TV show ‘Auction Kings’ is really not the best I’ve seen:

http://dsc.discovery.com/videos/auction-kings-vampire-killing-kit.html

Anyway, I was amused by the seller’s assessment, which is as follows, with my comments;

The kit was ‘Made during 1800’s when some people believed vampires were real’.

All evidence points to c1900 at the absolute earliest, more likely 1970 or later. Particularly this motley collection of bits and bobs in a dodgy case.

The knife has a blade made of silver.

Edwin the Seller apparently collects antique weapons, so far be it from me to contradict him. However that blade looks like ferrous metal to me – you can even see the faint active red rust at the forte of the blade at 0:51 in the video. I have never seen a knife blade made of silver – it really doesn’t lend itself to the job. Not only does it lack strength, it can’t hold an edge.

If silver pierces the vampire’s skin, it incapacitates them.

Edwin also has an interest in vampire lore. I’m not sure how deep this goes, however – I’m sure he’s a busy businessman with lots of interests. In any case, that idea dates to circa 1998 and the movie ‘Blade’ – or possibly earlier pop culture that I can’t currently recall. Suffice to say that silver bullets for vampires first appear in 1928 as we’ve seen, and blades or silver stakes are a very recent thing.

“Is that actual holy water…? …I would think so…”

I would love to know on what basis he makes that assertion. If only water could be tested for holiness.

“The vampire craze took off in 1897 with the release of Bram Stoker’s Dracula”.

No, it didn’t.

“Vampires are hot right now…”

This is one of the only accurate statements in the whole video (and is of course why so many of these things are coming out of the woodwork) – the other being the claim that VKKs with crossbows are very rare. I’ve seen only two others (both on Spookyland’s site), the first of which amusingly has the reference to a pistol on the Blomberg label obliterated. They obviously wanted the cache of the label but couldn’t be bothered to draft their own fake label. But I digress. That example doesn’t really resemble this new kit aside from the bow. Applying the same folklore/fiction approach as I have in the past, I struggled to find a single reference for the crossbow as anti-vampire weapon pre-‘Tomb of Dracula’. This Hammer movie from 1972 may be the earliest – if so these crossbow kits are in serious peril ‘authenticity’ wise.

Based on the clip, the owner of the auction house himself has reservations, but seems to agree to accept the consignment regardless. A quick look at their current inventory suggests that this place is more of a bric-a-brac shop than an antiques dealership or auction house. If I ever get to see the actual episode of the show (showing Oct 26 in the US), I’ll be intrigued to find out what this chap’s dad, who apparently has sold “two or three” such kits in the past, makes of this one. No doubt it will turn out to be just as “legit” as the others.

He’s Not a Vampire, He’s Just a Very Naughty Boy

October 10, 2010

Real vampires don’t sparkle.

 

One of the vampirologist’s (and indeed BS Historian’s) bugbears is the phenomenon of myth-creep. The more paranormal ideas are milked for their intellectual and commercial appeal, the more we see them distorted and modified to incorporate unrelated bits of history and folklore. In the case of the vampire it’s often an attempt to give it greater antiquity, presumably because the early 18th century isn’t far back enough for the first sightings of beings who we now think of as immortal. In fact that idea is itself a retrofit of a fictional, rather than folkloric attribute of the vampire. There is no suggestion from the real-life accounts of the blood-drinking revenant that he was destined to live forever in this state. Perhaps it is implicit in his very nature, being already dead, but even if so, he is always found to be a recently dead individual, known to his neighbours in life, and not some ancient stranger like Dracula.

Another example would be the Porphyria explanation for the vampire’s vulnerability to sunlight. This inventive but ultimately bogus claim disregards the fact that the very idea comes once again from fiction – F.W. Murnau’s ‘Nosferatu’, released as recently as 1922. It is not a feature of history, and therefore any explanation is redundant, and arguably irresponsible, given that those suffering an already debilitating disease now have to suffer the indignity of being labelled as ‘vampires’.

The History Channel’s ‘Vampire Secrets’ documentary (2006) is a case in point – a programme about vampires that deals with “true” vampires only in part, bringing in as much unrelated stuff as possible in order to give the impression that the vampire as we know it today is both universal and very ancient. The programme opens with a bit of the pseudo-historical re-enactment that is the stock in trade of popular documentaries. – dim lighting, bad costume, bad acting and atrocious Scottish accents. From the start, they get even the historically claimed facts wrong, starting with the date – James Spalding was hung in 1638, not ‘32. They get the place wrong – Dalkeith was (and is) neither in “central Scotland”, nor was it a village, even then.

They proceed to show him being hung until apparent death and then being buried, only to rise from the dead as a ‘vampire’. The story is told to give credence to the idea that historical vampires were actually victims of that very Victorian preoccupation – premature burial.

The actual source is, typically, not given in the programme. In fact it’s the well-known ‘Satan’s Invisible World’ published in 1685 by George Sinclair. The Spalding story appears as “Relation XXX” on page 190, and is even available on Google Books. It reveals a very different story that is wholly unrelated to vampirism, or even revenant corpses of any persuasion.

The real Spalding is closer to Rasputin than Dracula, stubbornly refusing to die both on the scaffold and at a subsequent attempt. He is then buried alive – not by accident, but quite deliberately. There is some suggestion that having died in the grave, he returned as a *ghost*, but no suggestion at all of corporeal resurrection, which I think we can all agree is a defining charactistic of the vampire. The story resembles neither historical accounts of ‘vampires’, nor of victims of live burial. It is a story of a man who has made himself invulnerable by supernatural (by implication Satanic) means. Even if we look for what historian Nancy Caciola has dubbed (behind a paywall) the underlying “cultural facts” behind the story, they suggest a botched execution and deliberate live burial – nothing more.

The rest of the documentary contains nothing you won’t have come across in countless others – a solid 15 minutes or so on the folkloric vampire, and the rest wasted on Erszebet Bathory (not a vampire), roleplayers (not vampires), lifestyle vampires (not vampires), “psychic” vampires (not vampires) and even Rasputin (still not a vampire – I mentioned him above before even realising he would crop up later in the programme!).  I should be grateful that it was made pre-‘Twilight’…

 

In case the Google Books preview doesn’t display the relevant pages where you are, here is the Spalding story in full (complete with archaic spelling and punctuation);

A Bout the time , that the Earle of Traquair , was his late Majesties Commissioner in Scotland , it happened at Dalkeith where he resided , that one Spalding a towns-man killed his neighbour one Sadler. The Murderer fled , and absented himself , for a year and more. Yet sometimes , came home in the Night time , finding that no man pursued him. After he had been wearied of this way of living, he resolved to cast himself upon the Commissioner’s Mercy. He coming one day near to the town of Dalkeith in Coatch, Spalding came in a most humble manner , and prostrat himself before him , and begged mercy. The Commissioner enquired what the business was ? The Servants told him , he was such a man , as had killed his Neighbour a townsman. Thereupon, he appointed him to be conveyed to Prison , where he lay for a year and more. At last an Assize found him guilty , and appointed him to be hanged. When he heard this sentence , he cried out, Oh must I die like a Dog ! Why was I not sentenced to lose my head. After he came to the Scaffold , and Prayer was ended , he goes up the Ladder , and the rope being put about his Neck , he cryes with a loud voice in the Audience of all , Lord (says he) let never this Soul of mine depart from this Body til it be reconciled with thee. And having said this , the Executioner threw him off the Ladder. When he had hung the ordinary time sufficient to take any man’s life he was cut down , and his Body put into a Bier , and carried to the Tolbuith to be Woon. When they had opened the lid of the Bier; the man bangs up upon his Bottom, and his eyes staring in his head, and fomeing at the mouth, he made a noise and roared like a Bull, stricking about him with his Fists, to the great consternation of all. The Magistrates hearing of it , gave orders that he should be strangled better. The Executioner fell to work, and puting the Rope about his neck, stood upon his Breast, and strained his neck so hard, that it was no bigger than his wrist. And he continuing after this manner for a sufficient time, was carried to the Grave: and covered with earth. Notwithstanding of all this , he made such a rumbling and tumbling in it, that the very Earth was raised, and the Muiles were so heaved up that they could hardly keep him down. After this his house at the East end of the town ( as I am informed ) was frequented with a Ghost, which made it stand empty for a long time. Whether any have dwelt in it since I know not. This I have from a very creditable Person, who being a Schollar there, at that time, was an eye and an ear witness, who is yet alive.

Towards a Typology of Vampire Killing Kits

October 2, 2010

It seems we have a new VKK on the market – a “high-end” piece regardless of its authenticity and age.

For once we have hi-res images to work with, and it’s almost believably “19th century”, with a pistol that’s clearly hand-made. However, there is a lot of bright steel and fresh scratching on the under-side of the pistol. The red felt lining, though worn in places, is pristine in others and still suspiciously bright. In fact the dye used in its manufacture has stained the ivory on both pistol and the case.

One might expect someone familiar with working with such materials not to have made this mistake, which must have manifested soon after manufacture of the kit and marrs an otherwise attractive object. Someone turning out a modern curio, on the other hand, might not anticipate this result or have hung onto the kit long enough to see the dye bleed in this way. I also see the remains of adhesive on the inside of the lid, and have to wonder whether this kit might too once have borne a spurious “Ernst Blomberg” trade label. I’m not discounting the possibility of a very late (post-Dracula!) C19th kit,

Whatever the authenticity/age of this new kit, I thought it a good opportunity to try to make sense – if such a thing is even possible – of the some of the kits out there.

As you can see from Spooky Land’s attempt to classify and categorise VKKs, it is a daunting task, as no two kits are identical, and very few are even similar, despite the precisely-worded (“Blomberg”) label that many they share. This in itself suggests many different places and persons of origin. However, there are some parallels between kits that may be significant.

According to the seller of the new kit, there were three others like it from the same source. This we can’t confirm, but aside from its unique ivory case and accoutrements, this new kit is very similar to a pair of equally fancy kits sold by Sotheby’s in April 2007.

A very similar fourth kit with cruciform pistol was sold by Fain & Co in 1997.

Like the other three, it is also inscribed ‘I.H.S.’ (for the first three letters of Christ’s name in Greek). A fourth kindred kit is that published in Guns & Ammo magazine (1989) that I mentioned last time. There are no images of this kit anywhere else online, so far as I know (including on G&A’s own site);

It too is really nicely done, and though without “IHS” inscription, contains that unusual under-hammer cruciform pistol. To get techy for a moment, the similarity between the pistols is far from superficial. All are muzzle-loaded, featuring a combined mainspring and (under-)hammer that is ‘cocked’ into a notch on a folding trigger. When this is pulled, the tensioned spring slaps down onto a percussion cap at the breech and fires the main charge. A crude but clever way to incorporate a gun barrel into a wooden cross-shaped stock. The Fain kit lacks the combined ramrod/stake of the Forgett piece, as well as the bevelled arms of the cross/stock on the latter (probably an attempt at ergonomics)! The new (Greg Martin) gun opts for a folding knife-bayonet in lieu of a stake. The other cross-pistols also have wooden ivory-faced cruciform stocks, where this new one is solid steel with ivory cladding. Otherwise they are clearly either by the same maker, or are close copies of each other.

There is one other possible example of kit with cross-pistol at the Gatlinburg branch of Ripley’s, however the contents of the kit don’t seem to match their own caption. In any case, the pistol visible in that kit does have a similar underhammer system of ignition albeit fitted to a much more conventional mid-C19th pistol.

Where to go from here? I decided to look for parallels beyond kits with cruciform guns. I found it in the Ripley’s kit from San Francisco, which has a cross in the same style as the guns (possibly even a gun in its own right) which, like the two Sotheby’s kits and this new example, is also ivory-clad and marked ‘IHS’.

We then have yet another Ripley’s kit with what appears to be a folding plug bayonet (with silver-tipped stake attachment) for its (unusually flintlock), again marked ‘IHS’. Incidentally, despite its cheesy appearance, it is also more convincing than most kits, as the typically French case design, complete with cruciform cut-out for the bayonet, all look to be genuinely mid-C19th in date. It is essentially a cased pistol with the one specialised “anti-vampire” component, rather than the usual mish-mash in which the pistol is just one element.

There are then many more kits containing small wooden crosses faced with ivory – it is tempting to include these also, but I don’t want to over-reach myself by making such tenuous connections.

Returning to the Mercer museum’s kit – proven to be of modern manufacture, let’s not forget – we find yet another cross, lacking the IHS inscription but containing the same clipped circular religious medallion at its centre as the Forgett kit’s cross-gun. The author of the Guns & Ammo article supposed this to be St Peter, but given the analogies of impaling demonic creatures with long phallic objects, this is most likely Saint Michael.

This probably relates to the association of St. Michael with the exorcism of evil spirits in the Catholic religion. Not really something seen with the folkloric vampire, and so tempting to take as another hint that we’re dealing with the post-Dracula era.

From the Mercer kit, which has silver balls marked with crosses, we can also include this kit, now in the Victoria Police Museum in Australia.


This in turn takes us right back to the Forgett kit, as all three contain silver (possibly actually pewter) balls (i.e. bullets) with crosses cut into them. As I’ve commented before, the literary references for this practice date from the ’60s and ’70s.

The Victoria Police Museum kit is another fascinating one for which I have some more details. The pistol is a late percussion type made by Calderwood & Son of Earl Street, Dublin. This version of the name plus its obsolete form lets us date the gun to the period 1857 to 1870. No other kit contains a pistol of this size and type. In addition, its case bears an unusual inscription in a vaguely medieval script;

aski kataski
haix tetrax
damnameneus
aision

It’s a version of an old supposedly magical phrase (think ‘abracadabra’) found on the statue of Artemis at Ephesius (c500BC) – a phrase of unknown origin that was used in everyday magic and ritual in the classical world. It seems to have survived via Gnostic Christianity into the 19th century in the form found on that lid – which whatever the maker’s rationale for using it, certainly appears in Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophical glossary (Theosophy being a new age religion from the 1870s onwards). It’s still in ‘use’ today with ritual ‘magicians’ of one sort or another. The inscription is in a bizarre typeface resembling none I have ever seen (answers on a postcard). It is inlaid in a style that to me suggests mid-19th century at the earliest – but shows cleaned areas in the aged/treated wood around each letter, suggesting that they are later additions. Pistol cases typically either eschewed decoration altogether, or had an escutcheon plate or decorative shape inlaid into the centre of the lid. The lining itself is not very mid-C19th as it uses cut-out forms with finger slots instead of the usual divided compartments. I think it likely that this is a re-use of an older pistol case.

What conclusions can we draw from this group of kits? Sadly, not many. Though far from being copies of each other, there are clear connections between these half-dozen or so kits that suggest a common origin. One possibility is a ‘school’ of vampire kit makers turning out multiples in order to make money. Another, just as likely, is that we are witnessing an organic string of copyists taking ideas from a kit or kits that they’ve seen and making their own version with the antique items and craft skills that they have available to them. In any case, this web of connections includes our only proven fake, casting doubt upon the others by association and to varying degrees. This doesn’t automatically make them all fakes of course.
Given that Val Forgett was a replica gunmaker by trade from 1956 onwards, it would be a neat conclusion indeed if we could say that he was the originator of the Blomberg kits. However, he was also an international dealer in antique arms and armour, and claimed in the article that he bought the kit ‘at a gun show’ in the US. This is unlikely to be the kit allegedly sold by Michael De Winter in England in 1972, as he made no mention of such an unusual pistol. Is it the product of an imitator? As with most other questions surrounding these kits, we are unlikely to ever know unless more VKKs can be scientifically tested or at least subjected to closer scrutiny by specialists outside the auction houses that do so well out of selling them.