Here are some gobbets of strange and horrible vampire history from the late nineteenth century…
Monster Bat Attacks Baby
In Hampshire in November 1880, a woman put her baby to sleep in its cradle one afternoon. The room had an old fireplace but no fire, so the woman put a paraffin lamp on the hob to create a little warmth for the sleeping infant.
A few hours later as dusk fell, the woman looked into the room and saw to her horror a black winged creature flapping madly around the room and making a moaning sound. Suddenly the creature landed on the cradle near the baby’s face.
The woman screamed, flung the door open and ran towards her child. The creature squealed and rose from the cradle, flying round the room madly before knocking the paraffin lamp onto the floor and smashing it, then eventually disappearing up the chimney.
The terrified woman grasped her baby from the cradle and dashed to her neighbour’s house. There they saw that the child had a small puncture wound on its throat that was oozing blood. All present agreed that there was only one explanation – a vampire.
When the father returned home, he went into the room to investigate and found that the creature was a harmless long-eared bat. Furthermore, the child’s nightgown had been fastened with a pin which had come loose and pricked the baby’s neck causing a small wound when the panicking woman had grasped the infant in her arms….[i]
No names are given in this widely reported news story. It shows how much vampires (and vampire bats) were in the public consciousness even at this time, several years before the publication of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Monster Bat Attacks Teenage Girl
This story concerns the 17 year old daughter of James Uhl, a coffee merchant in Calaboza, Venezuela. The young woman was prone to sleepwalking ever since a child, and no cure could be found.
One night in 1890, it seems Miss Uhl left the house while in a trance and wandered into the countryside. When her parents realised she was gone, they organised a search party and eventually found the girl lying by the side of the road, with a huge bat clinging to her throat.
As the party approached, the bat attempted to fly away but was too engorged with blood to escape and was shot dead. It was over three feet long from wing tip to wing tip.
Miss Uhl had a placid expression on her pallid face, which was taken to suggest that she had fallen in her sleep and then been attacked by the creature when unconscious and had not felt any pain. There was a puncture mark on the girl’s neck over her jugular, and a pool of blood under her head.
It was believed that the bat had settled on her while she slept by the roadside and then sent her into a deeper sleep by gently fanning her face with its wings.[ii]
This story was widely reported in the USA and Britain, and does have some names and other details. However, vampire bats are a few centimetres in size and not a few feet, which really would have been a monster. While a vampire bat may occasionally bite humans, it’s implausible that it would drain the victim of enough blood to cause death. It was a commonly held myth that vampire bats would gently waft air onto the faces of their victims with their wings to send them into deeper sleep to allow them to feed.
The Vampire Cat Beast
Like the previous story, this next implausible tale is a report of a letter. Mr W.D. Newman of Greenorke was visiting some relatives in Elba, Alabama. With some friends Newman had gone hunting for wild cats in dense forest near the Pea River.
As they made their way through the woods something dropped from a branch and wrapped itself around Newman’s head, completely enveloping it. The creature lacerated his cheek, bit off one of his ears and almost severed his jugular in the bloody attack.
As the man fell to the ground with the creature gnawing at his face, his friends stunned it with the butts of their rifles and eventually beat the furious creature until it relinquished its grasp, when the dogs set upon it and killed it.
The animal was described as being like a cross between a vampire (presumably meaning a vampire bat) and a wild cat:
[It] had a web from front to hind quarters, like a flying squirrel; had a face almost flat, a little conclave, and teeth three inches long; very large protruding eyes, short stiff hair, a web foot like a duck, but long sharp claws and very short legs.[iii]
The reports in the British and American press are pretty much identical, almost word for word, but some British papers make a bizarre addition: ‘Three years ago a vampire escaped from a circus in that section.’[iv] Again, we might presume this means a vampire bat (these bats were often referred to as vampires in the press at the time), but a bat is an unusual animal to have in a circus… The reports seem to be suggesting that the vampire bat escaped, bit a cougar and turned it into a vampire big cat!
In any case, Mr Newman was taken to hospital in Elba, although disfigured for life, was expected to make a full recovery.
Stay tuned for some even more strange and horrible slices of lost vampire history…
[i] ‘Bats and Vampires’, The Graphic 20 November 1880, p.15
[ii] ‘A Deadly Vampire’, Mid Sussex Times, 30 December, 1890, p.8
[iii] ‘A Hideous Animal’, Greensburg Standard, 12 October, 1888, p.3
[iv] ‘Attacked by a Vampire’, Aberdeen Evening Express, 29 November 1888, p.4