Opened in 1839, Highgate Cemetery, London is an impressive 178 years old. In the Victorian Era, it was THE place to be buried if you wanted to show your wealth and stature in the community and tens of thousands of people were buried there during that time. It was also used as a Plague burial ground, being far enough away from central London to ensure the spread of the disease was kept to a minimum.
As you can imagine, a Cemetery nearly 200 years old, with the history it has, definitely has its ghosts stories, and many of these are almost as old as the Cemetery itself. The one I’m going to write about today, however, became popularised in the 1970’s, though its roots may predate the Victorians.
Late in 1969, reports of a tall dark figure in and around the cemetery had been sent to the British Psychic and Occult Society, including that of a male who believed he had been ‘hypnotised’ by something inside the cemetery whilst lost. The male (who requested anonymity for fear of ridicule) claimed that he had become lost after a late afternoon walk through the gothic cemetery, and unfrightened, tried to find his way to the nearest gate when he felt someone behind him. Upon spinning around, he found a tall dark figure a matter of a few feet away, hovering just above the ground and was unable to move as if ‘drained of energy’ by a ‘hypnotic force’. He remained this way for several minutes, all the while being watched by the figure before the figure promptly vanished and the man was left alone again. The fact that he had described this entity as wishing to ’cause harm’, definitely intrigued the British Psychic and Occult Society, believing that the entity was malevolent in nature, they interviewed several more people who claimed to have witnessed this entity.
It has been said that Bram Stoker had been inspired by the story of a young woman, Elizabeth Siddal, who had overdosed on Laudanum and was buried in Highgate with a volume of poetry that had been written by her husband, Pre-Raphaellite Painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Upon the realisation that she had been his muse and he no longer felt able to create as he had before, he received permission, seven years after her death, to retrieve the poems that had been buried with Elizabeth. When her coffin was opened however, they discovered her beautiful Auburn hair had continued to grow after death, (not in the usual way in which the skin shrinks back, this hair had GROWN!) so much so, that they actually had to move her hair aside in order to retrieve the volume of poetry! Supposedly, the character of Lucy Westenra in the novel ‘Dracula’ is based on the story of Elizabeth Siddal.
By 1970, an investigation by the British Psychic and Occult Society was well under way and had attracted the attention of the local media as well as the Satanic Coven who used the cemetery for their rituals (sending threatening letters to the British Psychic and Occult Society for bringing attention to their temple in the catacombs under Highgate). The ‘vampire’ theories had started to snowball, and though the British Psychic and Occult Society tried to discourage these theories, by March 1970, a full scale ‘Vampire Hunt’, involving over 100 people took place! Some of these people felt they’d seen something ‘crawling’ amongst the tombstones, and quickly left the Cemetery.
Sadly, no evidence of a Vampire was ever discovered, during this hunt or in the investigations before or after the hunt, and the British Psychic and Occult Society even attempted to conduct an exorcism to remove the entity that they had come to believe the Satanic Coven had invoked.
So despite the lack of evidence, the legend of the Highgate Vampire is still prevalent today, making its way into popular culture such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and Dracula AD 1972.
Have any of you visited Highgate Cemetery? Let me know what you think of the Highgate Vampire!