All illustrations © Taeden Hall
This post illustrator and all around talented person Taeden Hall writes of her experience with illustrating our Vintage Vampire Version of Carmilla*:
My educational background is in illustration but there was a time in which I barely lifted a pen; I stepped back from my drawing work to focus on surviving a dark time in my life. Carmilla was the first project I took on after that time, after several years of not drawing much of anything. It’s a true classic for any vampire or horror fan out there and I was delighted to be asked. It was a challenge creating artwork for this classic story that didn’t feel typical or imbued with the expected symbols and themes. I wanted the artwork to feel feminine and dreamy, filled with lush detail and thought. Admittedly looking upon the work now causes feelings of both faint embarrassment, for my rusty handiwork, and a pride in knowing that it was that commission that shook me out of my shadows. I hope you enjoy the illustrations alongside this beautiful old story.
*the video we made to promote the book featuring models wearing Gloomth (Taeden's fashion line) and Daniel Richler, the writer of the foreword can be watched here.
Model: CheshireCat, Photographer: Russel Hall Stylist/MUA: Taeden/Gloomth
Above: Vampire Dispatching Kit Open, Fabric Pressboard, Velvet, Brass Fittings and props, 2018
It started at yet another department store closing sale in the 70s with my mother wisely steering me clear of the toy section. However, I managed to get there anyway and there it was, a James Bond Secret Agent Case, complete with all the (probably toxic) plastic weapons I could possibly want or need. There were even plastic cigarettes (I’m sure which shot poison darts). I was eventually tugged away to look at underwear or socks and life moved on. But the thought of that James Bond Secret Agent Case never left me.
Above: Secret Agent 707 Case from Japan C. 1960s
I was a morbid child. Writing my will (“…and to you I leave my Famous Monsters collection and 3D Dracula View-Master slides to...”) at 12, rallying the neighbourhood kids to stage our own slasher films. But I also had an overactive imagination, converting my bedroom into a study complete with horrible rec-room fake wooden paneling, climbing onto the roof at night, begging my father to build me a turret, a trap door, a submarine, an underground train, a Burmese tiger trap… etc. I knew to maintain my cache I needed my own Secret Agent case, so I made one out of cardboard found in the basement and a lot of tape.
Above: David Keyes, Coffin Cigarette Boxes, Japanese Paper, Silk Ribbon and Press Board, 1987
Gradually I grew more morbid and eventually went to art school. In the late 1980’s I was in an occult shop. I remember picking up a small jar of ‘Graveyard Dust’ and the owner – who I did not know at the time was the city’s celebrity go-to witch and subsequently a successful realtor – walked up to me and said, “Wow! You sure must be mad at someone!” I’m not sure how I replied but I bought the dust and went home. I started to haunt the shop and eventually got to know the owner. One day I mentioned I made coffins and boxes and she asked me if I would make her a Steamer Trunk so she could make house calls. “Of course,” I said, having never made one.
Above: David Keyes, Witch's Steamer Trunk, Pleather, Japanese Paper, Press Board, Brass Fixtures, 1989
I was cat sitting at the time in a palatial apartment 20 stories up with a view of the city. I brought my supplies to this grand space – I had always worked on the floor in my apartment, much to the consternation of my cat – and figured out how to make a steamer trunk. There wasn’t a world wide web yet, so all answers came from the ads in the backs of magazines. I found a woman in Texas who sold trunk parts. I bought clock parts from odd hobby stores and handles and hasps from ancient findings stores that still existed in the garment district. I wouldn’t use leather even then – the idea made me queasy – so I bought a few yards of black pleather. Gradually I made something that so entranced me I didn’t want to give it away. This was so much better than a Secret Agent Case, this was a secret trunk filled with magic
Above: Toland Grinnell, Pied-à-Terre, 2007
I became obsessed with Louis Vuitton and his trunk business and artists like Toland Grinnell, Marcel Duchamp, Joseph Cornell, anyone really that made worlds within worlds, that took an ordinary rectangle and filled it full of magic. Chinese puzzle boxes! The lament configuration! My love of clockworks soon had me add moving parts to my boxes, my love of haunted forests had me lining them with moss.
And then Christie’s had an auction…
Above: Page from Christie's 2007 auction catalogue
A Vampire Killing Kit, 19th Century. Who cares if it was real. Here was the culmination of all my morbid obsessions in one box. Well, a few anyway. As there was no way I could afford even the selling estimate, I had to make my own.
A little history
The kits have been popping up on eBay and auction sites since the early days of the internet. There are a lot of obvious ‘fan’ made ones, which I am intrigued by. I’ve never thought any were made to be sold as ‘original.’ Bear in mind, ‘original’ means a kit created to slay an imaginary monster. Like saying, ‘This is a unicorn horn, a genuine one, not one made by a fan.’ After the release of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1897, the story is that these kits were distributed throughout the hotels of Victorian Europe and for safety’s sake, a well-healed traveler could ‘rent’ one for the night or might even purchase one if so inclined.
The true kits were manufactured by an obscure professor named Professor Ernst Blomberg. I believe the one in the Christie’s auction was one of his. He was apparently an expert on the subject, yet I have no memory of him being mentioned in Montigue Summers distinguished works, The Vampire, His Kith and Kin and Vampires of Europe .
No matter, I liked believing there was such a thing (like spirit rapping and faeries at the bottom of the garden) and in 1989, the Mercer Museum in Doylestown acquired one. There are also at least two known ‘original’ kits sold through reputable auction houses – Sotheby’s sold one for $12,000.
Above: David Keyes, Vampire Dispatching Kit (closed), Fabric Pressboard, Velvet, Brass Fittings and props, 2018
However, in 2005, Torquay antiques dealer, Michael de Winter posted an article online (the link is a relinking of it) stating that he was the Professor and began his hoax in the 70s as a way of offloading inferior or damaged antiques.
On the blog of the British Library, Jonathan Ferguson, the curator of firearms at UK’s National Museum of Arms and Armour puts it this way:
“I suspected that they were indeed novelty items but were rather more recent than many believed. I conducted a survey of the folklore surrounding 'real' vampires, that is, dead bodies exhumed by a troubled community and ritually 'killed' as scapegoats for whatever malaise might be affecting people. Nowhere was there evidence to support real vampire slayers carting about one of these kits. I persisted, revisiting the fictional stories and movies of my childhood and beyond, noting the development of the various ingredients in the typical vampire killer's toolbox.
It became clear that the "Blomberg" kits, with their focus upon silver bullets, were very unlikely to have existed prior to about the 1930s at the earliest. Though constructed from antique boxes and contents, they were most likely not produced until the era of the classic Hammer vampire movies. Other kits are harder to pin down in terms of date and could be older, but there is as yet no evidence of this.
To some this might come as a disappointment, or even as a reason to decry the kits as fakes as some do. Would-be buyers should certainly not purchase under the apprehension that they are buying a Victorian antique as my own research has shown. So why acquire such an object regardless? Museums do collect deliberate fakes as comparators and for their own artistic and cultural merit, yet vampire kits are not fakes per se, because there is no evidence of a Victorian original.
So, if they're not fake, and not reproductions, what are they? The answer is that they are "hyperreal" or invented artifacts somewhat akin to stage, screen or magician's props.
Although I had set out to 'debunk' their very existence, I came to realize that these enigmatic objects transcend questions of authenticity. They are part of the material culture of the gothic; aspects of our shared literary and cinematic passions made physical. Lacking any surviving artifact of vampirism either folkloric or fictional, fans of the gothic had created one to fill the gap. So whilst we at the Armouries still plan to scientifically test our vampire kit, and there is the possibility that it's early rather than late 20th century in date, for me the outcome has almost become moot. Vampire killing kits are genuine artifacts of the Gothic fiction that still provides sustenance to our most beloved monsters.”
Above: Vampire Dispatching Kit Top, Fabric Pressboard, Velvet, Brass Fittings and props, 2018
And that to me is fine. Although my kit is an invented artifact, it is to me, and I hope to whoever purchases it, a magical work of art, a secret box to open and allow one’s imagination and whimsy free.
p.s. this kit is for sale, send me a note for details.
Ghosts I Have Seen
by Violet Tweedale
Violet Tweedale is described in the 1910-1912 Every Woman's Encyclopedia thusly:
“Exceedingly versatile, Mrs. Tweedale has been described as "a woman of all works." She can paint a landscape and cook a dinner; she can write a book and make a shirt; she can etch a sporting scene and embroider the finest, designs; she is a brilliant pianist and has the reputation of being one of the best political speakers of the day. "I never know an idle moment, and I never know an unhappy one until by some misadventure I am forced to sit with idle hands," is a remark she has often been heard to make.”
But who is, or should I say was, Violet Tweedale?
The Rev. Charles, Mrs. Tweedale and unidentified specter
She was born in 1862, the daughter of Scottish publisher and editor Robert Chambers (Chamber’s Journal). A wealthy eccentric, he loved his work and reportedly gave millions away – Violet said he loved jewels and would carry a bag of diamonds with him at all times. Chamber’s voracious appetite for knowledge meant the house was crammed with books which allowed Violet, who had inherited her father’s quizzical nature, to educate herself (as it was common at that time for the daughters of the house not to receive a formal education). At 16 she was a ‘reader’ at the journal and was, at that age, considered quite brilliant, immersing herself in literature and art while assisting her father.
In 1889 she moved to London, spending her time writing and doing charitable work with the poor and sick in the pestilent soul-destroying slums of the East End. She released her first novel And They Two in that year. In 1891 she married a gentleman whom she considered her ‘literary soulmate,’ Clarens Tweedale. Together they were quite flush, both in spiritual vim and financial vigor. They travelled, read and did everything one expects of a well-heeled, socially connected couple of that time, counting Lords, writers, free-thinkers and spiritualists as friends. Violet was a close companion of Theosophy co-founder Helena Blavatsky, and a member of The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which counted Aleister Crowley and the poet Yeats as members.
She published more than 30 novels, dying at the Villa Languard, Torquay, Devon on December 10, 1936 predeceasing her husband by 14 years.
Victorians are an odd lot to come to grips with. They were innovators, loved gadgets and new things, loved to travel, loved foreign experiences, loved to do good. They believed – as I do - that hanging a work of art in one’s home can save a life. They were also in love with empire, loved only what they owned, were bigoted explorers, xenophobic (it is commonly believed that the novel Dracula was born of their fear of foreigners), lovers of pornography and pain, shooting animals, ardent adherents to class by helping and yet holding down the poor…all with impeccable manners and the customs of royals.
Reading Ghosts I Have Seen was a delight to me. These are not the ghost stories of today, there are no Ghost Hunters with EMF readers, infrared lights and video cameras. These are the stories of spirit mediums, ghost photography, gooey ectoplasmic manifestations, The Society for Psychical Research and the British National Association of Spiritualists. These are stories heard each night as a child in the nursery, the rustling of a silk dress rushing up unseen stairwells. These are stories of cocktail parties with the literary lights, travels from Nepal to Brighton. This was a time when a horrific war had just ended not only killing sons and husbands, in fact more than 8 million deaths, but forcing one to question God and the Victorian invincibility. The book travels a serendipitous course through her spiritual and spectral experiences, while we hear of the social, political and artistic shining lights of the day along the way. And, with a breathtakingly straight face she talks of the ‘proof’ provided by doctors that mediums lose weight while in trances – proven when she effortlessly heaved an enormous medium who, in a trance, had fallen on the floor into the next room for a brandy.
It is a pleasure to be able to bring this book back to life (pardon the pun). Like all of the House of Pomegranates Esoteric imprint, they are designed to resemble books from the time when they were published; those books you find on dusty shelves in flea market stalls, paper wrapper gone, slightly worn and filed incongruously next to an almost complete set of Nancy Drew’s. In the coming months we will be releasing a slew of esoterica, starting with the first of the Bulldog Drummond mystery series of the ’20s and Ghosts I have Seen. We do so hope you enjoy them.
15 years ago my heart stopped working, my heart literally broke. Since then I've tried as hard as I could to fight the meanness of the world with art and beauty. A goal is to put on a sumptuous new production of Dracula in 2019 with a newly written play, music and dance. It means I have to stay alive that long. I started a playlist on Spotify called Music for The Prince of Darkness to orchestrate it as I fuss with the minutia. You're more than welcome to listen and even add. Thank you.
Screen shot from the hugely popular Mr. Vampire series from China
In the third instalment of my Cecil Herbert Woolley, Occult detective, adventure series, I have Woolley, his beloved Clemeny and their trusted ‘man’ Benedict travel the Trans Siberian Express to China; to Shanghai to be specific.
The route is long and arduous, leaving Moscow and running, over the course of seven days, through Yekaterinburg (though known as Sverdlovsk at the time) the site of the infamous Romanov Family massacre, Irkutsk (the Paris of Siberia), Lake Baikal (the oldest and one of the biggest in the world), the Urals, the rolling steppes of Manchuria and through the Great Wall of China before stopping in Beijing (Peking). From there, it is a short 10-hour train ride to Shanghai.
At that time opium ruled Shanghai. It had made the fortunes of so many ang mo kui (slang literally meaning red-haired monsters – a racial slur aimed at foreigners, which, the more I read, seemed apt). England wanted silk, porcelain and tea, had cheap opium from India to trade and demanded access to the Chinese market. Through a series of elaborate trading schemes, which resulted in the first Opium War, English forced the Chinese government to sign the Treaty of Nanking (1842), which opened the way for further opium trade and ceded to England the territory of Hong Kong.
In Shanghai organized crime was so powerful and so sophisticated the city fathers handed over policing of the city to them. The Green Gang, the largest of the secret societies, run by Du Yuesheng (aka Big Ears Du), was so powerful and influential they openly gave money to Chiang Kai-Shek and were often called in to break up union meetings and labour strikes.
This was the 1920s, you did not require a passport to enter Shanghai, making it a destination of the stateless, the criminal, the wastrel, stray and vagabond. They all washed up on their muddy, swamp ridden shores with the hope of sanctuary, and easy access to gambling, opium, drink or the sordid nightlife. To partake, or to be the partaken.
Having never travelled the Trans Siberian, and having only been as far east as Hungary to try and capture much research was needed. You can imagine the daunting task of painting this rich and tragic history as a background to my story without it being in any way tawdry or insulting. Bram Stoker travelled no further than the local library for his facts and a Baedeker served as his own version of Google Street view. So I set out to do the same. For now I would have to sightsee sitting at my desk.
My story deals with the occult, with ghosts and memory. Being ancient, China has a rich and fascinating relationship with the dead. Disney found this out when proposing a theme park and found The Haunted Mansion just wasn’t how an entire population thought of ghosts. I whole-heartedly recommend Yangsze Choo’s magical novel The Ghost Bride for a very elegant primer into the fascinating customs and rituals of death and the dead.
One such tradition that I stumbled upon in my research, and to this day the image of which I cannot get out of my head is the Corpse Herders, or the Hopping Dead. “Herding corpses” is the tradition of bringing corpses back to their hometowns. In Chinese culture it is considered very inauspicious to be buried far from home. A person’s soul, body, home, and land are entwined. If the body cannot go home, the soul is lost forever in the world after death and caused to suffering everlasting turmoil (see The Ghost Bride). To remedy this out of piety, feng shui and ancestor worship, families would hire Corpse Herders, usually a Taoist monk, a master and his student, to go to where their loved one is buried and essentially, walk them home.
There is little written history, but oral stories remains to this day. It is said that the priest first checks the deceased’s date of birth. He begins to utter spells, and waves a peach wood sword to check whether the spirit will obey his commands. Terrifyingly the priest generally doesn’t take just one corpse, but will wait for other similar orders so that they can all leave together. Before they set off on their journey, the priest performs a ritual, sticking a symbolic talisman on the forehead of each corpse and utters incantations. The talisman is yellow paper with red ink depicting characters, images, or symbols that can conjure power and manifest energy. The bodies then rise up and follow the priest. As rigor mortis has set in, the dead can only hop. I cannot imagine a more terrifying image than a series of hopping corpses passing by ones window at night following a dour priest ringing a bell.
You won’t see anything like that is The Haunted Mansion (as much as I love it) in Florida, California, Paris or Tokyo. (But you can get a cocktail, FYI, in the Tokyo Disney)
I’ve been so enjoying the research for my next book I’ve left poor Woolley, Clemency and Benedict stranded at a train station in Shanghai for the last 3 months. I’d best get back to it, I’m sure, no matter how fascinating the landscape, they’re desperate to get the plot underway.
The first two instalments of my Woolley mysteries, The Blood Red Heiress and The Uninvited Guests are for sale worldwide. Do enjoy them. And do please keep in touch!
Toronto, July 1, 2017
p.s. there is an excellent article about this on the very wonderful blog The Order of the Good Death here
The tide is low! April 23rd (St. George's Day) marks the launch of David Keyes' newest novella The Uninvited Guests, another occult mystery with consulting detective Cecil Herbert Woolley and his beloved Clemency de la Tour. Read what evil mischief befalls a birthday party on an island in the south of France. Spoiler alert, there will be much cocktail drinking! Available worldwide on all web book sellers.
Watch this page for a live on Facebook reading and cocktail party coming in May!