Monday, 10 October 2011

Evidence for antique vampire killing kits

Recently, I've been examining the evidence for the authenticity of 19th century vampire killing kits. These were apparently manufactured for and sold to Western travellers to Eastern Europe. One of the prominent names attached to these kits, is Professor Ernst Blomberg. Spooky land's excellent article, 'Regarding Ernst Blomberg', attempted to unearth proof for the man's existence.

One of the article's attempts to validate the claims made about the kits is their presence in certain museums: 'Certainly, old vampire killing kits were reportedly produced in the 19th century - examples exist at numerous Ripley museums (Wisconsin Dells, etc.) and other public collections of oddities.' It says. 'Institutions like these have either held these kits for some time, or are willing to attest to their rough age through their documented provenance (although the Mercer Museum has recently declared their kit to be a modern assembly of mostly vintage parts).' The latter claim is something I personally verified.

But, as we've seen, their presence in such museums isn't—bizarre as it might sound—proof of antiquity. The Mercer Museum, Doylsetown, Pa., informed me that their kit 'is believed to be one of the compilations of both historical items and "made up" artifacts that found its way into the antiques market sometime in the 1970s or 1980s.' They also 'had some portions of it analyzed in the labs of the Winterthur Museum and learned that the "silver" bullets are actually pewter (not a surprise given their lack of tarnish) and that the paper is of 20th century vintage that has been artificially "aged."'

If that's the case, why display the kit at all? The Museum told me they 'use it currently to contrast traditional and contemporary vampire "lore," help interpret the origins of some vampire beliefs, and to demonstrate the use of scientific methodologies in authenticating artifacts.' To that extent, the kit is also accompanied by the following placard:

Diggers realm

So what are we to make of the kits' appearance in Ripley's museums? The Spooky land article notes, 'In a press release dated December 4, 2008 [2009], Ripleys maintains that their collection of kits now numbers 30 (26 on display). Most of the kits were acquired by Edward Meyer, their Vice President of Exhibits and Archives.' I contacted Edward Meyer, who agreed to an interview.

In light of the Mercer Museum's revelations, I asked him whether it was possible the kits he'd collected were hoaxes, too. He said: 'Anything is possible. I know of no hard evidence to confirm where or when any of these items were made. As I stated before the date of the guns is the only thing you can confirm with confidence…..'

The press release said 'Most were created in the Boston area and were available by mail order.The kits were acquired by people in preparation of possibly meeting a vampire during their international travels to Eastern Europe and their usage dates back to the mid-1800s. Most were created in the Boston area and were available by mail order.' 

I asked Meyer whether he'd seen any of these mail orders. 'No,' he said. Had he verified their connection to Blomberg? 'Personally? I haven't.' Then how did authenticate the kits? 'One of the key elements in a vampire killing kit is a pistol. Pistols can easily be dated by style, and maker. Some of the guns actually have dates an initials on them..From a study of several kits it is obvious some are older than others, but the guns typically come from the 1840s-50s'. In other words, the best evidence that the kits were produced in the 19th century for travellers to Eastern Europe? They come with old guns and unverified back-stories. 

No museum—or—sellers have examined or provided contemporary 19th century references to their manufacture and sale. If they were, indeed, being made during the 19th century, then a record would've turned up. Somewhere. Something to link the kits with their alleged manufacturing date. Even the 'mail orders' cited in Ripley's press release. Regarding the kits Meyer's collected, he said 'we have nothing any earlier than 1990 mentioning their existence.' 

However, the Spooky land article pushed the Ripley's link back further than Meyer's role in their collection: 'The Ripley's Believe It or Not! museum chain claims to have the world's largest collection of vintage vampire hunting kits, some reportedly collected by Robert Ripley prior to World War II.' Robert Ripley (1890–1949) originated the Ripley's franchise, which spun off from his Ripley's believe it or not! newspaper panel. If he did collect such kits, we'd have a pre-'1970s or 1980s' source. That would push the existence of 19th century vampire killing kits into the realm of plausibility, given the timeframe.

Unfortunately, the article doesn't provide a source for the claim. So, I asked Meyer, 'did Ripley's have any vampire killing kits before you started collecting them for the company? For instance, did Robert Ripley collect any?'1 He wrote back, 'No pre-edward vampire kits—I have been involved in the purchase of everyone we have…'2 The press release confirms 'Each kit in the Ripley's collection was acquired by Edward Meyer, VP of Exhibits and Archives for the company.'

1. 'RE: vampire killing kits', Saturday, 8 October 2011 1:10:11 AM.‏

2. 'RE: vampire killing kits', Saturday, 8 October 2011 2:42:50 AM.

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