The Vampires' Club

Strange Times in America

Today is the 13th of the month, neither Friday, or Tuesday (for Hispanics, Tuesday the 13th is the bad luck day), and it brought to mind people , places and times when tempting ill fortune and the number 13 were the rage.

The following is an article I wrote a couple of years ago.

After the end of the Civil War in America, society did what it usually does after war and bloodshed, which is to revel in activities that are whimsical if somewhat morbid. Such was the creation of the Vampires' Club.

Some of the fraternal organizations in existence were the Military Order of the Serpent (also known as “The Snaix”), The Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo, Odd Fellows, and The Ancient Mystic Order of Bagmen of Bagdad. Britain boasts one of the oldest of these groups, The Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes, founded in 1822. 

“The Vampires,” seem to have been an organization of much the same ilk as The Thirteen Club. One would expect these sorts of hi-jinks in the Parisian death-cafes, Café du mort/Café du neant, where the “decadent”—or, more often the tourists, wishing to be thought daring—sipped absinthe and watched weird shows of the living turning to corpses, then to skeletons, and back, rather like a skeletal strip-tease.

All these groups provided a convenient excuse to get together and “raise hell” in rather puerile ways, as we note in the following account published in the newspaper State [Columbia, SC] May 7, 1892: p. 6:

At Their Initial “Death Watch” They Partake of Hair-Curdling Viands
They are a Non-Superstitious Crowd.
New York, May 4. “Skeleton Fodder,” “Vampires’ Wings, Breaded,” and “Headstone Croquettes” are a few of the delightful articles on the menu spread at the initial death watch of the Vampires in Mazzetti’s, and a crowd of black-robed waiters stood ready to bring you “graveyard cough drops” or “fried souls” if you preferred them.

Over the head of Chief Ghoul John M. Turner hung a huge bat, holding in his claws a human skull, the sign of the organization, and Electrocutionist Fred Bennett had the outfit fixed up with colored glass eyes, into which he occasionally threw an electric current with startling effect. Back of the emblem hung a gigantic horn, fitted with an electrical attachment, which made it emit a frightful groan whenever anybody arose to speak. In front of the Chief Ghoul was a loving cup filled with “vampires’ blood,” in which an electric light glowed fitfully. Every bottle of wine had a vampire blood label pasted on it, and whenever a toast was drunk the Vampires applauded by moving their arms slowly up and down to their sides like wings.

But with all this grewsomeness the “death watch” was a great success, and the pale dawn saw 100 men vowing to be Vampires to the end.
The Vampires is a brand new organization started early in April by Mr. Turner and a dozen other non-superstitious theatrical people. It is a secret society and its motto is, “Unity, Affinity, Fidelity;” but it has no other purpose than good fellowship and mutual aid and encouragement.
It is simply an organization in which if a Vampire goes “broke” every other Vampire will “chip in” and help him out.

Its officers are: Chief Ghoul, J.M. Turner; Vice Ghoul, H.H. Levy; Recording Angel, Dr. I.E. Nasher; Body Snatcher, James B. Radcliffe; Coffin Nailer, Schnitz Edwards; Imp of Darkness, Charles Strohmenger, Jr.; Dirge Chanter, Signor Carlos Serrano; Bone Polisher, Fred Bohlman; Electrocutionist, Fred Bennett, and Sexton, Charles Angus.

It has a Cross Bones band, composed entirely of orchestra leaders, including William Johnson of the New York Park theatre, W. Lloyd Bowron of the Fourteeneth Street, Charles Mollenhauer of the Bijou and E.C. Gohl of the Windsor Theater, and it has a Monument Quartette made up of forcibly-retired comic opera singers. Among the other full-fledge vampires are T. Edward Reed, Thomas Jackson, Philip Smalley, the Tipaldi brothers, Thomas McQueen and Manager Price of the Lee Avenue Academy. Among the guests who are clamoring for a perch in Roost No. 1 are President Hotchkiss of the Thirteen Club, John Waller, Frank Dupree, E.A. Pratt, “Dick” Gorman, Harry Fisher, H.F. Seymour, Treasurer Rice of the Standard Theater, James Dixon, Cecil Kingston, Albert Henschel and Albert Hart.

After the viands had been dissected the loving cup was passed around, and while one vampire drank his four score fellow flapped their “wings” and sang their “Shriek,” which begins:
By gravestone cold and white
We spread our wings at night:
Over the mounds we love to dance
And wake a corpse right out of his trance.
His trance, trance, trace.

Anybody was welcome to get up for a speech, but as the trump horn drowned every word he said the feasters go along very comfortably.
It is proposed to hold these death watches once a month from now on until the supply of New York hotels is exhausted.

New York Times article the day after the 1892 party reported on the party decorations of coffins, skeletons and vampires on wires and described the scene as “one hundred Vampires around the tables, including many actors, doctors, and professional men.” The fate of these Vampires is unclear as there is not much extant information on the organization.  Unlike their muse, the group likely did not exist for very long.

WRITING PROJECTS - I’m still working on my latest book Hot Dame on a Cold Slab: Film Noir Murders #2.

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