This Haunting Coastal Town Inspired Bram Stoker's "Dracula"

By: Annie Hartman

There's more to the coastal town of Whitby than meets the eye. Hidden in Whitby's cottages and cobblestone streets lie legends and tales that inspired the famous story of Dracula. This led to the largest and spookiest festival around. Goths, ghosts, vampires, and ruins: Whitby has them all.

October 31, 2019

Far From Transylvania

Up in northern England lies a coastal town surrounded by gravestones and ruins that's home to one of Gothic horror's most famous villains: Dracula. It all began when Bram Stoker visited the town in 1890. He immediately became enamored with Whitby Abbey's spooky charm, even mentioning in his novel that the church was the town's nicest part.

It's no wonder that Stoker loved it so: Whitby Abbey is one of the most striking ruins in British history. The ruins of the 13th-century church stand high on a cliff overlooking Whitby itself. Below the abbey is an ancient parish church and a graveyard that can be reached via a 199-step climb. Not only did Stoker take inspiration from the spooky setting, but he also jotted down a few names from tombstones and used one of them (Swales) as Dracula's first victim. Freaked out yet?

Stoker's first encounter with Dracula was in 1890 at a local coffee shop, where he found a book published in 1820. It told stories from the life of William Wilkinson, a famous British consul in Bucharest. Those stories spoke of a 15th-century prince named Vlad Tepes who was said to have killed his enemies with wooden stakes. He was also known as Dracula, or "the son of the devil." The author published a footnote below this account: "Dracula in the Wallachian language means Devil. The Wallachians at that time ... used to give this as a surname to any person who rendered himself conspicuous either by courage, cruel actions, or cunning." Appropriate.

A large portion of the language Stoker used in his novel was also inspired by the Yorkshire dialect, bits of which he also found in a book, this time in Whitby's museum library. He wrote down 168 words from the Yorkshire dialect and their English meanings. In his novel Dracula, these terms are used by old Mr. Swales in his conversations with Mina. For example, one of the words he used was "barguest," a term for a "terrifying ghostlike image of someone" that also refers to a "large black dog with flaming eyes as big as saucers" in Yorkshire folklore.

"I do think Stoker meant for that connection," horror expert John Edgar Browning told Mental Floss. "Moreover, he probably would have meant for the people of Whitby in the novel to make the connection, since it was they who perceived Dracula's form as a large black dog."

Black Is the New ... Black

Stoker isn't the only one to get gothic inspiration from this seaside town. Every October, this seaside town transforms into the largest goth festival in the world. With all subcultures ranging from women donning 19th-century corsets to modern goth punks smeared with eyeliner, the festival makes the town look like it has been ripped right out of Bram Stoker's novel — more than it already has, that is.

Around 10,000 goths head over to Whitby for the festival every year, and boy, does it get spooky. Local shops and businesses get into the Halloween spirit by redecorating to fit the decor of the rest of the town. The costumed festival-goers swarm down the narrow alleys and streets to celebrate unique goth culture. This is no quiet event, either. The main attraction is a giant concert headlined by some of the biggest names in alternative music.

The festival doesn't just have similarities to Dracula; it's inspired by the novel. It began in 1994 by a group of Dracula groupies that met in the town of Whitby due to its Stoker novel links. Come and soak up the chilling culture and history in Whitby this October ... if you dare!

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