Railings Around the Tomb

Tomb 2 2017

Are the railings round the tomb to prevent body-snatchers and medical students getting in?

Or are they perhaps to prevent something Undead getting out?

For Halloween movie watching I recommend ‘City of the Dead’, first of many great horror films from my husband Milton Subotsky.

Bitten by a Bat, 2.

Wild garlic (Allium ursinum): flower and leaves. Lithograph by W. G. Smith. Wellcome Collection.

In ‘Dracula’ Lucy is back home in Hampstead, but not safe from nocturnal assault despite the garlic flowers Professor Van Helsing specially procured for her protection:

I went to the window and looked out, but could see nothing, except a big bat, which had evidently been buffeting its wings against the window.

But Lucy’s mother removed the garlic flower wreath from her daughter’s neck (I expect it was rather smelly).

The flowers which had been round her neck we found upon her mother’s bosom, and her throat was bare, showing the two little wounds which we had noticed before, but looking horribly white and mangled.

Neither survived this attack. But would the garlic have done the job anyway? Some bats are actually attracted to flowers smelling of sulphur. Menthol, mothballs and mint are recommended instead.

Bitten by a Bat, 1.

Wellcome bat 2019 1 crd

Coloured engraving by Josiah Wood Whymper (1813 -1903) from the Wellcome Collection. The accompanying text comments:

Sleeping during the day in the most retired places, in the hollow of trees, or hanging by its claws from the bark, or concealing itself in ruined buildings, or in the roofs of ancient churches, it avoids the glare of daylight; but when the shades of evening come on, and hunger tempts the timid animal from its lurking-place, it is brisk and lively enough.

In ‘Dracula’, Mina noted:

Between me and the moonlight flitted a great bat, coming and going in great whirling circles. Once or twice it came quite close, but was, I suppose, frightened at seeing me, and flitted away across the harbour towards the abbey.

We are in Whitby here, but it is not until Lucy is back home in Hampstead that the bites in her neck are noticed by Professor Van Helsing. He starts to suspect a diagnosis of Vampirism.




Get ‘Dracula for Doctors’ now!


D4D pic 31119

Professor Sir Simon Wessely has kindly said :

‘If, as Dr Subotsky tells, us it takes being bitten by a bat to produce a book of this depth, detailed, but also fun, then I recommend being bitten by a bat to all aspiring authors.’

I wouldn’t go that far – but the tale is true. I was a young teenager staying in the tower of a European chateau, when in through the window at dusk there flew…

For more details, go to Cambridge University Press

and then your favourite book source.

‘Dracula for Doctors’ out for Halloween

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At last, the moment we have all been waiting for – the publication of my book ‘Dracula for Doctors’, cleverly timed by Cambridge University Press for 31st October, Halloween. Many thanks to all my patient friends, colleagues and family members.

And more secrets will no doubt be unearthed by delving further into libraries of old books, especially those of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the Wellcome and the London Library, where Bram Stoker did some of his own research.


My Other Halloween Witch

IMG_20191021_193026973 b 4Baba Yaga, the Russian witch of fable, lived in the forest in a house on chicken legs. I have only recently learned that for aerial transport she used a mortar (as a ‘boat’) and a pestle (as an ‘oar’). My Lancashire witch above is considering a change of vehicle.

Witches, of course, have always been herbalists and pharmacists, and Autumn is the time to forage for medicinal berries. As well as a cauldron a pestle and mortar are useful pieces of equipment.

‘Dracula’ and Diet: Renfield, 3

Wain Gothic Cat
Louis Wain: Gothic Cat (Wellcome Collection)

In his paper ‘On some of the Varieties of Morbid Impulse and Perverted Instinct’ (1866) Dr Mclntosh reported:

Dr Elliotson narrates in his lectures that a patient has longed for raw flesh, and even for live flesh, so that some have eaten live kittens and rats (!).

In ‘Dracula’, Dr Seward tempts his patient Renfield with the possibility of a kitten, but lets him down. The Count offers rats to get Renfield to let him into the asylum:

A dark mass spread over the grass, coming on like the shape of a flame of fire […]  and I could see that there were thousands of rats with their eyes blazing red, like His only smaller.

But Renfield is deceived again, and dies.

‘Dracula’ and Diet: Renfield, 2


Moth by Rae
Death’s Head Moth: photo by Alastair Rae

Secret treats to ingest were sent by Count Dracula to Renfield: “Big moths, in the night, with skull and cross-bones on their backs.” The all-knowing Dr Van Helsing explains: “The Acherontia Atropos of the Sphinges, what you call the ‘Death’s-head Moth’?”

Curious eating habits of various kinds had long been observed in asylums, and were discussed by W. C. McIntosh, superintendent of Perth asylum, in 1866:

The morbid desires, longings, or impulses for various substances generally regarded with loathing and disgust have been grouped under the head of Pica. 

Although these alien substances were often chalk, charcoal or earth, there is one mention of an insect-eater:

Remaining during winter in a kind of torpid state in the chimney corner, but in summer hunting all day long for honey-bees, humble-bees, and wasps.

While the unfortunate patients may partly have been trying to improve their wretched diets, these days, eating insects is very trendy, and earth will clearly be next.