Record-breaking vampires at Whitby Abbey mark 125 years of Dracula | Bram Stoker

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It was, of course, as English Heritage said afterwards, a fangtastic effort. But the stakes were high. After months of meticulous preparation, the idea was to set a world record for the most people dressed up as vampires in a place that Dracula would surely call his spiritual home.

He wouldn’t be pleased at how happy and carefree everyone looked as they marched into the Gothic ruins of Whitby Abbey on Thursday night. The gray clouds and drizzle of the afternoon even gave way to blue skies and bright sunshine.

The gathering marked the 125th anniversary of the publication of Bram Stoker’s novel. Photo: Nigel Roddis/PA

Also, it was insanely windy, which made for maximum wind of the cloaks.

“These are just things I have in my closet,” said Kit Robson, 24, in full vampire attire. She was there with her siblings Christine, 29, Nick, 27, and William, 23, from Cockfield, County Durham.

Christine was the driving force behind it because she loves the Bram Stoker novel so much. “The prose is just so different from anything that’s written today, it was such a different way of looking at the world.” It had so many layers and meanings, she said. For Nick, on the other hand, it was “just a great way to freak people out.”

Woman with red contact lenses and black lipstick and eye makeup.
Participants had to dress in black and wear fangs on their upper teeth — but many went much further. Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty

At the head of the queue was retired photographer Chris Martin from Beer in Devon. “As soon as I heard about it. I knew I had to get up.

“This is my very first time getting dressed and I spent about a week learning how to put the makeup on… how does it look?”

Another couple, Bob Trainer and Christine Brown of Stockton-on-Tees, were there for fun to celebrate Stoker’s local Whitby connections; The author first found inspiration for the story during a holiday in the seaside town of Yorkshire in 1890 and provided evocative locations in the book. The trainer said he works in a bodybuilding factory. “Not real bodies,” Brown said. “No, Luton Box Vans,” Coach said.

The goal was to gather at least 1,040 people dressed as vampires at the abbey, breaking a record set in 2011 at an amusement park in Doswell, Virginia. The Whitby effort has been timed to coincide with the 125th anniversary of the publication of Dracula.

It was a silly event, yes, but one they took deadly seriously, said Mark Williamson, the abbey’s site manager, who was dressed in a splendid Victorian cloak and 1840s suit. “I live with a costume historian,” he explained.

“We have to take it seriously because we have a lot of respect for the people who set the record. We want to honor these people. It would be bad if we suddenly allowed people to wear sneakers.”

Two women dressed as vampires sit under vaults in the abbey
Stoker visited Whitby in 1890 and was inspired by the town and the ruins of the 13th-century abbey. Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty

Previous attempts to break the record failed due to silly things like the wrong shoes, so the organizers tried to make the invitation as simple as possible: black shoes, black pants or black skirt, black cape, shirt, vest and pointy fangs.

More than 3,000 interested parties have expressed their interest, but registering an interest and coming are of course two different things.

Nerves were on edge before the event. Williamson said he really had no idea how many people were coming.

But they turned up, including many who hadn’t signed up but only found out about the event at the last minute. There were entry requirements. “May I see your fangs, please,” stewards said at the entrance. The news broke just after 9 p.m. on Thursday – the efforts had been unsuccessful, the record had been broken with 1,369 vampires in one location.

Man disguised as a vampire with walking stick
Stewards checked people’s fangs before letting them in. Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty

Whitby Abbey was the obvious place to attempt the record. In Whitby, Stoker soaked up the atmosphere that would be key to the novel’s success – the abbey ruins, the innocent tourists, the beautiful harbor and the salty tales of the gnarly locals.

The names of several victims were extracted from headstones found in the church, and Stoker came up with the name “Dracula” when looking at a book in Whitby’s public library.

Williamson said, “When you look at the legacy of this book, which hasn’t been out of print since 1897 and has been adapted hundreds of times…it means so much to so many different people. So it just feels right to have a lot of people dressed up as vampires.”

Mark Brown disguised as a vampire
Guardian journalist Mark Brown joined in. Photo: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

He certainly looked real, although he seemed uncertain. “I don’t know what my team will think of me walking around town like Darth Vader.”

His colleague Joe Savage, a senior interpreter manager at English Heritage, was also looking pretty good. “I’m afraid I look more like a fat middle-aged bat than a suave vampire,” he said.

Unlike Williamson, he didn’t have a cloak on hand in his dressing room. “My daughter made mine. She cannibalized a prom dress. But I have fangs and I have Fixadent, I’m ready to go.”

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