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Letter from Castle Dracula
The official news bulletin

                                                                               October 2012


This letter is a tribute   to the memory of Nicolae Paduraru, the unique and irreplaceable President of The Transylvanian Society of Dracula



Article published in Fortean Times FT288 Special 2012

Nicolae Paduraru left this world on 4 May 2009 after a courageous battle against cancer; by a sad coincidence, this was just two month after his longstanding colleague ‘Baron’ Alexander Misiuga died of a heart attack on his 83rd birthday. The timing of their deaths, however, was far less strange than many of the events in their lives, as these two former members of the Romanian Tourist Ministry in the Communist era had managed to conjure travel destinations out of places that didn’t really exist. Their creation has become a wonderfully manufactured anomaly that has fascinated thousands over the last few decades; just possibly, it has even given birth to one or two genuinely paranormal twists.
          When Bram Stoker wrote his seminal vampire novel Dracula, he undoubtedly took the name – and some of the traits – of his titular character from Vlad Dracula, the ruthless 15th- century prince of Wallachia, one of the regions that now makes up Romania. Vlad also had the nickname ‘Vlad Tepes’, or ‘the Impaler’, due to the fact that he was known to impale his enemies on wooden stakes in what we might now describe as a type of basic psychological warfare.
          But the use of wooden stakes was also believed to be a ‘genuine’ way of killing vampires – and other dead whose souls might prove restless – throughout much of mediaeval Europe. In fact, it was only as late as 1823 that England outlawed the act of driving stakes through the hearts of suicides. These accidental yet fortuitous similarities led Stoker to use the name of Dracula for the vampire character in his book. He had, however, never travelled to the region and made some imaginative choices when it came to the details of geography. Vlad Dracula was actually the Prince of Wallachia, a state neighbouring Transylvania; But perhaps because folklore of actual vampires (known locally as strigoi) was more prevalent in Transylvania, Dracula and his castle were moved, wholesale, across the border. The craggy cliff face of Poenari Castle where Vlad had really lived became the entirely fictional Castle Dracula on the Borgo Pass; which, despite its foreboding name, consists of impressive but rather more gently rolling hills. This was Stoker’s prerogative, of course; it was, after all, only fiction…
          Almost a century later,  at the turn of the 1980s, our two members of the Romanian Tourist Ministry had become both perplexed and fascinated by the increasing tendency of foreign visitors to their country who expressed a desire to visit such nonexistent places as a castle on the Borgo Pass and an Inn in Bistrita called ‘The Golden Crown’ (where Jonathan Harker, the hero of the novel, was meant to have stayed). Under the Communist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu, Stoker’s Dracula was banned, and yet the enthusiasm and sincerity of these seekers after the unknown and unreal captured the imagination in particular of Alexander Misiuga, the Director of Culture in Bistrita. There is a modern Romanian legend that Misiuga caught the Communist dictator Ceausescu in a mellow mood after a good day’s bear hunting and a hearty meal, and quietly and calmly suggested that a grand three-tower hotel should be built in the style of a gothic ruined castle on a sparsely inhabited Borgo Pass; and, yes, it needed dungeons as well! Not only did Misiuga survive this meeting, he got at least a substantial part of what he asked for. A Castle Dracula Hotel was begun in 1983, in a slightly more ‘civilised’ style that he had originally envisaged – however, it did come complete with dungeons, just as he’d requested. A lucky bonus was a real graveyard, as family burial grounds are quite common in that remote region, and a further twist was that the site he was given faced a nunnery. A ‘Golden Crown’ hotel was also built in Bistrita, despite the fact that names with royal connotations would have been frowned upon in such a strictly Communist society. Both buildings had enough success in tourist terms to maintain Misiuga’s credibility, and he was to use their splendid kitsch to thrive on the novel he loved for the next three decades.
          While the self-styled Baron Misiuga had undoubtedly put the building blocks of this strange project in place, it was another man from the Ministry, Nicolae Paduraru, who truly immersed himself in the world of both the real Vlad Dracula (something of a ‘King Arthur’ figure in Romania today) and his blood-sucking fictional counterpart. He also faced a continual battle to educate tourists as to the differences between the two.
          Paduraru was a fascinating man, whom I met many times. As somebody who had spent most of his adult life under Communism, he did not give the impression of being deeply religious, but definitely believed in something ‘unknown’. He had, for instance, a wonderful habit of addressing stray dogs as ‘Sir’. Whether this was part of his tour guide persona, or evidence of a genuine belief in reincarnation, I was never quite sure. He first developed tours during the 1980s showing the ‘real’ Vlad Dracula sites in Wallachia (such as the majestic ruin of Poienari Castle) and the ‘unreal’ Dracula sites which the ‘Baron’ was cleverly developing. During these initial tours, he gradually came to the conclusion that Dracula the vampire was better presented as a mysterious figure, rather than a clichéd monster jumping out of a coffin and dripping tomato ketchup. On arrival at any site, he would invariably remind tourists in his gruff, commanding voice that “The Count may in fact be with us in disguise”. After a couple of glasses of wine, you could well find yourself studying the faces of strangers and wondering if it were true. The carefully crafted talks he gave on the drive up the rolling hills to the Borgo Pass could make the whole place feel just as atmospheric and scary as the craggy cliff faces of Bram Stoker’s novel.
          It was following the fall of Communism in 1989 that Paduraru got the freedom to fully explore the subject of Dracula and his own beliefs. In 1991, he set up the Transylvanian Society of Dracula (TSD), consisting of writers, folklorists, paranormal researchers, historians, and incurable romantics. The tours and seminars of the Society also started to develop a genuine paranormal edge, visiting ‘Wise Women’ among the local peasantry and organizing talks with Romanian University-based scholars with sidelines in the investigation of Kirlian photography, UFOs and other aspects of the unexplained. Such open-mindedness to the paranormal by academics is rather different from the situation in most British universities. He continued the ‘lighter touch’ tourist tours under the related banner of The Company of Mysterious Journeys. Later, he would work with the specialist British tour group Solos for several years, bringing in the unique concept of Dracula Tours for single people – something he often said the count would definitely approve of!
          The finest achievement of the TSD came in 1995 when it created the first World Dracula Congress, organising more than 300 delegates from all over the world swapping ideas and thoughts on the real and the fictional Dracula. This helped set up a network of contacts worldwide, most of which still exist today. A second congress was also to follow in the year 2000 ), which I attended as part of a Ghost Club delegation from the U.K.
          By then, of course, other Romanian tourist organizations were attempting to grasp the Dracula Dollar with varying levels of sophistication. An addictively kitsch “Club Dracula” in Bucharest was opened. It serves a menu of (deliberately) revolting-sounding food in a windowless Gothic club combined with frequent visits by an actor with pointed teeth. This is all harmless fun; which is more than can be said for the misguided efforts in the early part of the new millennium by the Romanian government to build a ‘Dracula Land’. This was a theme park they were convinced the world would flock to, to be built within sight of the ancient city of Sighisoara, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the birthplace of Vlad Dracula. Paduraru lobbied tirelessly against this project, which, thankfully, was eventually dropped after generating much bad publicity. I often felt that, deep down, Nicolae would have wanted to extend his research further into the world of the ‘real’, rather than fictional, paranormal; unfortunately, due to his illness and eventual death, this was something that he never fully explored.
          And if you do want to visit a site of reputedly genuine paranormal activity in Romania, it’s not to the site of Stoker’s fictional Castle Dracula that you should venture, but to the breathtaking cliff-tip ruins of Poenari Castle, where Vlad Dracula made his last stand against the Turks and where the Impaler is said still to stalk the ramparts in the dead of night. Despite the 1,500 step climb to the top, its atmosphere alone makes Poenari  a must-visit destination for anyone interested in visiting haunted sites. Ironically, it’s a place that would still be unknown to the world if it wasn’t for our men from the Romanian Tourist Ministry, a pair of pioneers who reinvented both Dracula for a world hungry for the strange and scary blend of fact and fiction.
          And if you should decide to travel to these sites, with their blend of fact and fiction, it’s just possible that you’ll find Nicolae Paduraru and ‘Baron’ Misiuga attending your needs…suitably disguised, of course, just like their beloved Count.

The Company of Mysterious Journeys: www.mysteriousjourneys.com


JOHN FRASER has been actively interested in the paranormal and folklore for two decades. He is currently on the Council of the Society for Psychical Research and has previously been Vice Char (Investigations) for the Ghost Club. He has visited Romania on many occasions and is a member of the Transylvanian Society of Dracula. John is also author of  Ghost-Hunting: a Survivors’Guide (History Press, 2010). “    Copy-rights: John Fraser

The author would love to have any feedback  or thoughts from any inside and outside the TSD who might care to make comment, at the below e-mail address:                               jfraserghosthunting@hotmail.co.uk

Halloween - October 2012

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