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15 Terrifying 18th Century Remedies for What Ails You

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Could you imaging cutting, burning, and bleeding someone who is having a stroke? Or rubbing poisonous lead on someone to cure their rectal cancer? Welcome to just a couple of the remedies in The Book of Phisick, a remarkably legible, handwritten recipe book of natural remedies. It was initially written by an unknown author in 1710 and subsequently added to by different anonymous hands for years. The recipes, for the most part, involve using plants and minerals to battle everything from bad breath to cancer. Some of the treatments can still be found in non-Western approaches to medicine; others appear to be a sure way to hasten the death of the patient. All of them will make you a little more tolerant of your insurance co-pays.

1. "For the Biteing of a Mad Dog"

Rabies is almost always fatal unless the infected person is given the modern two-week treatment regimen of shots to help their body identify and fight the virus. The treatment prescribed in Phisick is hopelessly insufficient—and cruel, considering the hydrophobia that usually accompanies rabies:

Take 40 grains of ground liverwort and 20 grains of pepper in half a pint of milk…take this quantity four mornings together, then use of Cold Bath, every other day, a month.

Phisick also provides a contingency treatment “if the madness is begun.” Sip a tea made of cinnabar, musk, and syrup of cloves with a booze chaser, and “stay thirty days, before you repeat it.” If the symptoms associated with madness have already begun, 30 days of doing nothing would see the end of many patients—but unfortunately, so would 30 days of any other treatment in this era.

2. "To Kill Black Worms in the Face"

For a long time, people thought blackheads were tiny worms burrowed into the skin, and you can see how easily the assumption could be made by watching some of the many blackhead extraction videos on YouTube. (Do not watch while eating.) The successful removal of blackheads yielded what was considered to be the tiny corpse of the offending vermin. The recipe was simple: red wine vinegar, prunella, and nightshade water. Prunella is very common in herbal medicine all over the globe even today, prescribed as a general “heal-all.” The nightshade water (still available for purchase for both medicinal and culinary purposes) was probably what was left over from boiling the berries and leaves of the solanum nigrum plant. That would have made it Black Nightshade, which—though still toxic in high enough quantities—is nowhere near as poisonous as its cousin Deadly Nightshade. Probably just poisonous enough to flush out all the tiny worms nesting in your face.

2. "White Lead Plaister"

White lead was used as a miraculous panacea for centuries. Smearing it over a person’s back was said to prevent miscarriage and cure “the bloody flux” (a.k.a. unstoppable, often fatal diarrhea). Practitioners believed that, when applied to the stomach, it could provoke appetite and soothed The King’s Evil—painless but unsightly infected lymph nodes, so called because it was believed that the touch of a sovereign ordained by God could cure it. It was also believed to be good for swellings, bruises, drawing out infection, and any problems you might be having with your “fundament” (bottom). Once made, the concoction would be good for 20 years.

White lead, or lead acetate, is an astringent, and can tighten and reduce swelling blood vessels and pores. The fatally high toxicity of white lead was either unknown or simply not a major concern for the people of the 18th century. After all, the effects of lead poisoning—general ill health, decreased life span, dangers to fetal development and even childhood mortality—were an expected part of life in the era. It would have been difficult to pinpoint white lead as a unique source of any of those ailments.

4. "A Pleasent Purge"

It makes sense, if you think about it: To get well, citizens of the 18th century believed, you had to flush whatever was making you sick out of your body. Therefore, purgatives (any substance that would make a patient expel whatever was in his digestive system, usually through diarrhea) were a huge part of pre-19th century medicine—even if your sickness had nothing to do with your digestive system.

The Book of Phisick contains recipes for multiple laxatives. The “Pleasent” one is a mixture of “manna” (dried sap of the South European Ash tree) and lemon juice. But if you wanted a something strong enough to kill intestinal worms—which were very common until chemical pesticides were widely used—and strengthen a weak stomach, you’d use aloe instead of ash. The gelatinous part of the plant could be rolled into pills and fed to the patient. (Though we mostly think of aloe in relation to skin, studies show it may be helpful in inflammatory bowel disease.)

Though they were seen as a cure-all in the 18th century, purgatives actually had the opposite effect: They emptied a patient of desperately needed water, leaving him weak and depleted, but with the same strep throat he had before being put on a strict regimen of continuous stomach cramps and pooping.

5. "An Oyntment For a Cancer in the Breast"

Breast cancer has appeared throughout recorded history since ancient Egypt, although it wasn’t usually attended to until the tumor became painful or noticeable through the skin. Phisick's hopeful remedy contains ingredients like sage, bay leaves, chamomile, and red roses, all left to mature in a dunghill for precisely eight days.

Toward the end of the 18th century, new doctors were challenging the ideas that breast cancer was caused by not enough sex, too much sex, childlessness, too much black bile, or depression. The idea of radical mastectomy as treatment was in its infancy (if you have a strong stomach read Fanny Burney’s account of her own pre-anesthetic mastectomy here). But for the most part, people still treated breast cancer with topical salves. Even if there was no reason to believe it would work, it’s human nature to keep trying.

6. "To Stop Bleeding"

One of the main problems with this recipe is that it doesn’t specify what kind of bleeding it seeks to stop. The other is that its active ingredient is the very harmful white lead, which works as a styptic for wounds. Nineteenth century doctors would use it during surgeries, immediately covering amputated limbs with copious amounts, but the directions given in Phisick don’t say anything about applying to a wound:

Make bolster of linnen, dip one in the [lead] water and apply to the pit of the stomack. If that does not doe one to each wrist & two to the soales of feet.

Based on books published later, we can infer that this is a recipe for treating hemorrhaging. In Materia medica, written 170 years after Phisick, sugar of lead (another name for white lead) is still recommended for all kinds of internal hemorrhaging, including bronchial, intestinal, renal, and uterine. By first applying the lead poultice to the belly, it would appear to be an attempt to control one or all of the three latter. And even though sugar of lead was easily absorbed into the skin, the potential conditions causing these hemorrhages—typhoid fever, kidney failure, miscarriage—likely needed more than a styptic.

7. "A Good Surfeit Water and proper for the Gripes"

Surfeit water was the Alka-Seltzer of 1710—a way to settle a tummy that had enjoyed a surfeit of indulgence; the water in question was usually alcohol. The recipe also indicates that it can be used to make gripe water, which soothed a fussy baby. Gripe water is still used today, but not this formulation, which seems more appropriate for a fussy Velociraptor: The recipe required a gallon of brandy and as many mature poppy leaves—which would have been heavy with opium—as could be stuffed into a container. The concoction was left to steep for a few days, strained, and then mixed with some nice liquors to make it more palatable; “3 or 4 spoonfuls at a time is enough” for an adult. And for children, just two, with a little water. It was probably incredibly effective—unconscious people are seldom bothered by stomach upset.

8. "For the Colick"

Phisick included many recipes for soothing a child’s upset stomach, not all of which were opiate-based. But you might opt for the poppy seed remedy before using this recipe, which, to start, involved frying the dung of pigeons and then applying the resulting paste to the child’s navel. And that’s the least distasteful part of the treatment: The child is also to be given an enema of hot milk, “or fryed oates, or chamomile, or a bag of sand, or a hot Tyle.” (Elsewhere in Phisick it is indicated that a bag of hot sand or a hot tile are to be applied to an upset stomach externally—though how many poor kids had to endure sand in the bum due to poor sentence structure we’ll never know.)

The last part of the treatment is one we’re vaguely familiar with, preserved in a crude colloquialism usually used to question someone’s truthfulness: Special enema devices—called “glisters” in Phisick but also written as “Clysters”—were used to force tobacco smoke into the bowels. Tobacco smoke was thought to be a catch-all stimulant, and was used rectally for everything from resuscitating drowning victims to halting epileptic seizures.

9. "For an Apoplexy"

Someone who has undergone an apoplexy was identified by “all the senses taken away on a sudden.”  We seldom use that term now because we know the condition of “all senses taken away on a sudden” is caused by many different, extremely serious maladies, such as stroke, internal hemorrhage, or brain aneurysm. Treatment for such illnesses in the 18th century was nothing short of torture: First, bleed the patient, letting 16 or 18 ounces of blood (about two cups), which was believed to cleanse the body of bad blood, stimulate the circulatory system, and balance the humors.  It was usually done with a fleam, a metal strip with a sharp triangular head specifically designed to puncture veins. The blood would then drip into a bowl made especially for the purpose.

Next, the patient would be cupped and scarified. This involved heating special cups—usually made of metal, glass, or ceramic—over fire to near red-hot. Then, the cups were applied to the skin, burning it and simultaneously creating a vacuum, raising a tremendous welt. If the skin was pierced with a scarificator beforehand, the result would be a “wet cupping,” because the cup would fill with blood. The recipe also prescribed blistering the neck and arms, which was the same process but without the scarificator. (Click here to see the process, still used in some healing circles, but be warned, it’s not pleasant.)  

Unfortunately, this poor apoplectic creature’s treatment isn’t over yet. Next comes “strong glisters” (enemas) and the holding of a red hot fire shovel near their head. This is followed by the administration of a negligible poultice of spice to the soles of the feel, and submerging the patient’s hands in near boiling water.

10. "Falling Sickness"

Phisick says this malady “is known by falling down sudainly, strugling, and a white froth coming out of their mouths.” Today, we call it epilepsy. The prescribed treatment is the closest Phisick comes to out and out hocus pocus: The hair of a strong young man, as well as “the bone that grows in the legg of a deer,” must be cooked and powdered, then fed to the patient in the amount “as much as will lye on a groat two days before the new moon.” A full moon was considered to be one of the worst times for a person who suffered epilepsy, as it was believed it triggered madness (thus the “luna” in lunatic).

11. "For Convulsion Fits in Children"

While most of these medicinal recipes have some semblance of logic, there are a few that leave the reader hopelessly confused. To cure fits in children, for example, it is recommended to take a “live pigions rump” and clap it to the rear-end of the unfortunate child. The bird will struggle and “It will draw away the fits and grow weak and dye, so apply another till the fits leave it.” This treatment—the application of a pigeon’s “fundament” to the affected area—is also prescribed to drain venom from a snake bite.

12. "For a Speck in the Eyes"

If you’re thinking the answer lies in a good dousing from a bucket of well water, you’re under-thinking this situation. Those hoping to get rid of eye specks were to “Take urine and put it in a pewter dish,” then place another pewter dish on top of it to collect the condensation rising as the bottom dish is heated. Then, the special pee water is collected and dropped into the eye.

The application of this special water promised to “lessen the speck, clear the eyes, and is an excellent remedy for any sore eyes.”  Interestingly, the use of urine as eyewash is still practiced today, although largely frowned on by the medical community.

13. "To Take of Superfluous Hair"

For an era that had few qualms about partaking in some of the most dangerous poisons and disgusting concoctions available in nature, Phisick’s hair-removal secret was quite tame: Simply mix saltwater with “fasting spittle,” spit taken from the mouth early in the morning before eating. It was thought to have special curative properties, and was even mentioned in the Bible. Sadly, it’s not well known for its ability to break down keratin.

14. "For the Head Ache"

Phisick offers an array of simple headache cures. Some are almost shockingly reasonable (drink strong coffee or tea), some are expectedly odd (comb head upwards and stroke with nutmeg and vinegar), and some are just right back in the “oh 18th century, no” category (make vomit, draw blood from temple, blister neck). The headache is one of those maladies which we have learned to manage but have not eradicated. Many a migraine sufferer would gladly tie orange rind to their forehead and snort perfumed water (also advised treatments) if they thought for even a second it would work.

15. "For the Little White Worms in the Fundament"

Even in the 21st century, pinworms are still the most common worm infection in America, particularly among children. These parasites live in the rectum and lower intestines, and the females crawl out to lay their eggs during the night in the anal area. When kids scratch their itchy bums and touch things, they spread the eggs around to nearby hosts (usually other children). Today, there are a number of quick medications that can expel the worms, and natural remedies such as garlic also abound. But Phisick suggests creating a meat suppository, tied to a string, for brisk removal. The idea is that, if left to their own devices for a while, the worms will happily make their homes in the fake “host.” The suppository is then quickly removed, hopefully taking the unwanted interlopers with it. Process is to be repeated until all of the worms are gone.

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Big Questions
Why Do Baseball Managers Wear Uniforms?
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Basketball and hockey coaches wear business suits on the sidelines. Football coaches wear team-branded shirts and jackets and often ill-fitting pleated khakis. Why are baseball managers the only guys who wear the same outfit as their players?

According to John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball since 2011, it goes back to the earliest days of the game. Back then, the person known as the manager was the business manager: the guy who kept the books in order and the road trips on schedule. Meanwhile, the guy we call the manager today, the one who arranges the roster and decides when to pull a pitcher, was known as the captain. In addition to managing the team on the field, he was usually also on the team as a player. For many years, the “manager” wore a player’s uniform simply because he was a player. There were also a few captains who didn’t play for the team and stuck to making decisions in the dugout, and they usually wore suits.

With the passing of time, it became less common for the captain to play, and on most teams they took on strictly managerial roles. Instead of suits proliferating throughout America’s dugouts, though, non-playing captains largely hung on to the tradition of wearing a player's uniform. By the early to mid 20th century, wearing the uniform was the norm for managers, with a few notable exceptions. The Philadelphia Athletics’s Connie Mack and the Brooklyn Dodgers’s Burt Shotton continued to wear suits and ties to games long after it fell out of favor (though Shotton sometimes liked to layer a team jacket on top of his street clothes). Once those two retired, it’s been uniforms as far as the eye can see.

The adherence to the uniform among managers in the second half of the 20th century leads some people to think that MLB mandates it, but a look through the official major league rules [PDF] doesn’t turn up much on a manager’s dress. Rule 1.11(a) (1) says that “All players on a team shall wear uniforms identical in color, trim and style, and all players’ uniforms shall include minimal six-inch numbers on their backs" and rule 2.00 states that a coach is a "team member in uniform appointed by the manager to perform such duties as the manager may designate, such as but not limited to acting as base coach."

While Rule 2.00 gives a rundown of the manager’s role and some rules that apply to them, it doesn’t specify that they’re uniformed. Further down, Rule 3.15 says that "No person shall be allowed on the playing field during a game except players and coaches in uniform, managers, news photographers authorized by the home team, umpires, officers of the law in uniform and watchmen or other employees of the home club." Again, nothing about the managers being uniformed.

All that said, Rule 2.00 defines the bench or dugout as “the seating facilities reserved for players, substitutes and other team members in uniform when they are not actively engaged on the playing field," and makes no exceptions for managers or anyone else. While the managers’ duds are never addressed anywhere else, this definition does seem to necessitate, in a roundabout way, that managers wear a uniform—at least if they want to have access to the dugout. And, really, where else would they sit?

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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literature
The Charming English Fishing Village That Inspired Dracula
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Whitby as seen from the top of the 199 Steps
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The train departed King's Cross at 10:25 a.m. on July 29, 1890. Bram Stoker settled wearily into the carriage for the six-hour journey to Whitby, the fashionable and remote seaside village in North Yorkshire. The sooty sprawl of London gave way to green grids of farmland and pasture, and then windswept moors blanketed in heather and wild roses.

Stoker needed this holiday. The 42-year-old manager of London's Lyceum Theatre had just finished an exhausting national tour with his employer, the celebrated but demanding actor Henry Irving. The unrelenting task of running the business side of Irving's many theatrical enterprises for the past decade had left Stoker with little time for himself. When the curtains fell at the end of each night's performance, he may have felt that the energy had been sucked out of him.

Now he looked forward to a three-week getaway where he would have time to think about his next novel, a supernatural tale that harnessed the sources of Victorian anxiety: immigration and technology, gender roles and religion. In ways he didn't foresee, the small fishing port of Whitby would plant the seeds for a vampire novel that would terrify the world. Stoker started out on an innocent and much-deserved vacation, but ended up creating Dracula.

A photo of Bram Stoker
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As Stoker emerged from the train station in Whitby, the sounds and smell of the sea would have restored him after the long trip. He loaded his trunk into a horse-drawn cab for the journey up the West Cliff, where new vacation apartments and hotels served the crowds of holidaymakers. He checked into a flat at 6 Royal Crescent, a half-circle of elegant Georgian-style townhomes that faced the ocean.

He often felt invigorated by the seashore: "He's finally on a holiday, away from the hustle and bustle of London, the Lyceum Theatre, and Henry Irving's dominance over him," Dacre Stoker, a novelist and the author's great-grandnephew, tells Mental Floss. "The ocean and the seaside play into Bram's life, and, I believe, in stimulating his imagination."

Stoker's wife Florence and their 10-year-old son Noel would join him the following week. Now was his chance to explore Whitby on his own.

The East Cliff with Tate Hill Pier in the foreground
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"A curious blend of old and new it is," wrote a travel correspondent for the Leeds Mercury. The River Esk divided the town into two steep halves known as the West and East Cliffs. Down a tangle of paths from the brow of the West Cliff, Stoker found himself on the town's famed beach, where people gathered to watch the many vessels at sea or walked along the gentle surf. At the end of the beach was the Saloon, the nucleus of Whitby's social whirl.

"The enterprising manager engages the best musical and dramatic talent procurable, whilst on the promenade a selected band of professional musicians gives performances daily," wrote Horne's Guide to Whitby. Holidaymakers could purchase a day pass to the Saloon and enjoy afternoon tea, tennis, and endless people-watching.

Next to the Saloon, the West Pier featured a long promenade parallel to the river and a three-story building containing public baths, a museum with a collection of local fossils, and a subscription library. Shops selling fish and chips, ice cream, and Whitby rock lined the winding streets. Visitors could watch all kinds of fishing vessels discharging their daily catch, and even hop aboard a boat for a night's "herringing" with local fishermen.

Whitby's East Cliff had a more mysterious atmosphere. Across the town's single bridge, tightly packed medieval cottages and jet factories leaned over the narrow cobbled streets, "rising one above another from the water side in the most irregular, drunken sort of arrangement conceivable," the Leeds Mercury reported.

Above the ancient Tate Hill Pier, a stone stairway of 199 steps (which pallbearers used when they carried coffins) led up the cliff to St. Mary's parish church and its graveyard full of weathered headstones. Towering over the whole scene—and visible from nearly any spot in town—were the ruins of Whitby Abbey, a 13th-century pile of Gothic arches that had been built upon the remains of a 7th-century monastery.

"I think [Stoker] was struck by the setting. He's thinking, 'This is perfect. I have the ships coming in, I've got the abbey, a churchyard, a graveyard'," Dacre Stoker says. "Maybe it was by chance, but I think it just became that perfect scene."

Whitby Abbey
Whitby Abbey
Daverhead/iStock

In Dracula, chapters six through eight kick the narrative into frightening action. By then, real estate agent Jonathan Harker has traveled to Transylvania to negotiate Dracula's purchase of a London property and become the vampire's prisoner. His fiancée Mina Murray, her friend Lucy Westenra, and Lucy's mother have traveled to Whitby for a relaxing holiday, but Mina remains troubled by the lack of letters from Jonathan. She confides her worries and records the strange scenes she witnesses in her journal.

On the afternoon of his arrival, according to a modern account compiled by historians at the Whitby Museum, Stoker climbed the 199 Steps to St. Mary's churchyard and found a bench in the southwest corner. The view made a deep impression on Stoker, and he took note of the river and harbor, the abbey's "noble ruin," the houses "piled up one over the other anyhow." In his novel, Mina arrives in late July on the same train as Stoker, mounts the 199 Steps, and echoes his thoughts:

"This is to my mind the nicest spot in Whitby, for it lies right over the town, and has a full view of the harbor ... It descends so steeply over the harbor that part of the bank has fallen away, and some of the graves have been destroyed. In one place part of the stonework of the graves stretches out over the sandy pathway far below. There are walks, with seats beside them, through the churchyard; and people go and sit there all day long looking at the beautiful view and enjoying the breeze. I shall come and sit here very often myself and work."

The churchyard gave Stoker a number of literary ideas. The following day, Stoker chatted there with three leathery old Greenland fisherman who likely spoke in a distinct Yorkshire dialect. They told Stoker a bit of mariner's lore: If a ship's crew heard bells at sea, an apparition of a lady would appear in one of the abbey's windows. "Then things is all wore out," one of the sailors warned.

Stoker ambled between the headstones that sprouted from the thick carpet of grass. Though most of the markers' names and dates had been erased by the wind, he copied almost 100 into his notes. Stoker used one of them, Swales, as the name of the fisherman with a face that is "all gnarled and twisted like the bark of an old tree," who begins talking with Mina in the churchyard. Mina asks him about the legend of the lady appearing in the abbey window, but Swales says it's all foolishness—stories of "boh-ghosts an' barguests an' bogles" that are only fit to scare children.

St. Mary's churchyard
St. Mary's churchyard, which Mina calls "the nicest spot in Whitby."
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For the first few days in August, Stoker was occupied by the summer's social calendar. He likely enjoyed dinner with friends arriving from London, and went to church on Sunday morning. On the 5th, Stoker's wife and son joined him at 6 Royal Crescent. The next several days may have been spent at the Saloon, promenading on the pier, and making social calls, as it was the custom for newly arrived visitors to visit with acquaintances in town.

But Whitby's infamous weather had the ability to turn a sunny day somber in an instant. August 11 was a "grey day," Stoker noted, "horizon lost in grey mist, all vastness, clouds piled up and a 'brool' over the sea." With Florence and Noel perhaps staying indoors, Stoker set off for the East Cliff again and chatted with a Coast Guard boatman named William Petherick. "Told me of various wrecks," Stoker jotted. During one furious gale, a "ship got into harbor, never knew how, all hands were below praying."

The ship was the Dmitry, a 120-ton schooner that had left the Russian port of Narva with a ballast of silver sand. The ship encountered a fierce storm as it neared Whitby on October 24, 1885, and aimed for the harbor.

"The 'Russian' got in but became a wreck during the night," according to a copy of the Coast Guard's log, which Petherick delivered to Stoker. The crew survived. In a picture taken by local photographer Frank Meadow Sutcliffe just a few days after the storm, the Dmitry is shown beached near Tate Hill Pier with its masts lying in the sand.

'The Wreck of the Dmitry' (1885), by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe
The Wreck of the Dmitry (1885), by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe
Courtesy of the Sutcliffe Gallery

Petherick's account gave Stoker the means for his vampire's arrival in England, the moment when the mysterious East disrupts the order of the West. Mina pastes a local newspaper article describing a sudden and ferocious storm that hurled Dracula's ship, the Demeter from Varna, against Tate Hill Pier. The Coast Guard discovered the crew had vanished and the captain was dead. Just then, "an immense dog sprang up on deck and … making straight for the steep cliff … it disappeared in the darkness, which seemed intensified just beyond the focus of the searchlight," the article in Mina's journal reads. The dog was never seen again, but townsfolk did find a dead mastiff that had been attacked by another large beast.

Mina describes the funeral for the Demeter's captain, which Stoker based on scenes from an annual celebration he watched on August 15 called the Water Fete. In reality, thousands of cheerful spectators lined the quays as a local band and choir performed popular songs and a parade of gaily decorated boats sailed up the river, with banners fluttering merrily in the breeze, according to the Whitby Gazette's report. But through Mina, Stoker transformed the scene into a memorial:

"Every boat in the harbor seemed to be there, and the coffin was carried by captains all the way from Tate Hill Pier up to the churchyard. Lucy came with me, and we went early to our old seat, whilst the cortege of boats went up the river to the Viaduct and came down again. We had a lovely view, and saw the procession nearly all the way."

The final week of Stoker's holiday elicited some of the most important details in Dracula. On August 19, he bought day passes to Whitby's museum library and the subscription library. In the museum's reading room, Stoker wrote down 168 words in the Yorkshire dialect and their English meanings from F.K. Robinson's A Glossary of Words Used in the Neighborhood of Whitby, which later formed the bulk of Mr. Swales's vocabulary in his chats with Mina.

One of the words was "barguest," a term for a "terrifying apparition," which also refers specifically to a "large black dog with flaming eyes as big as saucers" in Yorkshire folklore, whose "vocation appears to have been that of a presage of death," according to an account from 1879.

"I do think Stoker meant for that connection," John Edgar Browning, visiting lecturer at the Georgia Institute of Technology and expert in horror and the gothic, tells 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."

Downstairs, Stoker checked out books on Eastern European culture and folklore, clearly with the aim of fleshing out the origins of his vampire: Curious Myths of the Middle Ages, a travelogue titled On the Track of the Crescent, and most importantly, William Wilkinson's An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldovia: with Various Observations Relating to Them.

The library building where Stoker discovered Dracula
The library building where Stoker discovered Dracula
Courtesy of Dacre Stoker

From the latter book, Stoker wrote in his notes, "P. 19. DRACULA in Wallachian language means DEVIL. Wallachians were accustomed to give it as a surname to any person who rendered himself conspicuous by courage, cruel actions, or cunning."

The Wilkinson book gave Stoker not just the geographical origin and nationality for his character, but also his all-important name, redolent of mystery and malice. "The moment Stoker happened upon the name of 'Dracula' in Whitby—a name Stoker scribbled over and over on the same page on which he crossed through [the vampire's original name] 'Count Wampyr,' as if he were savoring the word's three evil syllables—the notes picked up tremendously," Browning says.

By the time Stoker and his family returned to London around August 23, he had developed his idea from a mere outline to a fully fledged villain with a sinister name and unforgettable fictional debut.

"The modernization of the vampire myth that we see in Dracula—and that many contemporary reviewers commented upon—may not have happened, at least to the same degree, without Stoker's visit to Whitby," Browning says. "Whitby was a major catalyst, the contemporary Gothic 'glue', as it were, for what would eventually become the most famous vampire novel ever written."

Bram Stoker visited Whitby only once in his life, but the seaside village made an indelible mark on his imagination. When he finally wrote the scenes as they appear in Dracula, "He placed all of these events in real time, in real places, with real names of people he pulled off gravestones. That's what set the story apart," Dacre Stoker says. "That's why readers were scared to death—because there is that potential, just for a moment, that maybe this story is real."

Additional source: Bram Stoker's Notes for Dracula: A Facsimile Edition, annotated and transcribed by Robert Eighteen-Bisang and Elizabeth Miller

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