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25 Facts About the Anne of Green Gables Miniseries

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Kindred spirits the world over are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the beloved Anne of Green Gables, which premiered on CBC in December of 1985 (and in America the following year). The four-hour miniseries was adapted from Lucy Maud Montgomery’s classic 1908 book about an imaginative orphan girl adopted by an elderly brother and sister. Here are a few things you might not have known about the miniseries. 


Though he was aware of Anne of Green Gables—and vaguely remembered his teacher reading it to his class in fifth grade—Sullivan (who wrote, directed, and produced the miniseries) hadn’t read the book when he was approached by Robert McDonald, president of the Learning Corporation, about making a film version of the novel in the early 1980s. “I thought, ‘Hmm that could be interesting,’” Sullivan recalled. But even then, he didn’t read the book: “I went and contacted the publisher in New York about the rights to Anne of Green Gables, and ... embarked on a very complicated journey into trying to determine who actually held dramatic rights to the novel. At the end of it all, I was able to put the pieces together and actually turn it into a television production.”


Montgomery’s novel begins with Rachel Lynde watching Matthew Cuthbert drive a buggy to the train station—where he’s going to pick up an orphan boy, but comes back with Anne instead. Sullivan wanted to go beyond that. “I needed to know who she was before she was brought to Prince Edward Island,” he said. “I could only imagine that a child who had that kind of flamboyant imagination had to have already created her own world of escape and that she must have been extremely lonely and extremely downtrodden.”

So he and co-writer Joe Wiesenfeld started Anne’s story with the cranky Mrs. Hammond and her brood of children, who are mentioned briefly in the book. “What I tried to do,” Sullivan said, “was go back several stages in Anne’s life and depict a world that had aspects of severity and cruelty, and that by the time she reached Prince Edward Island, it was like coming to a dream world.”


“One day, out of the blue, I had a call from Katharine Hepburn,” Sullivan recalled. The actress had wanted to play Anne Shirley in the 1934 film adaptation of Montgomery’s book, and was disappointed it hadn’t happened. “She offered me an idea,” Sullivan said. “She asked me to go to California and to meet with her niece, Schuyler Grant, and to audition her ... and Schuyler was terrific.” (You can see photos of Grant as Anne here.) But the film’s financiers, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Telefilm Canada, wanted a Canadian actress to play Anne—so they encouraged Sullivan to search the nation for a Canadian actress to play the part. 


Sullivan’s search took him across the country, from Newfoundland to Vancouver. “I quickly realized through the process that I was not going to find Anne of Green Gables sitting in a field in Saskatchewan—that I really needed someone who was a seasoned performer that would have the ability to play Anne,” he said.

He auditioned 3000 girls for the role, and he actually saw the actress who would finally nab it, Megan Follows, near the beginning of that process. But she looked too old, and her first audition “was almost too contemporary,” he said. “I brought Megan back to do another audition, and this was a real screen test in costume, and the first test that she did really was mediocre.”

Despite the mediocrity, Sullivan eventually called her back again. But there were technical problems with the tape of her second audition, so he asked her to come back yet again. Follows was preparing to leave for a flight to Los Angeles and didn’t have much time—and then, just as she was about to leave, the toilet in her house began to overflow. “It’s spewing over through the floorboards and onto the light fixtures in the downstairs,” she recalled. “There was water pouring out, I’m running out the door, and we’ve tried a plunger; nothing’s working. I got [to the audition] pretty haggled and harassed and finally it just seemed to click ... The piece, it seemed to work much better ... maybe I just needed to be harassed.”

Sullivan agreed. “She was so beside herself and so flummoxed ... that she was totally brilliant,” he said.

Grant, meanwhile, was cast as Diana, Anne’s best friend, and Miranda de Pencier—who had also auditioned to play Anne—was cast as Anne’s frenemy Josie Pye.


“When I knew that it was going, and that they were going to do it, I kept thinking, ‘If they’re going to make Anne of Green Gables, then I really want to play her,’ because she is one of the most important Canadian characters there are, and one of the best characters for young girls and women that was ever written,” Follows said. “I started writing down on paper all these declarations: … ‘I am Anne of Green Gables’ … and I stuck them all over the house. … I was determined to get this part.”

The actress felt some pressure after she was cast as the iconic character, too. “I have to do the best I can do and make it real for me,” she said. “I may not be the Anne of Green Gables for some people and I may be for others, so I just have to be the Anne for this production.” Follows, of course, would go on to be the image of Anne for young girls of a certain generation. 


Those wide shots of Anne in the fall and winter? That’s not Follows; that’s a double. Follows hadn’t yet been cast when the scenes were filmed. Similarly, some shots of Matthew were doubles because Richard Farnsworth was in negotiations for the role but hadn’t yet signed on (you can see Farnsworth’s double in the scene where Matthew and the doctor arrive at the Barry’s house when Diana’s sister, Minnie May, has croup).

“I always think, ‘What would have happened if we hadn’t gotten Richard Farnsworth to do the film?’” Sullivan said in DVD commentary. “We never would have been able to use these sequences. It was a bit of gamble trying to cast and shoot with a double before we’d finalized the arrangements with him to play in the film.” Doubles were also used for Farnsworth and Colleen Dewhurst (who played Marilla Cuthbert) in certain scenes when the actors couldn’t make shooting days; their close-ups and reaction shots were filmed later.


“It was really the first book I ever remembered my mother reading to me,” she said. “Of course, that was after the bunny rabbit books and everything.” Dewhurst took the part even though her agent advised her against it.


Sullivan told the CBC in 1986 that he was close to casting another boy as Gilbert when casting director Diane Polley saw Crombie perform in a high school production of The Wizard of Oz. He remembered in DVD commentary that Polley “walked into my office one day with a photograph of him and said ‘This is Gilbert.’ But it was a photograph of him in front of some ride at Disneyland. And I said, ‘He looks perfect,’ and she said, ‘Cast him, now.’”

So Crombie came in and read for the part. “I thought, I’ll go down, give it a shot, see what it’s like,” he told the CBC. “[I] walked in with my little photo ... and everybody was there with their sheets of resumes, and their 8x10 glossies. I gave it a shot, and didn’t think much of it, and I found out a few days later that I got it. I was shaking on the phone when she told me.”

It was his first on-screen role. “I’d never been in front of a camera before,” he said. “It was straight from high school plays to this. As far as expectations, I really didn’t have many. I was just going to take it as it came.”


Montgomery's book is set on the island, but it was too expensive to do much filming there. Instead, most of the filming for Anne took place around Southern Ontario in locations that Sullivan felt looked the most like Prince Edward Island, and the production dyed the roads red to mimic PEI’s scarlet soil.

Among the locations used were Westfield Heritage Village in Hamilton, Ontario, which stood in for Avonlea; Doon Heritage Village in Kitchener, Ontario, where scenes at Rachel Lynde’s house were filmed; and Simcoe County Museum in Barrie, Ontario, where a schoolhouse from 1900 served as Avonlea’s schoolhouse. Anne walked the ridgepole of a roof of a building in the Pickering Museum Village. Buildings at the University of Toronto doubled as Queens College, and the Spadina Museum in Toronto served as the home of Diana’s wealthy Aunt Josephine.


One house was cast as the front of Green Gables, and another was used for the back. According to Sullivan Entertainment’s website, the building that served as the front of Green Gables was used in all the Anne movies and was “located just off an extremely busy road northeast of Toronto, Ontario. The location of the house presented some logistical challenges because of the traffic noise and limited filming angles.” It was also a working farm; before filming, all modern equipment had to be removed. The house was painted and the picket fence added for the films. The interior of Green Gables was built on a soundstage.


Anne of Green Gables ended up being a co-production between Canada and Germany, so German actors were cast in two roles—Christiane Krüger, who plays the reverend’s wife, Mrs. Allan, and Joachim Hansen, who plays John Sadler—and nearly nine minutes of extra scenes featuring them were shot specifically for the German broadcast. “A whole other version of the film was taken to Germany and dubbed in German,” Sullivan said in DVD commentary, “and it was very successful there.”


“It isn’t a huge age difference ... but it is in terms of an attitude—it’s a little girl to 16 and a half, which in those days was already a young lady,” Follows said. “I remember a couple days where we’d have five different age changes. I’d go from 12 to 14 to 16 back to 12, and they were all out of sequence, and at first, it was difficult.” Wardrobe and hair and makeup helped her get into character. “The funny thing was that I’d find even when my hair would go into the braids and I’d put the orphan dress and the shoes and all of a sudden I just felt younger, and I’d walk differently,” she said.


Diana’s little sister, Minnie May, was played by Sullivan’s niece, Morgan Chapman, who in one scene had to convincingly play a child with croup. Sullivan had no idea how she’d do. “Poor Morgan was about four at the time, and we brought her onto this hot set in the middle of the summer. She had no idea what making a movie was about, and when she came into it, she totally freaked out,” Sullivan recalled in DVD commentary. “She became a screaming child, and we had to calm her down and get her into the bed, so she looks sick because she’s absolutely sobbing ... When were first premiered the film, people said ‘Who played Minnie May? She was absolutely brilliant.’” (Morgan also makes an appearance in the sequel alongside her brother, Fraser, who played Tommy Bell; Sullivan’s newborn nephew Hudson played Diana’s baby.)

Morgan wasn’t the only family member of the team to make an appearance in the film: The orphanage director, Mrs. Cadbury, was played by Follows’s mother, and the piano player in the opera singer scene was played by the brother of Patricia Hamilton, a.k.a. Rachel Lynde.


And when she did, she’d substitute words for what she couldn’t remember. Follows recalled one long day where the cast was filming the scene where Miss Stacy (Marilyn Lightstone) comes to dinner. “It was Marilyn’s close-up and Colleen had this very long speech and, like all of us do, she’d muddle it up every now and then,” Follows said. “But she’d put in her own words for things, like boofers and whoziggies and whachumacallits ... I couldn’t stop laughing. She had her line—something about ‘your feather-brained ways and you’re more interested in the sound of your own tongue.’ And she couldn’t remember it, so she’d say things like ‘Your absent-minded opinions and the noise of your own mouth!’”

That wasn't an isolated occurrence, either. “There were times when we would have to stop rolling on set because we were all about to crack up, just because of Colleen’s mischievous ways,” Sullivan said in DVD commentary. “She’d completely forget her lines from scene to scene and she would just start talking about boomfers and puffers and we’d have to cut and go to another take.”


“You can see it almost looks gray,” Sullivan said in DVD commentary. “We had to tweak it afterwards when we were making the film to enhance the green so that it would look distinctive.”


“I remember we had shot the spelling competition where Anne wins over Gilbert by spelling chrysanthemum correctly,” Follows wrote for Entertainment Weekly in a eulogy for Crombie, who died in April of this year. “Jonathan decided Gilbert was the worst speller in the world and he could not spell anything. So he’d do this running joke where he would be smiling with a handful of very wilty flowers in his hand and trying to spell what they were. And I’d be laughing hysterically.”

She and Dewhurst also had a tough time keeping it together. “I’d find that when we were on the set, I’d share little looks with her … Kevin would say, ‘Tremble with excitement,’ and Colleen and I would just find that kind of amusing and we’d start laughing,” she remembered. “That was the neat thing about her. We’d find a lot of things humorous and have a good laugh about it.”


“On my very first day of filming the first Anne, I did the bridge scene with Colleen Dewhurst,” Crombie recalled in a fan Q&A. “I remember on our drive back she told me how important it was for actors (especially doing an historical piece) to learn all the details of the character’s place and time—to make it as familiar and authentic as possible. It always stuck with me, and I am a true believer in preparation—having a solid understanding of all the aspects that inform that character’s life. I enjoy the investigation work, and it also gives me a greater sense of confidence for when the filming (or rehearsals) begin.”


“We had filled the dress with some kind of stuffing so that the puffed sleeves would stand up,” Sullivan said in DVD commentary. “Unfortunately, in later scenes, she kept showing up and the stuffing had been forgotten, so in my mind, the dress looks its most spectacular [in its first scene].”

“I remember us making and puffing those sleeves,” Follows told Vulture. “We did it ourselves. We stuck a lot of twill into those puffs. It was like, ‘Let’s make those puffs the puffiest!’ And they really were.”


Especially the corsets. “She wore [the undergarments] for a few days,” Sullivan said in DVD commentary, “and said ‘That’s it.’” Follows wasn’t a fan either. According to Sullivan, after production wrapped on Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel, which was shot in 1986, “Megan was so sick of wearing Victorian corsets that she actually burned hers in a bonfire at the end of the film.”


The scene was filmed in two locations: Close-ups were shot in a swamp outside of Toronto, and the wide shots were done in a pond. Neither body of water had a current. “It was a complicated scene because we needed to have the boat push off and glide down the river on its own, and there was absolutely no current,” Sullivan said in DVD commentary. “So the prop people had to strip down and get into mucky, mucky swamp, full of leeches and everything else, [and go] under the water to pull the boat down the stream. They all had a tremendous amount of fun trying to make this boat move.”

To get the shots of the boat sinking, the production first filmed the scenes of the boat filling up at the edge of the shore, then took it back to the middle of the pond so Follows could sit up. Then, someone was under the boat, making it sink with perfect timing so Follows could grab the pier. The whole sequence had to be shot in sections and then cut together.


It was the sequence where Anne recites “The Highwayman” at the White Sands Hotel. “She was as nervous as Anne was getting up on stage to do it,” Sullivan said in DVD commentary. “It was the first time Megan attempted anything like that.”

The Windermere House, which served as the location for the White Sands Hotel, was destroyed in a fire in early 1996 during filming of The Long Kiss Goodnight.


Dewhurst convinced Sullivan to add in the scene. Sullivan wrote in the foreword to the centennial edition of the novel that Dewhurst “became very concerned during filming that in the script, once Marilla lost Matthew, something in her relationship with Anne was lost. She felt that something was not properly articulated in the shooting script.” Dewhurst pointed out a few lines toward the end of the novel, when Marilla goes to Anne after Matthew’s funeral and says, “It’s never been easy for me to say things out of my heart, but at times like this it’s easier. I love you as dear as if you were my own flesh and blood and you’ve been my joy and comfort ever since you came to Green Gables.”

“It’s a fleeting moment, a mere few lines, but as Colleen pointed out, it is an important revelation between the stern spinster and the orphan she has adopted,” Sullivan wrote. “Colleen pressed me to turn the moment into a scene and although there was little time left in our schedule by that point, I quickly wrote a short scene one morning on set.”

The resulting scene took just 45 minutes to shoot, and Sullivan thought that in it, Dewhurst and Follows gave their best performances of the entire film. They shot it in just three takes, “and by the time we had finished, the crew was overwrought that they all had to leave, and so we broke for lunch,” Sullivan said in DVD commentary. “[They] managed to move a crew, which is very, very difficult.”


The first version of the finale was shot rather quickly, and Sullivan wasn’t happy with the light, so at the end of the production, they went back and shot it again. The original finale is a lot more jokey—when Gilbert calls her “Carrots,” Anne says, “Argh, Carrots! Oh, you!” and smacks him—than the romantic second take that ended up in the final film.


The miniseries won an Emmy and 10 Gemini Awards, and Kevin Sullivan received a Peabody Award.


Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel (or Anne of Avonlea, as it was called in the States) premiered in 1987. Road to Avonlea, the Anne spin-off featuring characters like Marilla and Rachel, ran from 1990 to 1996. Sullivan also produced an animated version of the series in nine volumes and a third Anne movie starring Follows and Crombie, Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story, which was released in 2000. Finally, in 2008, Sullivan released Anne of Green Gables: A New Beginning, which was both a prequel and a sequel to the Anne films and starred Shirley MacLaine and Barbara Hershey.

A new Anne movie is coming next year—but it won’t be a Sullivan production. Sullivan and Montgomery’s heirs aren’t exactly on good terms, but the author’s granddaughter is serving as executive producer on the new Anne film, which stars Martin Sheen as Matthew.

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Kevork Djansezian, Stringer, Getty Images
Pop Culture
LeVar Burton Is Legally Allowed to Say His Reading Rainbow Catchphrase
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Kevork Djansezian, Stringer, Getty Images

It’s hard to imagine the original Reading Rainbow without LeVar Burton, but in August, the New York public broadcasting network WNED made it very clear who owned the rights to the program. By saying his old catchphrase from his hosting days, “but you don’t have to take my word for it” on his current podcast, WNED claimed Burton was infringing on their intellectual property. Now, Vulture reports that the case has been settled and Burton is now allowed to drop the phrase when and wherever he pleases.

The news came out in an recent interview with the actor and TV personality. “All settled, but you don’t have to take my word for it,” he told Vulture. “It’s all good. It’s all good. I can say it.”

The conflict dates back to 2014, when Burton launched a Kickstarter campaign to revive the show without WNED’s consent. Prior to that, the network and Burton’s digital reading company RRKidz had made a licensing deal where they agreed to split the profits down the middle if a new show was ever produced. Burton’s unauthorized crowdfunding undid those negotiations, and tensions between the two parties have been high ever since. The situation came to a head when Burton started using his famous catchphrase on his LeVar Burton Reads podcast, which centers around him reading short fiction in the same vein as his Reading Rainbow role. By doing this, WNED alleged he was aiming to “control and reap the benefits of Reading Rainbow's substantial goodwill.”

Though he’s no longer a collaborator with WNED, Burton can at least continue to say “but you don’t have to take my word for it” without fearing legal retribution. WNED is meanwhile "working on the next chapter of Reading Rainbow" without their original star, and Burton tells Vulture he looks “forward to seeing what they do with the brand next."

[h/t Vulture]

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The Charming English Fishing Village That Inspired Dracula
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Whitby as seen from the top of the 199 Steps

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
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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

"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

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."

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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