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The Shoemaker of Breslau



In the year 1591, on the twentieth of September, a Friday, early in the morning in the garden behind his house, a well-to-do shoemaker in the city of Breslau cut his throat - for what reason, no one knew. He had cut the veins of his throat with his knife, and was obliged to die from the wound. When his wife had seen this and told her sisters, they were all distraught about this sudden misfortune, and sought to conceal it however they could, considering it a great disgrace. She, therefore, told everyone who asked her about her husband's death, that a stroke had taken him. She also had the doors locked, so that no one could see what had happened. But when her neighbors and acquaintances came to speak to her and to console her, the sisters of the widow did not allow it and said that she recognized their love and wellmeaning very well, but the dead man had no need of their services and the widow, in her first distress, did not want to accept visitors. They should, therefore, if they liked, come some time later.

Then they sent to the church fathers and ordered the burial, the grave site, and the ringing of the bells, which they achieved without hindrance, since the dead man had been considered a rich man. But so that everything would remain secret and no one would learn anything about the murder, they hired an old woman who had to wash the corpse, which had lost its blood, and tie up the wound so tightly that one could not see anything of it. When she had done that, together they laid him into the coffin. The widow herself, who was recovering from childbirth - she had been lying in for just ten days - had the priest come, so that he could comfort her in this grevious instance. And he did come and comfort the widow, but when he wanted to leave, the sisters of the widow suggested - and he knew nothing of the matter - that he should at least look at the body once. This he did, without any thought that there was anything behind this. For the body was so well wrapped up on all sides with linen, that even someone who was paying close attention would not have noticed anything, that they had placed it so high that the folded and twisted wraps could not arouse suspicion.

The third day thereafter - it was on a Sunday - he was buried with great ceremony, in the manner of those who are pious and distinguished. And such a send-off and funeral speech were held, as though he had led a holy and guilt-free life and had been a splendid Christian.

If the relatives of the deceased believed that the murder would remain concealed, since they had arranged things so carefully, nontheless a rumor came about among the people, to the effect that the man had killed himself and had not been killed by a stroke. At first people did not want to believe it, but nonetheless the rumor got stronger and stronger, so that the council saw itself obliged precisely to question those who had been with the deceased, and to demand that they admit, in accordance with the truth, what they had seen or heard and what each of them was aware of. Perhaps because all these people tried to talk their way out of it, and did not stay with one answer, they could soon see that not everything was right. Finally they conceded that he had fallen and had hit a sharp rock and injured himself in this way. They said also that an awl had been found in his clothing, but they had removed it so that it could never again injure anyone else.

The council, since the evidence continued to increase, now considered what was to be done. This too did not remain quiet, and some friends of the widow persuaded her under no circumstances to allow the body of her husband to be dug out or put at a dishonorable location or viewed as a sorcerer or suicide, if they could not come up with stronger proofs. In the meantime a ghost appeared now and again, in just such a form as the shoemaker had in his lifetime, and during the day as well as at night. it scared many people through its very form, awakened others with noises, oppressed others, and others it vexed in other ways, so that early in the morning one heard talk everywhere about the ghost. But the more the ghost appeared, the less the relatives wanted to celebrate. They went to the president of the court and said that too much credence was being place in the people's unfounded rumors, the honorable man was being abused in his grave, and they found themselves obliged to take the matter to the Kaiser. But now that the matter actually brought about a prohibition, the state of haunting became even worse.

For the ghost was there right after sundown, and since no one was free of it, everyone looked around constantly for it. The ones most bothered were those who wanted to rest after heavy work; often it came to their bed, often it actually lay down in it and was like to smother the people. Indeed, it squeezed them so hard that - not without astonishment - people could see the marks left by its fingers, so that one could easily judge the so-called stroke. In this manner the people, who were fearful in any case, became yet more fearful, so that they did not remain longer in their houses, but sought for more secure places. Most of them, not secure in their bedchamber, stayed in the rooms, after bringing many others in, so that their fear was dispersed by the crowd. Nonetheless, although they all waked with burning lights, the ghost came anyway. Often everyone saw it, but often just a few, of whom it always harassed some.

As the clamor grew worse from day to day, the whole city confirming the being, the council decided to do something so that the ghost would stay away. The corpse had lain in the grave now into the eighth month, from September 22, 1591, to April 18 1592, when the grave was opened, by high command. Present were the entire council, the innkeepers, and other functionaries. In the opened grave they found the body complete and undamageed by decay, but blown up like a drum, except that nothing was changed and the limbs all still hung together. They were - which was remarkable - not stiffened, like those of other dead people, but one could move them easily. On his feet the skin had peeled away, and another had grown, much purer and stronger than the first, and as almost all sorcerers are marked in an out-of-the-way place, so that one does not notice it easily, so did he have on his big toe a mole like a rose. No one knew the meaning of this. There was also no stench to be noticed, except that the cloths in which he was wrapped had a repulsive smell. The wound in his throat gaped open and was reddish and not changed in the slightest. The body was guarded day and night on its bier, from the fourth to the twenty-fourth of April, except that in the day he was put out in the air, whereas in the evening he was put in a house there. Everyone could see him up close, and every day many citizens, and many people from the neighboring areas, went there.

Nonetheless the exhumation did not help; the ghost, which they had hoped to banish by this means, caused still more unrest. The corpse was laid under the gallows, but this didn't help either, for the ghost then raged so cruelly that one cannot describe it.

But now, as the ghost was raging so terribly and thereby causing great inconvenience to many citizens as well as his good friends, the widow went to the council and said that she would admit everything, they could deal with her former husband with all strictness. But in the short time from April twenty-fourth to May seventh, the body had grown much fuller of flesh, which everyone could see who remembered how it had looked before. Whereupon, on the seventh, the council had the hangman take the corpse out of the other grave. Then its head was cut off, its hands and feet dismembered, after which the back was cut open and the heart taken out, which looked as good as that of a freshly slaughtered calf. Everything together was burned on a pyre built up on seven kalfters of wood and of many pitch rings. But so that no one would gather the ashes or the bones and keep them for sorcery, as tends to happen otherwise, the guards were not allowed to let anyone near. Early in the morning, when the stack of wood had burned up, the ashes, in a sack, were thrown into the flowing water, whereupon, through God's help, the ghost stayed away and was never seen again.





From Vampires, Burial, and Death , by Paul Barber (Yale University Press, 1988).


Breslau, Silesia, is part of modern-day Slovakia. Although referred to as a 'ghost' throughout this account, the episode is consistent with most vampire events. Unlike the standard Serbian practice of staking the revenant, dismemberment and burning are an adequate safeguard.

Also of interest is that no deaths were associated with this vampire - only annoyances of an undisclosed nature.