Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Not All's Sunny in California

I first read about the Ojai Vampire in Martin V. Riccardo's "Vampire Haunts" chapter for Rosemary Ellen Guiley with J.B. Macabre's The Complete Vampire Companion (New York: Macmillan, 1994).

The story is told on pp. 47-48 and relates the account of (unnamed) local ranchers finding their cattle mutilated and exsanguinated in the 1980s. They suspect a vampire, arm themselves and target a new landowner.

They come across something that resembles a "large stone box near a crossroad off Creek Road" and hear a vicious growl. It comes from a large black dog guarding this "box" (actually a sarcophagus). One of the ranchers whips out a large, silver crucifix, which keeps the dog at bay.

When they get closer to the box, the dog lunges for them, and they fire at it, with no effect. A plucky rancher flings holy water at it and the dog shrieks and runs away, leaving them free to approach the tomb "surrounded by tall weeds under the tree".

They pried off the lid and find "the cadaverous body of a nobleman" and stake it through the heart, just as the sun begins to set, and replace the lid.

Riccardo points out that the story contains "common pagan, Christian, and fictional elements of the vampire myth", taking note of the "crossroad, the spectral black dog, the nobleman, the silver crucifix, and the approaching dusk" (47). He also notes that a black dog is sometimes seen in the area and the sarcophagus has apparently been found, on occasion, with a window in the lid that reveals the vampire's unholy remains.

The story still circulates in Ojai, and is related on a section of Weird California's "Char Man" article. However, the date given in the story is vastly different from Riccardo's account. It also gives a bit of a background to the mysterious nobleman, too:
According to urban legend, a vampire relocated to the Ojai area around 1890 from either Italy or Spain. He acquired a small ranch and kept a low profile. However, as soon as he arrived, local cattle began turning up dead and drained of blood. Shortly thereafter locals were assaulted by strange wolf like creatures. The townsfolk got up in arms and realizing that a vampire was in their midst, raided the vampire’s ranch during the day.
There's also speculation as to the story's origins and a more specific geographic location of the vampire's resting place. It ends with a sombre warning:
It has been speculated that this legend cropped up from a possible real life above ground tomb. It is plausible that an old family near the turn of the century could have buried their dead in this manner upon their estate. It is not only not unheard of, but also apparently the custom at the time in certain parts of Europe. Even the window in the stone coffin isn’t completely unheard of. Stating that, however, if you are wandering around Camp Comfort County Park and come upon a stone sarcophagus with a skeleton inside, don’t pull out the wooden stake.
I did some more browsing on the case and found a classic friend-of-a-friend account:
Supposedly in the mid 1800s a Vampire Settled in the Ojai valley. In the late 1800s the villagers of Nordhoff, now Ojai, hunted him down and staked him through the heart. Now I have heard that the poeple incased the remains of the vampire in a slab of cement. A buddy of mine actually says that he knows the location of the concrete slab. he says it is about a mile back from the intrance of Camp Comfort across the stream and over the first hill.....a bit of a hike but worth checking out....On my next trip to Ojai it is in the agenda. This is the area where the Phantom Dog roams as well as Charman
I tried registering with the forum, to ask this guy to produce a photo of the tomb, but was sadly confronted with this: "Sorry but you cannot register at this time because the administrator has disabled new account registrations."

I also came across what appears to be a slight variant of the story, but much less literate:
A guy that transformed into a vampire is repeatedly observed concealing a dead body by a large boulder in Camp Comfort Park after midnight. One thing's for certain, this spirit undoubtedly is bloodcurdling; one that you don't want to encounter at the stroke of midnight.
The Ojai Vampire has all the classic urban legend traits, but I'm also reminded of certain elements in 1959 Western, Curse of the Undead.

Not only is it set in California, but the plot revolves around a mysterious gunman, ranch wars and a vampiric plague.

To cap it off, the vampire turns out to be Don Robles, a Spanish nobleman.

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