The Most Haunted Museum in Paris … for Vampires
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because it doesn’t suck.
By Fiona Zublin
The ghost has appeared six times. Each time, it sits in the same orange velvet armchair. Jacques Sirgent, curator of the premier — OK, the only — vampire museum in Paris, doesn’t mind. The apparition is apparently Sirgent’s grandfather, who killed himself, “for love,” by jumping from a tree in the tiny yard outside the museum.
Located on the outskirts of the city, the Museum of Vampires and Monsters of the Imagination is not for the faint of heart. First of all, it’s haunted. Second, there’s a loaded crossbow on the wall made specifically for fighting vampires, of which Sirgent is a diligent student. Despite the weapon, he’s actually got a soft spot for history’s esteemed monsters; he’s written a book on Countess Elizabeth Báthory, thought by some to be the most prolific female murderer of all time and infamous for allegedly bathing in blood, and how she was probably framed. The museum, which fills one room that is about the size of a large American garage, is stuffed to the teeth with occult artifacts and vampire memorabilia both high-brow — one of the Underwood typewriters Bram Stoker used to write Dracula — and low (several bottles of Dracula-themed wine and a collection of signed photos from every actor who ever played Dracula, except for David Niven).
At university, curator Sirgent “specialized in studying the physical embodiment of evil.”
Sirgent’s vampire obsession began at the age of 10, when he used 50 francs from his grandmother to buy a poster of Dracula Has Risen From the Grave, starring Christopher Lee. He’s also a respected scholar, responsible for the first complete translation of Dracula into French, and is currently preparing part of his collection to be sent to China for a temporary exhibition on vampires. At university, he “specialized in studying the physical embodiment of evil.” Visitors to the museum can expect bilingual lectures not just on vampires and witches but also on the roots of the concept of sin, the problematic religious philosophies that lead to the demonization of certain people and the importance of the vampire’s current incarnation as a patrician rather than a peasant. Heavy stuff.
But first you’ll need to find the museum, which isn’t exactly easy. For Richard Turek, a sci-fi fan who’s been visiting since 2007 (the museum opened in 2005), the place was a nifty discovery, though he only found it by way of a friend who’d already visited. Turek admits it may not be for everyone, particularly those with a traditional religious bent — unless they like an argument. Sirgent’s discussions of vampires are based on the idea that, historically, church officials used accusations of vampirism and witchcraft as a way to repress or oppress their believers. Also, you’ll want to plan your visit in advance, as the museum is open by appointment only (admission is $9).
Still, the Museum of Vampires has a collection worth seeing. Check out the vampire-hunting kit from right around the time Dracula was first published, and the 1725 dictionary that was the first to include the word “vampire.” You may find yourself staying for the philosophy. “If it makes you feel good, why not believe?” Sirgent asks rhetorically — be it vampires or ghosts.