"Historians Meet in Dracula's Home"
by Lucian Filip (Associated Press, May 12, 2001)
SIGHISOARA, Romania - First, they discussed the ``The Forensics of Impaling.'' Then Dracula experts went out for a bite in the birthplace of the medieval prince who served as the model for the mythical bloodsucker.
In a three-day conference that ended Saturday, academics from six countries gathered in Sighisoara, Romania - birthplace of Vlad the Impaler - for historical discussion of the infamous prince, topped off by lunch at his childhood home.
Residents are hoping the conference is a good omen in efforts to have their city become home for a Dracula theme park.
The historians and scientists from the United States, Canada, Germany, Moldova, Romania and Turkey concentrated on the historical Dracula - the 15th century prince who earned his nickname because of his penchant for impaling captured Turks and other enemies on stakes for slow death.
Many Romanians consider Prince Vlad a national hero for his heroic battles against the Ottoman Empire and his intolerance of corruption.
But Vlad only gained world fame after publication of ``Dracula'' in 1897 by English novelist Bram Stoker. The book changed the image of the Romanian nobleman from warrior prince to the spooky bloodsucking count that inspired dozens of plays and movies, starring the likes of Bela Lugosi and Klaus Kinski.
``Dracula's image has been unfairly distorted in time by oral histories and legends,'' said Demir Dragnev, a historian from Moldova.
Still, townsfolk in Sighisoara, some 180 miles northwest of Bucharest, are hoping to benefit more from the image of the count of legend - the human vampire who subsisted on blood drawn from the necks of beautiful female victims.
The Dracula theme park is endorsed and partly sponsored by the government, and could revitalize a community suffering from mass layoffs as unprofitable state industries close.
``A Dracula Land park would mean jobs, business and money for our town,'' said Dorel Baltres, a bartender in the Prince Dracula Inn, where the experts gathered Saturday for a post-conference meal.
The tourism ministry has made the park a top priority, and negotiations are underway with foreign companies and investors. But the tentative location is being kept confidential - the government does not want to spur speculation in the real estate market until the deal is sealed.
A Dracula Land would have been impossible a little more than a decade ago under communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, himself nicknamed ``Vampirescu'' by Romanians for economic policies that sucked the country dry during 25 years of rule.
But these days, Dracula tourists visiting the country buy T-shirts, postcards, paintings and ceramic figures worth hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.
Every dollar is important for Romania, which remains one of Europe's poorest countries as it struggles to recover from the ruinous communist era. The average monthly salary is less than $100.
Last year, a conference in the Transylvanian town of Poiana Brasov brought together buffs of the bloodsucker for discussions ranging from Dracula on the Web to lectures on the count as a cult film figure.
That event included a masked ball in Castle Dracula in Transylvania's Borgo Pass and a visit to Vlad's tomb. Participants paid $468 to $824 per person for a tour that included the events.
Experts at this weekend's conference in Sighisoara managed to squeeze in some sightseeing as well, wandering around the medieval ramparts of the well-preserved preserved Saxon city.
Trekking up steep cobblestoned streets, they had lunch at the Prince Dracula Inn - the restaurant now occupying the ancient whitewashed house where the historical Dracula spent his early childhood years between 1431 and 1435.
``They ate the Prince Dracula entree - pork goulash and polenta, the medieval salad of onion, tomatoes and peppers, washed down with vampire wine'' - red, of course, said inn owner Codruta Gherca.
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