The Vampire Hunt in Lincoln Park, 1888

The Vampire Scare of 1888 was an orderly one, as these things go.

In September of that year, people in Lakeview gathered in a little place on Clybourne, just above Fullerton, at which Justice of the Peace Albert Thalstrom told them all about some real cases of vampirism – cases when (consumption) tuburculosis was running rampant and locals had blamed it on vampires. Consumption victims sure looked like vampire victims – they would gradually waste away as though the life was being sucked out of them. Even in the 1880s, there were still instances in rural areas, particularly in New England, when conspumption was blamed on vampires, and bodies of the suspected ghouls would be dug up and mutilated. Sometimes the heart was burned in a public spectacle before the whole town, and the ashes would be fed to the local consumption sufferers.  (update: it had apparently happened in Chicago once).

Thalstrom related all of these stories to a crowd in his book store, then turned over the floor to one Samuel Patton, who claimed that he himself had been plagued for years by a vampire after evil spirits had killed his children. The vampire couldn’t be seen with the naked eye, but he had invented a varnish for glasses that would allow people to see it. A neighbor of Thalstrom, he was giving out samples that came with cards reading “Patton’s Clairvoyic Varnish for Glass,” which he sold for a dime.  He assured people that the vampire was flying up and down Paulina Street right then (it would have been getting awfully close to the site where the Liar’s Club now stands).

A few buyers insisted that they saw it, though the reporter who covered the whole thing for the Tribune seemed awfully skeptical.

Things were quite for a month after, until one Clause Larson went missing and his wife blamed the vampire just after Halloween, 1888. The neighborhood came into some excitement, and a group of kids formed a team that they called “The Vampire Hunters” and went on a hunt through Lincoln Park to find the demon (Lincoln Park had been a cemetery in recent memory, and it was well known that bodies were still buried there). I almost have to imagine that Samuel Patton organized the group himself, ready to sell the parents some accessories (“and as sure as the lord made little green apples, that band of vampire hunters is gonna be in uniform…”)

It’s hard to tell just how serious a scare this was – the Trib indicated that the Lake View area was in a state of excitement, but they might have just been making fun of the slack-jawed yokels who were taken in by a flashy pitch at a medicine show (it missed no opportunity to point out that most of them were Swedish). Surely if the parents thought a real vampire was on the loose they wouldn’t have let their kids go running around looking for it, would they?  In any case, the excitement died out when Mr. Larson returned, sheepishly admitting that he’d just been off on a bender.

It seems like it must have been a slow news day for this to make the Tribune, but it wasn’t – it was the same night that Benjamin Harrison was elected president. Sure, it’s just Benjamin Harrison and all, but still.

Not a lot can be found about Samuel Patton, the maker of the “clairvoyic varnish.”  In his talk at Thalstrom’s place, he spoke of seeing a mysterious light that rose into the sky when he was a boy in Virginia. He described it as a “premonition,” and spoke of having precognitive dreams during his service in the Civil War. He had fathered five children, all of which died, including 8 year old Willie, who, he said, came out of his grave a week after he was buried. Willie had now taken to writing his name and other messages on his father’s forehead. In the mean time, besides vampires, he was tortured by spirites made from “cones and bubbles.” When the spirits tired of him, they set the vampire on him. Meanwhile, inspired by spirit photography, he had invented the “clairvoyic” varnish to help people see vampires and spirits without the aid of cameras. This would have seemed fairly logical to people who believed in spirit photography – if cameras could make a ghost appear, shouldn’t some accessory make them visible without the camera, as well?

Pension records indicate that Patton really was a Civil War vet (he spent much of the talk on vampires saying he had psychic visions during the war), and that he died in 1912 in Washington D.C. He was a blacksmith by trade. The November 1888 paper mentions that he wrote a book called Spirit Life As It Is which is so obscure as to be un-googleable today. Little else has been learned about him – he doesn’t seem to have made much of a splash as a huckster except for his success in starting a vampire craze in Lake View.

As for “Judge”  Thalstrom… though he was referred to as a judge and an expert in all things supernatural, Albert Thalstrom was really just a justice of the peace who seems to have operated a book store in his place on Clybourn, just above Fullerton. Not much can be learned of him beyond what I found on his death certificate, but that tells me that he was only about 30 at the time of the vampire scare. And he was only thirty three when he died in 1891.        Of consumption.

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