Heroes and villains with secret identities are about as American as apple pie, teeth whitening, and fundamentalist Christianity–and these days (sadly enough) you can add sparkly vampires to that list too. So with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter coming to the big screen in June (and oh, what fun we’ll have here then), it’s only natural to speculate about other historical figures who may have had their own supernatural secrets. I’ve already written about fictional Lincoln and his flame gun, and zombie Henry David Thoreau, but as I sat in English this morning, dreaming about all the midday naps I’ll take after graduation, I began to compose a list of famous Americans who may not have burst into flames in the light but certainly had their vampiric qualities.
1. William Cullen Bryant
He was a 19th-century romantic poet. He was a boy genius. He wrote his masterpiece, “Thanatopsis” (Greek for “a view of death”) at age 17. And look, just look at that face. The collar, the cloak, the pallid skin and sinister smirk all point to one thing: he prowls the streets at night searching for blood. In fact, I’m pretty sure he tells us that in his poem:
Of the last bitter hour come like a blight
Over thy spirit, and sad images
Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,
And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,
Make thee to shudder and grow sick at heart;–
Go forth, under the open sky, and list
To Nature’s teachings
In other words, feast on the blood of the innocent in the moonlight, friends, for tomorrow Lincoln’s coming for you with the hatchet he keeps under his stovepipe hat.
2. Edgar Allan Poe
Do you think it’s a coincidence that poets top this list? It’s not. And if we know one thing about Poe: he never met a stiff he didn’t like. There’s a movie coming out about him too, you know, in which some super creepy groupie goes on a killing spree in which he (or she) brings all the gruesome deaths in Poe’s writings, shall we say, to life.
More likely explanation: Poe committed them all himself. After all, as your teachers will tell you, write what you know.
Just look at those eyes. Those are the eyes of a haunted man who’s seen eternity, and shrinks from it.
3. President James K. Polk
One of my history professors put this image on a powerpoint the other day, and you have to admit, Polk does look quite a bit like Lucius Malfoy. If any of our past presidents were Slytherins, Polk definitely would have made the cut. This is the man who imagined up a war with Mexico and made it happen for kicks. (Or territorial expansion, one or the other.)
And lest we forget, Polk did have some tense run-ins with Lincoln during his presidency. When Polk, licking his lips, thundered that Mexicans had “spilled American blood on American soil” (which they hadn’t, and which wasn’t), Lincoln was one with the “Spot Resolutions”–calling for Polk to identify just where exactly the blood had been spilled.
I’ll tell you where. Into his wine glass, that’s where.
4. Laura Ingalls Wilder
Bet you didn’t expect this one, did you, eh? Her Little House books are staples of childhood bedside reading. But did you ever ask yourself, as your parents tucked you in at night, why the Ingalls were always moving West? I mean, from the way she writes you’d think they had it pretty good in the big woods.
I’ll tell you why: Pa was a vampire.
People of the 19th century were not as accepting as we are today. They wouldn’t have swooned in desire to see a vampire. They would have staked him, like, immediately. But Pa was a good guy. I’m guessing that, of all of these American bloodsuckers, he was closest to the “vegetarianism” of the Cullen family. The West was indeed a land of bounty: wild and full of wild game, Pa could feed without being tempted by human blood. Because out there, the only humans for miles around were Ma, Mary, Laura, and Carrie, and eating them wouldn’t have been acceptable.
I’ll let you speculate as to why Pa called Laura “Half Pint.”
She herself seemed to take after her father more than her sisters, and while Mary would have gasped and fainted away should she have ever found out about her father’s true nature, I’m guessing Laura probably just shrugged it off. And later, when she was grown, she probably asked him to turn her.
Why do you think the Little House books are so rife with nostalgia for a lost childhood and passing way of life? The times she wrote about weren’t only her youth, they were her last years as a human.
5. Benjamin Franklin
You know him as the face on the $100 bill, the man people still think was president at some point, the guy who flew a kite in a lightning storm and lived to make a fortune off of it, and the name that keeps popping up in your history textbook at points long after you would have expected him to be dead. He was everywhere! He did everything! In his old age he was a lecherous old man with a coterie of buxom French hotties! And he didn’t give a shit.
That’s all for today, folks, but join me next time for a gendered interpretation of the cover art for Edgar Rice Burroughs’s John Carter series! Sounds fun, right?