Dracula at Dalhousie: The mystery of the pilfered documents

Lauren Oostveen, Nova Scotia’s tweeting archivist, today unearthed a clipping from The 4th Estate, Halifax’s one-time alternative weekly, about a vampire conflab that took place at Dalhouse 39 years ago this month. The 4th Estate story is good, but the yarn Oostveen dug up to go with it is even better.

Organized by English Professor Devendra P. Varma, a renowned Dracula-lit buff, the goth-before-its-time conference boasted “the largest gathering of vampire experts ever presented in Canada,” and featured a screening of the classic 1931 movie Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi.

The Himalayan-born Varma, who died in 1994, was apparently quite a character. According to Oostveen, he “had a ten­dency to believe in con­spir­a­cies, secret police, and other forces” who, he believed, harboured an unsavoury interest in his collection of vampire books and memorabilia. At his insistence, “the really important stuff” was kept in a locked cabinet at the departmental library.

Time passes, [and] the library peri­od­i­cally asks about his use of their space, does he really need this secure storage, and so on. He says yes, and the cab­inet gets moved a few times as the library moves divi­sions and departments.

The Berlin wall falls, the world is more open, evil forces are in retreat, and Varma decides he can take home his trove of vam­pire doc­u­ments and literature.

He comes to the library with the one and only key, and of course, it’s an empty cabinet.”

Oostveen professes not to know who to blame for the pilferage: Abraham van Helsing or Dracula. I suspect Cletus Hollohan had a hand in it.