The Portrait of Countess Elga
Vampires, mythological creatures which have aroused curiosity and intrigue in people of every culture, creed and tongue for thousands of years. From the Jewish legend of Lilith, to the Grecian striges like Lamia, the legend of the vampire has always been present in folklore, bearing the blame for illnesses and death in local communities. The portrait of Countess Elga, a curious artefact was among the last works of Hans Markart. For Dr Franz Hartmann and his companions, this portrait would bring the vampire out of mythology and into reality.
In June 1909 a castle which belonged to an old Count in Vienna was attacked and burnt by locals. Many local peasant children were dying of no apparent illness and people believed it to be the work of a vampire. The old Count who had died not too long ago was a notorious drunk and was also known to engage in shocking behaviour. As it was a common belief that those of low moral standing became vampires after death, the Count was blamed for the dead children. After the old Count’s death, the castle was abandoned as many now feared that it was home to ghosts.
Dr Franz Hartmann and his friends Mr W and Dr E who was a medium were intrigued by the possibility of a vampire living within the walls of the castle and decided to visit. Before they set out to the castle an old spiritualist friend of Dr Hartmann told him that the old Count may not be the vampire who was terrorizing the town, but instead it could be his daughter Elga, who was also known to engage in scandalous behaviour.
Dr Hartmann and his companions’ investigation of the castle found nothing of intrigue, except a portrait of an elegantly dressed woman. But it was not the beauty of the woman in the painting which sparked the interest of the group. Instead, it was the woman’s eyes and smile. When they inquired about the picture, the caretaker told them that the old count was extremely fond of the picture, as he loved the demonic look in the woman’s eyes. The caretaker also told them tha,t the Count’s daughter had died before her father by, falling off horseback.
The group all held strong beliefs in the occult and gathered around the table, forming a ‘magnetic chain’, in an attempt to communicate with any spirits that might be in the castle. According to Dr Hartmann, the table spelt out ‘Elga’. When they asked who Elga was, she rapped out:
“The Lady, whose picture you have seen”
Elga then offered to appear to Mr W in a bodily form that night at 2 A.M. Reluctantly agreeing for Elga to visit, Mr W then retired for the night. Later that very night a woman wearing a fine silk dress appeared in Mr W’s sleeping quarters. Paralyzed by fear, Mr W could not move from his writing desk to escape or call for help and after a long while the woman left. In the days that followed, Elga was seen by a servant girl and by a friend of Dr Hartmann, near the cemetery.
Deciding that the best action to take was to destroy the picture, the group held a final sitting. Elga rapped out that Dr Hartmann must leave the circle and that picture should never under any circumstances be destroyed. Dr Hartmann ordered a Bible to be brought to him and as he read the first chapter of John, his friends, still in the sitting, claimed that the picture began to horribly twist and distort its face, making it unsettling to look at.
A terrified Dr E and Mr W left the sitting, retiring to a different room. Dr Hartmann then went and pierced the back of the painting with a penknife. As this happened his friends complained they could feel the sharp pricks from the knife, though they sat in a different room. In one last attempt to destroy the painting, Dr Hartmann made the sign of the pentagram over the painting. But this caused the painting to twist and disfigure its face once again.
Accepting defeat, Dr Franz Hartmann and his friends fled the castle never again to hear from Countess Elga.