Friday, 7 October 2011

Q & A with Edward Meyer

My previous entry on allegedly antique vampire killing kits mentions, 'The best evidence we need to determine the authenticity of these kits, is a paper trail. Contemporary references.' Fortunately, Spooky land's 'Regarding Ernst Blomberg' gives us a few leads: 'Certainly, old vampire killing kits were reportedly produced in the 19th century - examples exist at numerous Ripley museums (Wisconsin Dells, etc.) and other public collections of oddities.'

The author of the article seems convinced of the authenticity of the kits, partially based on their appearance in Ripley's Believe It or Not! museums. 'In a press release dated December 4, 2008, Ripleys maintains that their collection of kits now numbers 30 (26 on display). Most of the kits were acquired by Edward Meyer, their Vice President of Exhibits and Archives.' The author quotes from the press release, which contains several 'leads' like the kits' original availablity through mail order, and that they were apparently manufactured in the Boston area. Unfortunately, the author doesn't provide a link to the press release.

Smashing Interviews Magazine
But with some light googling, I found it. It actually dates 4 December 2009.

I read through the rest of the press release and knew I had to contact Edward Meyer, Ripley's Vice President of Exhibits and Archives (left) and primary collector of Ripley's kits. How did he authenticate the kits? Could he provide the 'missing' contemporary evidence? What did he think about the hoax claims? 

After some brief correspondence, he agreed to an interview for this blog. I e-mailed him a bunch of questions1, to which he swiftly responded.2 Believe it—or not—what transpires is the very first instalment of 'Q & A' for this blog.



How did you become an antiques collector?

I am not an “antique collector”. I am a purchaser of museums artifacts, both old and new, everything from dinosaur bones to art made from toothpicks, to two-headed cows.

What lead you to becoming the VP of Ripley's Exhibits and Archives?

I went to school to become a librarian. I was first hired by Ripley’s to catalogue the famous Believe It or Not! newspaper cartoon feature—the cornerstone of our company.

You are the sole purchaser of Ripley's vampire killing kits.

Not really true. I am the only person who does it full time, but anyone in the company can acquire new exhibits under the right circumstances. Better to say, I am the “main” purchaser…. 3

What interests you about these kits and why do you believe they're important to Ripley's collections?

I think they are fantastic, a real Believe It or Not! I am amazed that some people really believe in vampires and I am amazed that other people have created an elaborate artifact to combat them. In addition they are very rare, so they are a perfect museum artifact for Ripley’s. In fact they are amongst my favorite objects…

According to a press release for the kits, they were 'were acquired by people in preparation of possibly meeting a vampire during their international travels to Eastern Europe and their usage dates back to the mid-1800s'. By what means have you authenticated their age?

One of the key elements in a vampire killing kit is a pistol. Pistols can easily be dated by style, and maker. Some of the guns actually have dates an initials on them..From a study of several kits it is obvious some are older than others, but the guns typically come from the 1840s-50s

The press release also states, 'Most were created in the Boston area and were available by mail order.' Have you viewed any of these mail orders?

No

Do you have—or are you aware—of any 19th century documentation mentioning their use or sale?

No, we have nothing any earlier than 1990 mentioning their existence.

The 'kits were purchased by wealthy Americans headed to Eastern Europe – Transylvania then, Romania now. Travelers brought back terrifying tales of vampires with them from the region'. Could you tell us who these wealthy Americans were?

No one specifically—people doing “the Grand Tour”

Can you relate any of their tales?

I personally have not done any deep research on this subject; my information is based on popular internet articles, news stories and verbal communication with people who were writing MA thesis on vampires.

A 'Professor Blomberg' is commonly associated with the kits. Indeed, several kits in Ripley's collection bear his name; but no one seems to know much about him. What do you know about Professor Blomberg?

Only what I have read in popular reports..there is a fair bit of info available by googling his name…

How have you verified his connection to the kits?

Personally? I haven’t.

The antiquity of the kits has attracted some criticism. The Mercer Museum, Doylsetown, Pa., for instance, believes their kit to be one of the 'compilations of both historical items and "made up" artifacts that found its way into the antiques market sometime in the 1970s or 1980s' and the labelling associated with the kit 'is of 20th century vintage that has been artificially "aged."' Is it possible that the kits in Ripley's collection are also late 20th/early 21st century forgeries?

Anything is possible. I know of no hard evidence to confirm where or when any of these items were made. As I stated before the date of the guns is the only thing you can confirm with confidence…..We have found these kits in a number of different states, and three different European countries. Modern guns certainly suggest “forgeries” (your word not mine). The kits exist, they are “real”, and for the most part they are all different, so the debate isn’t really over their existence, but simply how old are they.

Do you still seek out kits for Ripley's collection, or have you focused your attention on other items?

I have never sought out vampire kits, they tend to find me. I have recently bought one found in Atlanta. Our patrons are fascinated by them, and by vampires in general, so I will continue to buy certain ones as they are offered to me. In perspective, I buy about 1,000 artifacts a year. I have never seen more than three vampire kits in any one year.

Speaking of which, what other items do you purchase for the collections?

Have a look at our new book, Strikingly True, it contains photos of several key pieces we purchased last year and page 9 actually has two lists of objects: my favorites for the year, and the strangest things we bought at public auctions. The book can be found at amazon.com , or wherever fine books are sold 

What is your proudest find?

Probably our 16  ten-foot sections of the Berlin Wall. My favorites are usually pieces from history: Lee Harvey Oswald’s car, John Wilkes Booth’s derringer, a Lincoln hair lock, the gallows from Cook’s County Prison in Chicago…..I have acquired more than 20,000 pieces in my career..you name it I have seen it—and probably bought it—assuming it was “unbelievable”.



Strikingly true (2011) is available through Amazon US, Canada and UK. I'd like to thank Meyer for his participation, co-operation and insightful answers to my questions. Thank you.

For previous 'Q & A' instalments, see my interviews with Niels K. Peterson (part 1; part 2), Martin V. Riccardo (part 1; part 2), Bruce A. McClelland (part 1; part 2; part 3; part 4) and Thomas J. Garza.



1. 'RE: vampire killing kits‏', Thursday, 6 October 2011 12:39:49 AM. They were originally numbered 1 through 8, with multiple questions embedded in each.

2. 'RE: vampire killing kits', Friday, 7 October 2011 1:01:11 AM. As Meyer deigned to answer the questions within the questions, I have broken up his responses—and my questions—accordingly.

3. In my defence, the 2009 press release did say, 'Each kit in the Ripley’s collection was acquired by Edward Meyer, VP of Exhibits and Archives for the company.'

2 comments:

Dave Baymiller said...

I am utterly surprised. I honestly thought more research went into items for the Ripley collection. Wow. Just wow.

Anthony Hogg said...

'Believe it...or not'. ;)

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