JACQUES SIRGENT, THE FIRST VAMPIROLOGIST IN THE WORLD.
“If there are keepers, I’ll let you know” says Jacques Sirgent as he scratches heavily the back of his head while staring at us. That’ll be his signal. “You stay at least ten meters behind me, it’ll be safer for you.” As he enters the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, Jacques Sirgent remains cautious. Deep down inside, he’s sure that his business can put him at odds with the guardians. He hasn’t scratched the back of his head: the path is secure. We can enter and follow him.
He is a “vampirologist”. Yes you read that right: a vam-pi-ro-lo-gist. Aside from his writer and historian occupations, Jacques has been studying blood and vampire symbols since he was a kid. To that regard, the Père Lachaise cemetery is a formidable playground for him: “I’ve come here five times a week for twelve years” says the writer with a proud glow in his eyes.
Black shoes, black pants, black tee shirt, black jacket, black hair: even though he tries to look casual, he simply stands out from the rest of the people in the cemetery. Holding his books about vampires under his arm, he strolls in the alleys with an erratic frenzy. He rushes. He stops. He looks back furtively around him to make sure he isn’t being followed. He stops in front of graves, looks at them and keeps going. He rushes again. He’s looking for a sign.
Vampiric symbols, bats, open graves, Celtic crosses… Every little sign he spots is examined and interpreted. He delivers each and every of his anecdotes with a disturbing dose of emotional intensity. “The 21st of December 2017, I woke up with an obsessive thought ‘there is someone in the Père Lachaise that desires a rose’” says Jacques. “Hence, I went to buy a rose and headed to the cemetery. A grave was calling for me. I had never seen it before but I could feel its call. There it is. It’s this one”. He now stands right in front of a grave where the epitaph reads “Désirée Rose”. On the ground, a rotten rose seems to confirm his anecdote. “I’m not a believer in miracles. But I believe in extraordinary occurence.”
With Jacques Sirgent, a tiny detail can turn into a whole tale. Telling stories has actually become his main business. Three times a week, he gives a two-and-a-half hour esoteric tour of the Père Lachaise for 18€. He tries to keep it low profile and under the radar as the cemetery staff “doesn’t like fantasy”.
His esoteric explanations come with his personal anecdotes and very own investigations. In the midst of a dark alley, he brutally stops. “One day, I was sitting at a café thinking to myself : ‘where is the real Dracula buried?’. And at this very moment. Precisely, someone comes to me, sits down and tells me: ‘Dracula is buried in the Père Lachaise’. He gives me two clues: ‘you will find it if you spot the two bats on it. But you won’t see ’em for real. You’ll see ’em spiritually’.”
Jacques takes us further in the cemetery. On the pediment of a grave belonging to someone who was apparently called “The Duke”, he shows us two little rust stains on the metal fence of a little chapel. “Here are the two bats”. To him, there’s no doubt: these are the two bats he was meant to see spiritually. And the grave belongs to Vlad Tepes’, the real name of the Prince that inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It all makes sense to him: the alley is dark enough (vampires don’t like direct sunlight), there is no cross (which could dissuade vampires to settle) and is located at the intersection of the Feuillant Avenue and… the Cave Path.
His explanations may sound a bit far fetched to some tourists but he likes to believe in them, at least, he likes the plausibility of them being true. “I’m telling amazing stuff. Sometimes, I’m on the edge of fantasy (…) but I never claimed my stories to be true. I always say ‘why not, it’s possible’.”
Somewhat proud of his discovery, Jacques has taken home pieces of the rusty fence from the supposed Dracula’s grave. They’re displayed in his “Museum of the Vampires”. Located in the suburbs, the “Museum of Vampires, Monsters and Imagination” isn’t very well indicated. To find it, you have to go through a narrow muddy path next to a very quiet street. Time has washed off the Museum sign next to the entrance gate. Behind the big red gate, a garden filled with more empty bottles and broken furnitures leads to the museum.
posters and the fetish objects he picked up through years are exposed. All of them dedicated to his only passion: vampires.
It’s after taking a leave from his job at a university in 2003 that Jacques decided to open this museum. “When I inaugurated it, secret services paid a visit to the museum” he says. “Then, the Church came as well. They were suspicious at the outset, but they loved it eventually.” Since then, a bunch of people visit the place every month. Among the objects that he’s gathered across the years, Jacques loves particularly his plaster anti-vampire-mirror crafted by his grandfather, his anti-vampire crossbow “from Serbia” and his mummified cat found in a grave.
When asked whether he believed in vampires or not, he’s very clear: he doesn’t. For him, vampires are a sort of metaphor for freedom. A form of life free to come and go by night, to “bite people’s neck”, but on which humans have control: “if vampires show up to your door. You decide to open. Or not”.
“There are curious, romantics… the typical guest here is a person looking for something different” says Jacques. Most people come to him to listen to his stories more than prove the existence of vampires. “There are two kinds of people: those who loved The Little Prince and those who hated it”, says the vampirologist. “Most of the people whom hated it tend not to like my stories.”