BUCHAREST, Romania—About eight hours’ drive from the capital, and another four hours’ trek from the nearest road, Izvorul Calimanului Mountain looks like many of the Carpathians’ uninhabited peaks: snow-capped in the winter, fir trees thinning near its rocky 6,670-foot peak.
Few hikers visit, but Dacre Stoker thinks tourist dollars could erupt from the extinct Transylvanian volcano. Although he hasn’t visited yet, he’s currently co-writing a guidebook that he hopes will set his ambitious plan in motion. He envisages guided tours by local mountaineers, informative signage, and a nearby cultural center explaining the mountain’s unusual significance.
I meet Stoker, great-grandnephew of Dracula author Bram Stoker, in the lobby café of Bucharest’s Moxa Hotel. Sitting beside him is Hans de Roos, an Indonesian-born Dutch art researcher and artistic nude photographer, who champions the theory that Izvorul Calimanului is the home of the world’s most famous vampire. This mountain’s lonely peak, the pair say, is the place Bram Stoker chose as the setting for the fictitious Castle Dracula.
“Let me just give you the entrée,” Dacre begins his pitch in his booming voice. “Hans has found, in the notes that Bram left behind, something that nobody else did: These lines of longitude and latitude and the name of a mountaintop where we feel very strongly that this is the location Bram intended to use in his book.”
The pair met me in the Romanian capital to discuss their planned Dracula travel guide, which traces the book’s plot across Europe. Although their guide is not the first piece of literature catering to vampire enthusiasts trekking off to Transylvania, they’re hoping a couple of things set it apart.
First, they’re the only enthusiasts to trace the book’s story to a specific mountaintop, albeit one where visitors won’t actually find the “vast ruined castle” with tall black windows and broken battlements that confronted Jonathan Harker after his dizzying journey to the Count’s home in the 1897 novel.
Second, and maybe more importantly, Stoker aims to use his unique position to untangle the fictional vampiric legend from the real Dracula, 15th-century ruler Vlad Dracula, also known as Vlad the Impaler, whose name the elder Stoker borrowed for his fanged villain. It’s a vast legacy to process, but you might say the story is in Stoker’s blood.
The project rests on the controversial assumption that Bram Stoker actually had a specific location in mind for Dracula’s castle. The Irish author never visited Transylvania and drew all his material about the region from maps or travel books.
De Roos began the process of homing in on a location while compiling his own Ultimate Dracula edition of the novel, a 33- by 24-centimeter glossy tome published in 2012, which includes his research about the castle’s location as well as nude models acting out scenes from the story.
Over 23 pages prefacing the story, de Roos completely reconstructs Jonathon Harker’s journey to the mountaintop, a trip he subsequently made himself in 2012. His theory, however, hinges on a note jotted by Stoker between 1895 and 1896 in his notebook: “Between Strasha & Isvorol is 47 E long, 25¾ N Lat.”
Those coordinates actually mark a patch of desert in Saudi Arabia. But de Roos believes that Stoker accidentally switched the longitude and latitude. If true, the coordinates point to a border crossing into Transylvania, between Izvorul Calimanului and the town of Straja, on the Bistrita River, the waterway used by the gypsies in the novel to carry the Count’s coffin back to his lair.
“What Bram did was quite simple,” de Roos explains, in an accent that’s not hard to imagine belonging to vampire hunter Van Helsing. “He knew where the Bistrita was running up, he thought, ‘Here’s Straja, here’s a mountaintop which I think is appropriate for the castle. I’ll draw a line on the map so I know where the gypsies will cross the border.’ ”
Although de Roos says he’s heard no one contradict his theory since he published it, world-renowned Dracula scholar Elizabeth Miller isn’t so sure. Miller, whose book Dracula: Sense & Nonsense examined and debunked dozens of claims surrounding the novel, said the suggestion Stoker pinpointed an exact mountaintop was an intriguing theory but probably gives the author too much credit. She supports the idea that Stoker merely took historical “scraps” and tossed them into his literary stew.
However, de Roos and Dacre Stoker argue that the novelist’s reason for excluding a specific mountaintop was an intentional ploy to heighten the story’s mystery.
Raised in Montreal and now living in South Carolina, Stoker, 56, has worked as a secondary school teacher and athletics coach. It wasn’t until author Ian Holt called up in 2003 and asked him to co-write a sequel to Dracula that he began to delve into his great-granduncle’s legacy.
Since then he’s taken over representing the author’s estate, published Bram’s lost journal, and toured the world with a lecture titled “Stoker on Stoker.”
Bram’s other descendants, Stoker says, have supported these pursuits and have occasionally found and sent over their ancestor’s belongings, including his Bible.
And although his Dracula ventures don’t pay the bills yet (he still teaches CPR), Stoker says they’ve helped him develop a sense of how his great-granduncle worked. “I’ve gotten into his head,” he says. “It’s surprising how close I am to him—very anal, very organized, very controlled, work orientated—the things he studied in school were similar to mine except he did little bit more mathematics than I did. But some of these tendencies have made it easier for me to draw these conclusions.”