In the summer of 1891, young painter Lucien Steketee arrived in Paris from a small village in Brittany to find a city energized by bold artists breaking free of the confines of Impressionism. Even in a place crowded with painters, the young Breton quickly stood out. Tall and handsome, student of Monet's, friend to Pissaro and Cezanne, he cut a dashing figure in the City of Light.
Like fellow painter Toulouse-Lautrec, Steketee's preferred subject was the nightlife around his atelier in Montmartre. He painted prostitutes, dancing girls, beggars...and vampires.
While other artists had painted vampires from memory, Steketee was the first to have them sit for portraits. Despite the danger, Steketee painted over a dozen vampire portraits, and with each one his sense of ease grew. In July of 1892, a vampire suggested to him that Paris' underground catacombs, with their stacks of skulls and bones, would be a more atmospheric backdrop for the portrait; Steketee foolishly followed him there and was set upon by a hunting pack.
Two days later, a local vampire patrol discovered Steketee about to sink his teeth into a young woman.
He fled to the nearby Moulin Rouge nightclub and barricaded himself on the third floor. A mob formed outside and began chanting for the vampire's head. In desperation, Steketee stepped out onto the balcony and made an impassioned plea for his life. So persuasive was he that the mob spared him and allowed the gendarmes to take him away to jail.
Steketee in an
Steketee had found his calling. Writing feverishly in his dim prison cell, he advanced the radical notion that vampires should be treated like the sick people they were, and hospitalized rather than destroyed. Steketee's broadsides were distributed by his artist friends and created a sensation in Paris. Key to his growing support was his claim that he could live without blood. "Controlling bloodlust," he wrote, "is a matter of discipline and faith." He held himself up as proof, and the public bought it.
With public sentiment on his side, Steketee was released into the care of Madame Mauriello, a wealthy widower and devoted follower. She set him up in her Tuileries mansion, where he continued his crusade, speaking to huge crowds and winning support from politicians and religious leaders.
But away from the spotlight, Steketee was hunting, with the help of Madame Mauriello. Each night, she would prowl the streets of Paris looking for young women to lure back to her mansion under the auspices of posing for a famous artist. Once there, the women would be plied with wine until Steketee emerged, fangs flashing. He kept the "newly converted" in his service as a sort of harem.
Mme. Mauriello's mansion
the day after the fire
The arrangement was shortlived. Early on the morning of December 12th, 1892, a terrified girl arrived in the police station claiming that she had narrowly escaped the clutches of a vampire. Police officers followed her back to the Mauriello mansion and discovered the pack. Word spread, and for the second time in his life, Lucien Steketee found himself hiding out from an angry mob. But this time, there was no escape: the mob burned the mansion to the ground, with Steketee, Mme. Mauriello and the young vampires inside.
Steketee's body was never found, leading to speculation that he had escaped; a suspicion strengthened during World War II, when several members of the French Resistance reported seeing a man resembling Steketee prowling the sewers. To this day, he is said to emerge from underground on the anniversary of his death to claim a victim. Which is why, before nightfall on December 12th, suspicious Parisians hang garlic and crosses over their doorways.