The spooky season is here but the coronavirus makes it more difficult for us to truly enjoy it. Everyone would like to live their lives the way they had before the pandemic and there is no wonder many people feel like they are wasting their lives by being stuck indoors since the world has basically stopped. This might be the perfect time to escape the unpleasant reality by telling stories. And what could possibly be better than telling spooky stories now that Halloween is just around the corner?
The Begging Skeleton
Prague has many scary and tragic tales to tell. So many that there are books specifically about the legends and stories of Prague. One of the scariest is the story about the begging skeleton of Karolinum. The skeleton once used to be a young student of medicine called Vincenc. He was tall and handsome, but he was also poor and when you’re poor, you have to make many compromises. Even going to a pub for a pint of beer may be something you can’t afford since you have to pay for other more important things than your pleasure. But living without having any fun at all is merely surviving. And Vincenc knew it. However, one very old anatomy professor was so fascinated by his unusually tall body that he offered to buy his skeleton when he dies, so he could add it into his collection of unusual skeletons. Vincenc – probably thinking that the professor would die sooner than him – agreed. As soon as he took the money from the professor, he went to a pub to gamble and have a pint or two. And another one. And one more… At some point the young drunken man got into a fight with another drunkard and was killed. The lucky professor’s wish came true. Now the poor Vincenc begs in the streets near Karolinum so he can buy his freedom back. But don’t worry – he pays no attention to sober people, only to those who are drunk.
The Velhartice Cemetery
This story may be unknown even to most Czechs, but the cemetery itself is so frightening it supposedly inspired the Czech romantic author Karel Jaromír Erben to write one of his most famous poems “Noční košile” (“The Wedding Shirt”).
This particular tale tells the story of a soldier and a young, beautiful orphan girl. The soldier fell in love with the orphan girl when his army marched through the region to the south to fight in a war. Unfortunately, as it usually happens, the young soldier died in the war and it was his friend who later came back to tell this tragic news to the poor girl. His friend was in love with the girl himself and asked her to marry him now that her lover was dead. She rejected him saying that until her death she would not love another man but her deceased lover. The friend got mad and enraged he shouted: “If you want him so much, then have him!”
He then supposedly found a powerful priestess who helped him summon his dead friend (some versions of the story claim she was a fortune teller or that he did this all by himself). The ghost (or a demon) then began to haunt his love, possessed her and she fell sick. Only through exorcism did she regain her health back but ever since then a female face has been appearing on a wall of the small church standing in the local cemetery. It was repainted many times but the face always reappears. Erben’s story is even more frightening, though.
According to Erben’s poems, it was the girl herself who wanted her lover back and so she prayed to Virgin Mary for help. One night a knock sounded on her window. It was her lover, asking her to leave with him so he could introduce her to his family and marry her. The girl eagerly agreed and packed a few things with her – a rosary, a bible, a small crucifix pendant and wedding shirts she sowed. He then grabbed her and began carrying her far far away. He convinced her to get rid of all the things she took with her. Eventually she realized that they were standing in front of a cemetery where she found out that her lover had, in fact, been long dead. He then tried to make her jump over the cemetery wall with him but she managed to fool him, tossing the shirts away and finding refuge in the nearby morgue. The story doesn’t stop here because she was not alone in there – in the small room there was also a feretory with a corpse lying on it. Her undead lover tried to get in but she locked the door, so he ordered the dead man to open the door for him. The dead body started moving its limbs, its joints cracking as the body became reanimated. The young woman quickly jumped into prayer, begging him to leave her alone and lay his body to rest once again. This time, he did. This repeated several times and each time the dead man came even closer to opening the door. Finally, the sun went up, the rooster crowed and the undead lover vanished. She was then found by locals. Had it not been for her prayers, she would have been torn to pieces just like the shirts, which were now scattered all around the cemetery.
There are much more scary stories related to the cemetery, but thanks to Erben, this one is probably the most memorable one.
The Vampire Duchess of Český Krumlov
In 2013 Czechs held their very first public presidential election. Out of many potential candidates, two finalists emerged: the current president Miloš Zeman (who eventually won the election) and Karel Schwarzenberg – a member of the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Republic, former Minister of the Foreign Affairs and Václav Havel’s chancellor. Are you wondering what this has to do with vampires? Mr. Schwarzenberg is not just a successful politician, but he’s also the current head of the House of Schwarzenberg – one of the most influential and powerful Austrian aristocratic families. This Austrian noble family owned a lot of lands, many of which were located in the nowadays Czech Republic, including the charming town of Český Krumlov.
Český Krumlov used to be the home of Eleonora Amalia von Schwarzenberg, who was born to the members of another important noble family – the Lobkowicz family. When she grew up, her father wanted to marry her off to a member of another influential aristocratic family, and so he chose Adam Franz von Schwarzenberg as her suitor. Adam Franz was already married to another woman but Eleonora Amalia’s father made sure the marriage was cancelled and Adam Franz was fined. Adam Franz von Schwarzenberg was then able to marry Eleonora Amalia von Lobkowicz (which was her original name). What a great start to the marriage…
Anyways, she had quite unusual hobbies and interests for a woman living between at the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries. She liked hunting, smoking tobacco and when struggling with some sickness, she would seek help from healers and charlatans. For example, she couldn’t get pregnant for a long time but she was expected to give her husband an heir (and possibly a male one). Eventually, she gave birth to a daughter, which was a disappointment because, well, they wanted a boy. After this, the couple’s relationship started to deteriorate and they eventually separated, even though the birth of their daughter was supposedly not the reason why their relationship suffered. The crisis lasted 12 years until it got somewhat better.
She was 41 years old when she gave birth to a son. Giving birth at such an “old” age was highly unusual back then – after all, at the age of 41, most women would even have their first grandchildren. People started spreading rumors that she drank wolf milk so she would get pregnant with a son. Apparently, she would never shoot a wolf when hunting and instead she would put female wolves into captivity where she could milk them. Their howls would echo through the whole town every night.
Later, after the death of her husband, she got sick and her health began to deteriorate quickly. She tried many things to alleviate the pain but nothing helped, so she once again decided to seek the help of healers and charlatans. And once again it was the wolf milk that she was recommended by one of her doctors. The hunters would then capture female wolves so she would always have access to her medicine. Apparently, she even practised some magical rituals. Either way, Eleonora Amalia’s behaviour was odd, she also looked very sick and since she couldn’t sleep at night, she would instead wander through the chateau. Because of this the locals didn’t trust her and spread many stories about her: “She is alive but looks like a corpse, is awake at night and drinks wolf milk? This is odd – isn’t she a vampire?”
Eventually, she died and her body was immediately dissected by the best professionals in the whole of Austria (which Bohemia and Moravia were then parts of), one of which studied vampires and indeed believed she was one of them as well. In 2000 a couple of 18th-century skeletons with signs of anti-vampiric rituals were found in the vicinity of the chateau which only proves how widespread the belief in the existence of vampires was.
The cause of her death was never noted in any document, which was also quite suspicious, but many experts believe that she had a tumour which was deadly at the time.
The White Lady – Perchta von Rožmberk
Perchta von Rožmberk might be the most famous ghost in the Czech Republic. She is mostly associated with Bohemian towns and castles but her life was very tightly connected with the South Moravian town of Mikulov. She was born in the 15th century in Český Krumlov and at the age of 17, she was forced to marry a much older man, Jan V von Liechtenstein. She had to move to Mikulov, even though she was in love with another, though much poorer, nobleman. Not only didn’t she love her husband, but she was also mistreated terribly by him and his family – once she even had to pledge her jewellery when they were short on money because of her husband Jan’s actions. In general, he was a terrible man so it comes as no surprise that the locals hated the despotic aristocrat and loved the poor young Perchta whom they sympathized with. But not even this could make her life easier and so she often sought refuge at her father’s place back in Český Krumlov, sometimes at her husband’s friend’s place in Strážnice. She sent letters to her father, her brothers and many other powerful people, asking them for help, however, all of that was sadly to no avail. Eventually, she left for Vienna where she died at the age of 64.
Ever since then she would appear at Czech castles and chateaus – always one night before some important event. If she was walking around smiling, it was a good sign, if she was sad, something bad was about to happen. Only once her ghost would appear in Mikulov – the town which she never came to like because she associated it with her horrible husband. It was the night before the Liechtenstein family had to sell the castle and the town. She was walking around the castle smiling.
The Legendary Doctor Faust
Doctor Faust (or sometimes “Faustus”) is a famous character that appeared in many stories, including a drama written by the famous German author, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (“Urfaust” and “Faust”), Ferenc Liszt’s symphony, or a Japanese manga called The Shaman King.
The original legend was inspired by an actual person, Johann Georg Faust, who was an alchemist, astrologist, and a mage, and whom people believed to have made a pact with the devil.
The version of the legend that Czechs know the best, was written down by Alois Jirásek and it tells the story of Doctor Faust, who lived in a house near the Na Slovanech monastery. He dedicated his life to alchemy, magic and researching in magic books, but this only led to him lusting for more earthly pleasures and so he sold his soul to the devil. He got exactly what we wanted but even he was just a mortal man and so one day the devil came back for what he was promised – Faust’s soul. Realizing that the devil never forgets and never lets go, the poor Faust struggled for his life as the devil grabbed him to hell not through the door, but through the ceiling. And the hole that the devil made when taking Faust would stay there forever despite everyone’s best efforts to wall it up – the hole would always reappear.
On top of that, the house soon started being haunted by Faust’s restless ghost so the house would soon start to fall apart. Who would want to live there, after all. Well, turns out there were people who needed a roof over their heads and didn’t mind such unusual company. Or so they thought… One of these people was a poor young student that desperately needed a place to stay. Not having enough money for a proper accommodation, he wandered around Prague and spotted the decaying house. Nobody obviously lived there and nobody would therefore force him to leave, he thought. He entered the house and soon fell asleep. The student slept well until the morning. When he woke up, he decided to explore the place only to soon find the big hole left after doctor Faust’s infamous demise. Only then did he realize where he was. But this didn’t scare him from exploring the place even further. He found Faust’s alchemy room which amazed him but continued to see the whole place. Under one parchment he found a silver coin – to his surprise it seemed to be new. The student thought about what to do with it. The coin could belong to Faust, maybe it was placed there by the devil. What if? But after a bit of thinking he decided to take it and left. He spent the money for food and later returned back to Faust’s house where he expected to encounter Faust’s ghost or the devil but he eventually fell asleep again without seeing anything odd. In the morning he woke up and returned to the room where he found the silver coin. And there was a new one. “This is strange,” thought the student, “there was one yesterday and I took it. How come there is another coin, then?” He was wondering for a while but later decided to take it just like he did the day before. And this would repeat every morning until he could afford new clothes, shoes and anything he needed. He was not afraid anymore and soon he decided to study Faust’s books. He stayed in the house and when he was lonely, he brought his friends there. In the house they saw many wonders but they warned the student that it may not be as good as it seems. What if the devil wants his soul too? Or what if Faust wants another person to fall victim to greed? He didn’t listen. One day when they decided to visit him again, the house was empty. They found signs of a fight, blood dried up on the wall where the hole would always appear. They immediately fled knowing that they would never meet their friend again.
In case you’re hungry for more stories like this, try to read some of our “Tips for Trips” articles where you can find some or let us know in the comment section.
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Source of the main image: unsplash.com