celebrations, folklore, health, vampires

Escapades of a Vampirologist — Now Retired

Pin replica of the USA Dracula postage stamp. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

I never dreamed I would become a vampirologist, at least that’s what others called me. But now that Halloween approaches, memories of that unforeseen former profession flood my consciousness.

It began when an Associated Press science reporter called me for a folklorist’s opinion about a paper delivered by Canadian biochemist, Dr. David Dolphin, at the 1988 American Association for the Advancement of Sciences. Dr. Dolphin hypothesized that those who had been labeled vampires in the past (Middle Ages) might have been suffering from a disease called porphyria.

In brief, porphyria is a rare incurable genetic disease that can also be triggered by alcohol and sulfa drugs or environmental contaminants. In Greek, porphyria means purple and for many, not all patients, their urine turns purple after exposure to the sun or ultraviolet light.

Dolphin asserted that those porphyria patients whose faces were negatively affected by sunlight must remain indoors during the day. He argued that porphyria patients had a negative reaction to garlic. Most dramatically, he claimed that they had a need for blood, but in the Middle Ages since there was no technology for transfusions, they would satisfy their cravings by drinking the blood of others.

The problem was that the Dolphin’s proposition didn’t hold up clinically. In part, this was because there are eight different varieties of porphyria, each with its own symptoms and characteristics. Dolphin had lumped them all together.

However, as a folklorist, the correlations delighted me and the Associated Press quoted me saying that I thought the proposal was, “Wonderful. It proves there is truth in folklore.”

Who knew where my flip comments would lead?

Almost immediately, I received a phone call from France, inquiring if I would be a consultant on a vampire film. Of course, I said yes. That offer, like so many that followed, never came to fruition.

Still I was buoyed by the excitement. I was instantly perceived as a vampire expert. It took some boning up on my part but eventually I became fairly conversant about the disease, porphyria (known to account for the madness of King George); Vlad, the Impaler (a Romanian hero for staving off the Ottoman Empire); and the book Dracula by Bram Stoker, that has never been out of print since the first edition in 1897.

However, some horrified porphyria patients blamed me for linking porphyria with vampires. One woman complained how ashamed the association made her feel and how relieved she was that most of her friends couldn’t remember the name of her disease.

A young male patient in Santa Barbara, CA, disclosed he was frightened to walk around the local schoolyard during the day lest parents might think he was stalking their children. Indeed, so much sensational press surrounded Dolphin’s concept, even the grammar school newspaper, The Weekly Reader, had an article about it.

But my friends and family loved it and could hardly wait to participate.

Bela Lugosi, Jr. had been a USC law school classmate of my brother, Mickey. He gave Mickey a Dracula watch that my brother insisted I must have.

A gift from my brother, Mickey, after Bela Lugosi Jr., gave it to him. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

My dentist, Dr. Rees Smith of Burbank, CA presented me with a custom-made pair of fangs. He assumed I would wear them on all the TV talk shows I was on, but I thought it would make me look to unprofessional.

Custom-made fangs by Dr. Rees Smith, DDS. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.


At my very first book signing of American Vampires, Forrest Ackerman, “Mr. Science Fiction,” showed up with one of the Dracula capes and rings worn by Bela Lugosi in the “Dracula” film. He let me sign some books wearing those treasured items. Additionally, he purchased 20 copies for celebrities. Imagine my thrill autographing a copy for Stephen King.

A film company invited me to Budapest, Hungary, to be in an international TV production, “Dracula, Live from Transylvania.” I even got to play a scene with actor, George Hamilton, who freaked out having to interview a real blood drinker. He turned that task over to me. I was pretty unruffled about it, too, until I asked one of the blood drinkers, “How much blood do you drink at a time?”

When she responded, “Half a glass.” I lost my cool.

“Half a glass?” I was incredulous as I visualized a glass half-filled with coagulating human blood. To the glee of friends and family watching in the U.S., I could not disguise my shock.

In 1995, I was invited by the Romanian Bureau of Tourism to attend the First World Dracula Congress. What a strange contingent of attendees: fifty international scholars (including me) and 150 members of the press from all over the world.

Upon arrival in Bucharest, my husband, Harold, and I were warmly greeted by Nicolae (Nicky) Paduraru, President of the Transylvanian Society of Dracula. But when Nicky began extolling my virtues in his Bela Lugosi-like accent: “No-rine, I love your mind; I love your brain…”, an irritated Harold demanded, “Leave the rest to me!”

I joined both the Canadian and Romanian chapters of the Transylvanian Society of Dracula. In 1997, in Los Angeles, we sponsored a celebration that drew thousands for the 100th anniversary of the publication of Dracula.

After that, my interest in vampires waned, but still I have my old contacts with new ones always welcomed. When Frankenstein Jones requested to friend me on Facebook, how could I say, “No”?

If you’d like to see more vampire memorabilia, visit my online folklore and popular culture gallery: http: flpcgallery.org. While you’re there, check out additional cultural artifacts: Day of the Dead skulls; Milagros for healing; Evil eyes and hamsas for protection; Political gags.



Folklorist Norine Dresser is the author of American Vampires: Fans, Victims & Practitioners (Norton, 1989; Vintage 1990), nine other books as well as an award-winning column for the Los Angeles Times (1993 to 2001).


Portions of this blog first appeared in the October 2017 edition (Vol.22 No.10) of the Southwest Senior (Las Cruces, NM), pp. 1 & 5.



Svastika or Swastika?

Given the prominence of Swastikas in Charlottesville, VA, and the reactions it elicited, the history of this symbol must be explored.

The original meaning of the Svastika (well-being in Sanskrit) was an omen of good luck. For Buddhists, it symbolizes the feet or footprints of Buddha, and for Hindus and Jains it is the most widely used auspicious symbol. Witness the availability of inexpensive jewelry incorporating this beneficial sign that I purchased in an Indian supermarket in Los Angeles.

Indian bracelet incorporating the Svastika. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

The Navajo commonly used this same motif in their jewelry and with positive meaning, as well.

Navajo ring with Svastika, turquoise, and arrowhead. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

However, Adolph Hitler subverted the symbol’s connotation during his Third Reich. For the Nazis, it meant racial purity that called for the elimination of Jews and other groups deemed inferior.

In the 1960s, our family belonged to the Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles. During the overflow attendance at the High Holidays, we were sent to a welcoming Presbyterian Church across the street. Imagine my terror when I looked down at the floor and discovered a recurring abhorrent swastika design in the tile floor.

During that same time period, a friend of mine worked in an Indian sari shop in Beverly Hills. When an Anglo bride-to-be came in for a fitting of her Indian wedding sari, she panicked when, for the first time, she noticed a swastika motif in the border design. Her groom was Jewish, and she could not wear it.

Locally, New Mexico State University called their yearbook, the Swastika. It wasn’t until 1983, that they changed the name to the  Phoenix. And believe it or not, there were some university folks who couldn’t understand the reason for the change.

New Mexico State University Yearbook, 1947. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

In an article by Steven Brower, “Protesting Racism and Hate with Political Art (Print, August 17, 2017), he presents an assemblage of posters demonstrating the power of Political Art. Here are two that specifically deal with the Swastika.

Design by Felix Sockwell in article, “Protesting Racism and Hate with Political Art.”

Trump 24K Gold Plated Poster, Designed by Mark Fox and Angie Wang (“Design is Play”) from the new The Design of Dissent, Expanded Edition book by Milton Glaser and Mirko llic.

However, I am partial to protests that use gross humor to combat racism. This headline appeared in the August 24, 2017 edition of The Guardian: Turd Reich: San Francisco dog owners lay minefield of poo for rightwing rally.

Peace Activists planned to fight the rightwing planned Patriot Prayer rally by covering Crissy Field, site of the scheduled rally, with dog excrement. They also agreed to pick up the dog poo afterward. However, the Patriot Prayer got cancelled and so did the Turd Reich. Do you suppose that the Turd Reich planned to clean up with these?

Donald Trump dog poop bags. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.


Norine Dresser is a folklorist who has a severe visceral reaction when she sees the odious Swastika symbol.

folklore, radio


Norine Dresser  recording her Multicultural Minutes for KTAL-LP. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.


“No Molesta” [Duration: 1:57]

Station Identification:

This is station KTAL-LP, 101.5 FM in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Music: Introduction: “Ekoneni” (Mark Dresser)


Voice: Introduction –

Hello. This is Norine Dresser presenting, “Your Multicultural  Minute,” true stories about       how cultural differences can create miscommunication.


Each weekday morning, several moms on the block happily drop off their toddlers            at Rosa’s house. She is their Mexican baby sitter and takes excellent care of their       children.

One afternoon, Rosa’s 13-year-old nephew, Ernesto, accompanies her as she walks the children back to their homes. When they arrive at Emma’s house, her father, Fred, greets them.

Ernesto says, “Your daughter is very beautiful.” Fred thanks him, and Ernesto responds, “No molesta.”

A strange look crosses Fred’s face. Then when he sees his daughter kiss Ernesto goodbye, Fred becomes enraged.

¿Qué Pasó? What Happened?

Fred jumped to the conclusion that “no molesta” meant Ernesto didn’t molest her. But in Spanish, the verb ”molestar” also means “disturb.” What Ernesto was saying was, “She’s no trouble; she’s no bother.”

Music Exit: “Ekoneni” continuation

<<Fade Under>>

Voice Exit:

Thanks for listening, and if you have a cultural miscommunication story you would like to share, contact me at www.norinedresser.com. That’s spelled n-o-r-i-n-e-d-r-e-s-s-e-r.


Hi Friends and Family,

I am very excited to announce that I’m ON THE AIR, with two-minute shows, “Your Multicultural Minute.” Yes, on July 26, 2017, Las Cruces inaugurated a community radio station called KTAL, the radio symbol for “¿Qué Tal?” that in Spanish means, “What’s happening?”

I have already produced numerous episodes like the one above based, in part, on Multicultural Manners stories from my books and award winning Los Angeles Times column.

Although we already have a public radio station here in Las Cruces, KRWG, most of their programming originates from National Public Radio. In contrast, KTAL aims to focus on local issues and events, especially, the arts.

This station has been a two-year dream of Nan Rubin, a community radio activist, and Kevin Bixby, Executive Director of the Southwest Environmental Center in Las Cruces. Thanks to them, their hardworking volunteers, and local support, that dream has come true. Now, I am proud to say, “I’ll see you on the radio.”


Norine Dresser is a folklorist who delights in announcing her affiliation with radio KTAL- LP, 101.5 FM in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Nature, weather

What’s a HABOOB?


Is it an allergy sneeze?   NO!

Haboob, Haboob, Ha-boobooboo Haboob

Is it the chorus from a pop musical hit?   NO!


Is it a new kind of fireworks?   NO!


This is a HABOOB that hit Las Cruces, NM, on Saturday, June 24, 2017. Photo courtesy of Las Cruces Sun-News.

A Haboob is a massive wall of dust, and if you are unfamiliar with the name, so was I. Then I learned the name comes from the Middle East where storms like this are  common and can affect visibility for days.

Last Saturday night was my first experience with a haboob.

The irony is that I had my car detailed about a month ago. It looked shiny and brand new  and a special finish protected its exterior. I had 3-hours of hand labor done despite knowing that soon the Ford Fusion would be rained on. Nonetheless, I felt it was worth the investment to protect it. Additionally, I had the leather interior polished to keep it from drying out in this dry desert air.

But last Saturday while dining at a friend’s house, I parked my car in the driveway. Within minutes of arrival, the haboob struck along with rain and did its number creating a polka dotted car.





It made me laugh, and I hope the futility of trying to keep on top of things amuses you, too.

Haboobs are just one part of the joys of desert living. There’s the sudden hail storms that cut up our roofs and pierce the skylights; there’s the summer monsoons that strike at night with their thunderous downpours that last only minutes. It all seems rather erratic, yet I wouldn’t have it any other way.


Norine Dresser is a folklorist who moved from Los Angeles to Las Cruces in 2012. She has adapted well to desert living.


Festivals, music


The Las Cruces Ukes Performing Group. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

May 19 to 21, 2017, the Las Cruces Ukes sponsored our first Ukulele Festival. It was a stunning success. Over 100 ukulele fans, mostly from the Southwest came to learn from guest instructors,

By the time we dispersed on Sunday afternoon, the crowd was feeling mellow, eager to go home and start practicing the new tunes and techniques we had learned. What created an added a sense of community was a workshop led by one of our members, Gorton Smith, a retired Methodist minister. We played and sang songs in a session labeled “The Gospel According to Uke.” Jim Beloff, one of our instructors, followed leading us in the playing and singing of Beatles tunes These melodies have now become classics and in their own way made us seem blessed as we departed for home.

Music has always played an important role in my life. Growing up, we had an upright piano that my mother played. Later, she insisted that I take piano lessons. I was just a so-so player and did not enjoy it, but I found it beneficial in grammar school in the 1940s. I played in the orchestra and because we had a surplus of pianists, I learned how to play the marimba, bells, and triangle. I also joined the chorus and harmonica band, and the totality of these musical experiences uplifted and enriched me. I never forgot how that music made me feel. Consequently, I insisted that my own children have music lessons. Of course they all started out on the piano, but then they branched out to other instruments.

During the late 1950s the guitar captured my interest, and a neighbor loaned me one of her guitars for a weekend. I was hooked! Not much later, (August, 1958) I was pregnant with my 3rd child and my husband and I drove to Las Vegas for the weekend. We roasted in the heat outside, but a new well-chilled Stardust Casino had recently opened, and it was rumored that their slot-machines paid off more frequently than at other casinos. My husband wandered off to lose money in other parts of the gambling club, while I stayed at the nickel slot machines. Suddenly, I hit a $25 jackpot. Bells clanged and I began to feel faint, but I refused to give in to that sinking feeling until the cashier brought me my winnings. Then I succumbed to the collapsing.

Mysteriously, a gentleman appeared, identified himself as a doctor and tourist from St. Louis, MO. He laid me down on a couch, had someone bring me water and explained that the disparity between the scorching outdoor temperatures and air-conditioned cold of the Stardust plus my pregnancy caused me to feel ill.

Suddenly, Harold materialized. When I told him about my jackpot and he inquired, “Are you going to share it with me?”

Adamantly, I answered, “No.” Instead, I used it to buy a guitar from a Sear’s & Roeback Catalog. A Silvertone guitar cost $19.95 and its cardboard case was an additional $5.95.

That purchase changed my life. I met others with the same folk music passion; I learned quickly and began teaching guitar in my home and later at the YWCA; With another guitarist we played duos for different organizations; I became a music teacher at a Catholic girls school and gave guitar lessons to three nuns; My friendship with the Sister Superior persists until this moment; On the night before my son’s bar mitzvah along with my older daughter (age 11) who sang the lyrics, I played guitar, and my 13-year-old son accompanied us on bass. We recorded, “The Day After Christmas,” written by my supermarket checker and financed by a secret backer — the supermarket manager. Can you beat that for fun?

Music still enhances my life. Although I have switched to the ukulele because it’s lighter in weight, I still perform with others, and that too, has brought me great pleasure and lots of laughs.


The Las Cruces Chicks: (left to right) Marie Hughey, Roxana Gillett, Norine Dresser, Joy Goldbaum. Showing off our chicken leg stockings and wearing fowl hats, at the Las Cruces Ukes Festival we performed a parody of The House of the Rising Sun. Photo by Alfred Hughey. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

In a forthcoming weekend, the Las Cruces Ukes will be performing for Cancer Survivors and the following weekend, we will be playing for military veterans. Hopefully, these performances will bring pleasure to these audiences. For certain, the Las Cruces Ukes will feel enriched through sharing our music magic with them.


Norine Dresser is a folklorist who has passed the love of music on to her children. This makes her happy.