Burg Frankenstein- the Man Behind the Monster

Mar 30, 2019 | Featured, Horror History

Welcome to Horror History, our new series on real life historical horror stories. Look for panels and more events on this topic during our North Carolina Horror Convention!


Frankenstein’s castle, the real Frankenstein’s castle is in Germany, just south of Darmstadt in the town of Myhltal. It sits on a hilltop 1,210 feet above the surrounding villages.

Exactly when it was built is unclear, but the first documentation of its existence is dated 1252.  It is believed that the castle, and its most infamous resident, Johann Conrad Dipple, were the inspiration for Mary Shelly’s novel Frankenstein.  It is known that Shelly traveled through Germany on the Rhine river, which passed near the castle. It is believed that she toured the castle and had been told of Dipple by friends that attended the same University of which Dipple was an alumnus.

Dipple attended Frankensteina-Strataemontanus where he studied theology, philosophy, and alchemy.  As was the custom of the day, he adopted the name of his Alma Mater as part of his surname and was henceforth known as Johann Conrad Dipple Frankenstein.  He wrote many books on theology but eventually lost his faith and began to practice alchemy.  In 1704 he created Dipple’s Oil which he claimed was the equivalent to “The elixir of life.” It was used in the manufacture of red dyes but caused them to come out blue and thus Dipple is credited with the creation of the color Prussian blue.  Dipple attempted to buy Burg Frankenstein in exchange for his elixir, but the offer was declined.

He continued to live in the castle where he practiced alchemy and anatomy.  He was accused of being in league with the Devil and grave robbing to obtain the materials required for his work. In order to secure privacy to continue his work, Dipple reinforced those claims by saying he had sold his soul to obtain knowledge that other men were not meant to have.  He believed he could transfer one’s soul into another body and was accused by a local clergyman of having successfully done so.  Many villages still believe this to be true and say that the story was told to Shelly and is the basis for her Frankenstein novel.

In 1733 (at age 60), he released a pamphlet in which he claimed to have found the elixir of life and it would extend his life to at least 135 years.  A year later he died. Cause of death may have been a stroke, but many contemporaries believed he was poisoned by his own elixir.

The connection between Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and Dipple continues to be a topic of debate but it would seem unlikely that she would just happen to choose a name for her novel that matches a name that has a similar history.  Regardless of which side of the debate you fall on, Dipple’s legend and legacy certainly provides a good background for a first-rate horror story.

 

Stay tuned for more of our Horror History series!

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