A wealthy farmer’s success was attributed to a deal with the Devil
These days, the town of Trutnov in the Krkonoše mountains in the northeast of Bohemia is known for its annual music festival, but in 1571, it was in the grip of a vampire, according to chroniclers. Stephen Hübner, or Hubener, wandered among the living after he died, and is alleged to have been turned into one of the undead by Satan himself. And his home, seemingly cursed by bad luck, was eventually remodeled into the current Town Hall.
Even during his life, the townspeople suspected he was in league with the Devil, as his rapid business success was seemingly unnatural. His name turns up in town records even before his death. His last name is given alternately as Hübner or Šolc (Schultz).
He built himself a huge manor house right on the town’s main square, but it collapsed without explanation on October 22, 1563, at 5 pm. The architect was Orban Hirsch from Lviv in modern-day Poland. Hübner had attempted to save money by building it without scaffolding. House or church collapses during construction were often blamed on the Devil, while successfully making a multi-story structure was considered a bit of a minor miracle.
The house was described as having four stone pillars, three cornices and bay windows. Construction had cost 71 dozen sheaves of grain. Hübner paid workers more sheaves of grain plus beer and corn to have the wreckage removed.
He then decided to build an even bigger house, with the help of a Bohemian mason named Simon N. from the town of Dvůr Králové. It was a massive stone house with columns and an arcade with three arches.
Hübner broke his leg unloading stones from a truck during the reconstruction. Hübner’s bad luck with the house, and his cheekiness at making it even bigger, put him further under suspicion that something was not on the up and up. Some sources say that his wine cellar had an endless supply of wine, far more than could be accounted for by his purchases. He also knew some herbal magic for healing both people and animals, again raising eyebrows among the religious-minded.
He died in January or June 1567, and, despite the whisperings of some people, he was given a lavish church funeral and buried in hallowed ground.
But that wasn’t the last time people saw him. He returned from the grave, cursed by Satan to be one of the undead. He was seen around his former house and throughout the town.
He was no harmless spectre either. He suffocated his human and animal victims by crushing them in his arms. A few lived, but most did not.
After five months, Hübner’s grave was dug up by court order and the corpse was found to be as lifelike as the day it was buried. He was taken to the town’s pillory, and there his head was cut off and his heart removed. Despite his being long dead, blood spurted from his neck when his head was lopped off, just as it would have from a living execution victim. The corpse was then burned and the ashes scattered in an effort to keep him from roaming in the town.
After this, he was only remembered in songs at fairs and stories told around the fire, but was seen no more.
His house has been remodeled countless times. Shortly after his death, it was home to a fencing school, one would suppose for very brave men who at least were well armed. Now, oddly, it is the Town Hall.
The tale of Stephen Hübner is told in various forms by several writers who rounded up Slavic vampire tales, with some variations in spelling and dates. Montague Summers in his 1929 study “The Vampire in Europe” sets the date as 1730–32, but this is certainly an error as many books published earlier than that already had the tale. Summers gives the location as Treautenau, and other writers as Trautenau, which was the German name of the town. It had a majority German-speaking population until 1945.
The root of the tale came from a Trutnov chronicle written by painter, reeve and general Renaissance man Simon Hüttel (1530–1601). He began his book in 1578 and recorded all sorts of mundane events such as weddings and funerals, and the dates and names of those who held church offices.
Andreas Hondorff picks up the tale in his 1598 book “Theatrum Historicum Sive Promtuarium Illustrium Exemplorum”, and Thomas Bromhall retells it in his 1658 book “A Treatise of Specters”, and finally Jacob Döpler recounts it in his 1697 work “Theatrum poenarum, suppliciorum et executionum criminalium, oder Schau-Platzes derer Leibes- und Lebens-Strafen”. From those sources it found its way into popular accounts of vampire lore in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The Trutnov Town Hall is indeed built upon the former home of Stephen Hübner. The original town hall, with a clock and fresco of a mythical dragon, was built in 1329 but was destroyed by a fire in 1583.
In January 1585, the Town Council bought Hübner’s stone house from a Mr. Albrecht, who had somehow gotten hold of it, for 900 threescore Bohemian pennies and made it the new Town Hall. Since 1578, the building had been a fencing school and also was home to theater productions.
In 1591, the exterior was redone in Renaissance style with sgraffito ornamentation scraped into plaster, by Italian architect Carol Valmadi. Some of it can still be seen.
The building has has so much bad luck, one might think it was cursed.
The town was hit by plague, and then shortly after that the Town Hall and its big clock, as well as 50 other houses, were damaged by fire in 1683. Prussian soldiers caused another fire in 1745 which again damaged the Town Hall. In 1861, it again suffered fire damage, and was rebuilt in the English neo-Gothic style according to the design by František Schmoranz, and a tower was added. During the 19th century it housed administrative offices, a city council conference hall, a prison and a police station. After World War II, it housed various institutions. It was renovated in the 1980s and in 1987, it once again became the Town Hall and its representative rooms are used on ceremonial occasions.
A trinity column, erected in 1704 on the town’s main square, stands where the pillory used to be.
Trutnov is now famous for its summer music festival, which began in 1987 as an underground event, but has been operating as an official festival since the fall of communism.
Main image: Bela Lugosi in the 1931 film Dracula. Public domain publicity still