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Castle Frankenstein

By Duchan Caudill



Mary Shelley was inspired to write "Frankenstein" by her visit to a hilltop castle--with a panoramic view of the Rhine Plain. Locate approximately three miles south of Darmstadt, Castle Frankenstein is steeped in a blend of fact and legend, which transcend regional curiosity.

In 1818, Lord Byron challenged his visitors at Lake Geneva to write a gruesome story. But, in 1816, Shelley visited Castle Frankenstein to investigate the castle after her stepmother, Mary Jane Clairmont, told her a tale about the site.

The castle's most notorious inhabitant, according to Clairmont, was Johann Conrad Dippel, a physician and theologian. Dippel had attempted to construct a new human being out of body parts, virginal blood and esoteric, magical rites. Dippel used the castle's prison as a laboratory to conduct alchemistic experiments, which included attempts to create gold for the Count of Hesse.

The State of the Place & History

While the place has a fascinating past, the castle had long been in a state of dilapidation and was uninhabitable when Shelley first visited the castle in 1816.

The castle's existence was first documented in 1252, and until 1662, the castle was owned by the von Frankenstein clan. Later, the castle was a military prison and a home for military invalids until it was deserted and forgotten after 1742.

With the advent of Romanticism, the castle was rediscovered; and the initial restoration began in 1835. A complete overhaul of the castle has never been accomplished. It is the castle's chapel that has best endured the passage of time, and this small building hosts a rare gem unsurpassed in art history: white alabaster from northern Italy and indigenous red sandstone were modeled into a life-size relief depicting Philip Ludwig of Frankenstein. This work ranks as the only 17th-century tomb that features an illustration of Jesus' baptism in the River Jordan. It is important to note that in the Hesse of the 16th and 17th centuries the depiction of Christ on a tomb was punishable by death.

Besides being the most intact part of the castle, the castle also offers a bit of mystery. According to legend, the tormented spirit of Dippel is known to sit on the chapel roof between Christmas and New Year's Day. Dippel conducts bizarre experiments, clattering around with his bones.

Out of all these eccentricities, Mary Shelley drew the Victor von Frankenstein. Since 1972, the castle has hosted annual Halloween parties to pay homage to the monster of Frankenstein, the student whose god-like ambition was eternalized in a literary milestone.

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