Any Director who plans on a Dracula Dossier campaign probably has a Whitby moment in mind for their game. It's the one place you can guarantee the players will have heard of, it features in most of the traditional Dracula retellings, it's a spooky coastal town - what's not to love?
Here's some interesting Whitby folklore you may not be familiar with.
The Alum Smuggler. Once upon a time in the way-back-when, Pope Pius II (elected 1458) declared the alum trade in the West a papal monopoly and threatened dire punishment for anyone who dared infringe. Whitby infringed, earning itself the mother of all Papal curses.
Alum (potassium aluminum sulphate) is used, among other things, for fixing dyes. Alum is a naturally occurring substance that for many centuries was thought to be unique to Syria, but a clever Italian merchant living in Constantinople and making his fortune from dyes noticed that a certain plant seemed most abundant in areas where alum was found. When that merchant went home he found that same plant growing in Tolfa, near Rome. That merchant died a very rich man, and the Pope found himself a new source of filthy lucre.
Along comes a thieving Englishman, Sir Thomas Chaloner. While visiting the Papal alum-works he realized that the mineral they were processing bore a striking resemblance to a substance he knew for certain could be found near Whitby. However Sir Thomas lacked the know-how to put his information to good use. Skilled craftsmen were needed, and the Pope jealously guarded his workers.
Sir Thomas came up with a plan.
He stuffed three workers' pockets with cash and promised much more if they'd come to England. Once he had them he found a ship bound for England and loaded up his cargo - large barrels, three of which were much heavier than the rest. Presumably once he was safely at sea he let his new employees out of their confinement. It would have been a very long trip for them otherwise.
Legend has it that when the Pope realized what had happened and that his lovely monopoly was about to go up in smoke, he issued a curse so detailed, so vile, so thorough in every respect that it defies reproduction. The curse of Ernulphus (Tristram Shandy, book III ch XI) is said to be an approximation.
Just a taster:
May he be cursed inwardly and outwardly!———May he be cursed in the hair of his head!——May he be cursed in his brains, and in his vertex” (that is a sad curse, quoth my father), “in his temples, in his forehead, in his ears, in his eye-brows, in his cheeks, in his jaw-bones, in his nostrils, in his fore-teeth and grinders, in his lips, in his throat, in his shoulders, in his wrists, in his arms, in his hands, in his fingers!
May he be damn’d in his mouth, in his breast, in his heart and purtenance, down to the very stomach!
May he be cursed in his reins, and in his groin” (God in heaven forbid! quoth my uncle Toby), “in his thighs, in his genitals” (my father shook his head), “and in his hips, and in his knees, his legs, and feet, and toe-nails!
It was so utterly abhorrent that, when a folklorist tried to get it typed up for a book he was writing in 1923, the typing school's headmaster promptly flung it back as far too outrageous for his female typists to gaze upon, never mind type up.
History does not record whether Sir Thomas exploded, but Whitby made a ton of money from the alum trade.
From Funk & Wagnall's Dictionary of Folklore:
Curse: a malediction; the wishing of evil upon a person; also, the effect of such wishing, and, loosely, any persistent evil. ... A curse invokes a power - divine, demonic or magical - against which the person cursed has no defense, unless he in some manner propitiates the power or brings to bear against it a stronger power. The curse is dangerous; it must alight, even after seven years ... it may affect later generations ... or, if laid upon an ancestor, all the relations of the person accursed. It may however return upon the head of the curser, or if sufficiently strong injure both curser and victim, or anyone who hears it. Some curses, a father's or the curse of the dying, are more potent than others ... curses are thus a kind of spoken magic, spells of evil wished upon others. With the loss of belief in the efficacy of magic, curses become either blasphemy - the fruitless and irreverent invocation of the gods - or a meaningless ritual unless performed by the divine being himself, since man cannot force his will upon the gods.
Man can't. On the other hand, the Pope might.
Warm: You get a familiar thrill as you arrive in Whitby. It’s the starting gun, the gear shift from observation into action ... yet at night dread overcomes thrill and you begin to wonder what's hiding in the shadows. Why did Dracula come to Whitby? Was it Edom's trickery, or did Dracula know something you don't?
The Curse abides, and waits its moment. There are reasons why Whitby is economically stagnant, why so many here live on the poverty line, dependent on benefits; why the young leave, and the elderly die alone in cold beds. A casual visitor will not notice, but people living there can smell Whitby's decay, like an unburied corpse in a ditch, denied last sacrament. This is why rats fattened on blasphemy chatter to themselves in the basement of Billington & Sons, why evil creatures are drawn like moths to a flame, why the Madman howls in the graveyard, and unclaimed, bloodless corpses are found washed up by Whitby's tides. Nobody's been able to overcome the Curse; it is Whitby's despair and ruin.
Except Dracula, trained at the Scholomance, thinks he's found a way.
Not that he wants to reverse it for Whitby's benefit, o no. Dracula knows a curse can be turned against its sender, and the Prince of Darkness has enemies in the Vatican - the Enigmatic Monsignor for one - he would very much like to smite. A Papal curse can be turned against the Papacy. Dracula would love to see that happen.
The Satanic Cult is tasked with, among other things, making sure that it happens.
The Harbour Watcher Family-owned transient hotel (page 257, main book). The Hesps (John, Judith, daughter Sarah and her partner Emily Poor) own and operate this very low-end lodging house. Foreigners often stay there for a night or two, economic migrants trafficked in only to be shuffled off somewhere else. The Hesps distrust strangers asking questions. Their role is to prepare the ground for the ritual to come, and to that end they conduct rituals and sacrifice in the quiet hours, incinerating their victims in the hotel's basement furnace.