After eating a bowl of chocolate ice cream, tattoo legend and legendary tattooed man, Jack Dracula, passed away.
I consider myself lucky to have known him and called him my friend.
This is not a traditional eulogy, just my memories of how we met and got to know each other.
The first time I ever saw Jack, I was a relatively new tattoo artist. I was at a tattoo convention in Philadelphia, and came around a corner when I suddenly found myself face to face with him. He was sitting on a stool in a corner, just behind a doorway, with a stack of 8x10s he was autographing and selling. I, of course, immediately knew who he was, but I was so taken by surprise to be standing in front of him, and honestly a little intimidated to be a neophyte in the presence of a legend, that I didn’t say anything to him. I just gasped a little and walked away.
Years later I discovered that not only was he living in a nursing home in my neighborhood, but that he lived literally 3 blocks away from me.
I determined immediately that I would not repeat my past mistake and miss out on the opportunity to meet him. I felt it would just be outright disrespectful to NOT go by and introduce myself and say hi.
A few days later, shortly before his birthday (which is Christmas day) I trudged through a couple feet of snow over top of sinisterly slick ice, and went to visit him- completely unannounced, and not at all sure if he was receptive to visits from strangers.
My main obstacle to my first visit was that I had no idea what his real name was! Surely it wasn’t Mr. Dracula. He’s been known to go by many names- Barcelona Jack, Prince Dracula, “The Marked Man”, even Pollock Eddie… So I just asked the nurse at the reception desk if I could see Jack Dracula, the Tattooed Man.
“Dracula? Is that Mr. Baker’s circus name or something?” she asked.
Sure enough, his real name was Jack Baker, and when she called his room and told him I was there to visit him, he told her to send me back.
He was a very nice old dude. Though he was not looking in the best of shape, he seemed in good spirits. Even confined to a bed with both legs amputated below the knees, and swollen to enormous proportions, he was vibrant and full of life.
I couldn't stay real long that day- I was just happy to learn that both he and the nursing home were cool with having random strangers stop in to say hi. I felt lucky that I got hang out and shoot the shit with him for a while. He told me all about his great romance with Lillian, a married woman, and his time with Hubert's Side Show Museum, and of the peculiar fact that even though he had worked for Ringling Brother’s, he had never been to Florida.
He asked me to stop by again, "when you can sit and stay a while", and to bring some of my flash and pictures of tattoos and stuff. Delighted by the prospect, I asked him if there was anything he needed that I could bring him. “Double cheeseburgers from McDonalds- the ones on the dollar menu. The food here is terrible.”
Probably not the best thing for a man of his health to eat, but WTF, if that’s what will make him happy, who am I to deny him. I also noted that he had a big box of Cheese Nips propped near his bed, and decided to re-up him on those, too.
He told me to bring a camera, too (I actually had one with me, but didn't want to appear too presumptuous...)
A couple days later I stopped back. I brought my older son with me because he didn't believe that Jack Dracula was a real person.
We had a nice chat, talked about Sailor Eddie, Philadelphia Eddie, Sunny Tufts and a bunch of other old Philly artists. Talked about dense customers and kids today with no respect for history...
The double cheeseburgers were most appreciated, and he said he liked my flash- that I have a unique style. After the first 2 pages he said, "I like it, but I wouldn't get any of this stuff..." then the 3rd page was more old school pork chop stuff and he said, "AH- that's the kind of stuff I'd get!" It made me smile.
This set the stage for a number of subsequent visits, always with a bag of McDonalds in my hand, in which we would talk about whatever was on his mind, from books he was reading, to opera, to tattooers around the country who have sent him cards and paintings out of the blue, to gourmet cooking and fine wines. Usually he did most of the talking, and I was always more than happy to just sit and listen.
One of my favorite stories he told me was after I had taken my son on a tour of the USS Olympia- a gorgeous old Naval Cruiser that had fought in the Spanish-American war.
Jack was a former Navy man himself, and told me about the time he toured that ship. He was fortunate enough to have a guided tour, given by the last surviving crew member who had seen active duty aboard the Olympia. Absolutely amazing.
One day a neighbor of mine, who was a lawyer, stopped me on the street and said she wanted to thank me for what I was doing with Jack. I was very confused- first off by what she was even talking about, and more so by how the heck she would even know Jack.
Apparently she was in a church group that spent time with folks in nursing homes, and had known him for years. She said the last few times she had seen him, he spent most of his time talking about me, and my son, and had shown her the photo of him and my boy together that we framed and gave him. According to her, we were a real bright spot in his life.
This made me happy on a number of levels- one, because I really liked him a lot too, but also because I sort of felt guilty about hanging around- like I was just taking from him selfishly, and not giving anything in return except hamburgers. I was happy to learn that wasn’t the case.
When I eventually moved away fro Philadelphia I still sent him letters occasionally, though he never wrote back. I deeply regret not going to see him one final time before he passed.
You will always be remembered, Jack. Rest in peace.