Awesome Men Throughout History: Johann Conrad Dippel
Happy 2014, everyone! You may have noticed that I took a couple of weeks off to observe Christmas and New Year’s by drinking as much egg nog as my fragile meat body would allow, but now I’m back and ready to continue writing about weirdos for TSB’s fine readership.
I’m kicking off the new year in fine fashion too, as this week’s Awesome Men Throughout History examines controversial theologian/scientist/nutjob Johann Conrad Dippel.
Dippel, who looked like the nerd character in every college road trip movie, was actually born in castle Frankenstein in 1673, and grew up to be a raging iconoclast whose religious beliefs (dissolution of traditional churches and rejection of the Bible as the literal Word of God) got him kicked out of more than a few countries. His critics denounced him as nothing more than a swindling cultist, and his financial woes and seven year prison term for heresy didn’t help his image too much.
But Dippel was more than just the Jim Bakker of his generation. He was also a scientist—well, an alchemist, anyway—who experimented on dead animals and created Dippel’s Oil, a gross mixture of animal bones, blood, and other bodily fluids that he touted as the “elixir of life.” Spoiler alert: it didn’t work.
Dippel also theorized that souls could be transferred from one body into another through a funnel, which is basically a blueprint for some kind of parapsychological beer bong. Luckily, he never got a chance to really test that one, at least not that I know of.
Dippel’s greatest claim to fame is a controversial one. It’s rumored that he was the model for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, based on reports that Shelley visited Darmstadt (the German city where Castle Frankenstein is) and suddenly came up with the idea of an unhinged doctor creating an entirely new person from corpse parts. The fact that Dippel had been accused of grave robbing, experimenting on human cadavers, and practicing Satanism helped lend credibility to the idea that Shelley based Dr. Frankenstein on him, but that idea is still heavily disputed by scholars.
Weirdly, Dippel mistakenly invented Prussian blue pigment when one of his elixirs was repurposed to dye clothes red. They came out blue instead by mistake, in what can only be described as a minor “happy accident.”
Johann Conrad Dippel died of a stroke (or from being poisoned, depending on who you ask) in 1734, after a whirlwind lifestyle of infuriating his colleagues and overestimating himself. But if nothing else, we all know that even if Dippel wasn’t the real inspiration for Frankenstein, it wasn’t for lack of being totally nuts.
About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.