Natchez, Miss. - The first vampire I ever met lived in Natchez.
Natchez is one of the oldest towns on the Mississippi River—settlers were there in the 1600s. And when you look at it on a map, it’s as if the river actually bends toward the town, as if Natchez has this mysterious magnetic pull. It’s a town full of transients—Mark Twain slept there. It’s a town full of characters. I was there to find those people: to write a story about the most interesting locals.
Everyone said, “You have to meet Buzz Harper.”
Buzz was a tall man. Stood way over 6 feet. He had long silver hair pulled back into a pony tail. He was extravagant. He drove a Rolls Royce. Wore fur coats.
And usually, after people described Buzz to me, they would look around, lean in, and whisper that they believed Buzz Harper was a vampire.
I know this sounds crazy. But let me tell you a little more about Buzz.
For starters, Buzz was well into his 70s, but he looked young. Like a-man-in-his-50s young.
Before he settled in Natchez, Buzz lived in New Orleans for 20 years. He was a big-time antiques dealer. He had a home in the Garden District. And his next door neighbor and close friend was Anne Rice. Yes, Interview with the Vampire Anne Rice.
Buzz owned an antiques shop in Natchez, and I was told that about 10 years ago, his business partner bought an antique vampire killing kit from the 1800s. It had a wooden stake, a mallet, a crucifix, a vessel for holy water and a box to hold garlic. They had it on display. But it was never for sale.
Buzz was very social and attended all the big Natchez dinner parties. When the menu featured steak, he sent word back to the kitchen that he wanted his meat temperature raw. Not rare. Not seared. I’m talking straight out of the fridge cold and sprinkled with a little salt and pepper.
I finally met Buzz. We sat in the parlor of his immaculately decorated antebellum home. He was wearing a cream-colored three-piece suit with a yellow bowtie. He wore giant emerald rings on both hands.
I asked him about the fact that he was still so active in the community…that he seemed to always be lots of places at once.
He looked me dead in the eyes and said, “Tanner, I’m a vampire.”
I don’t know how I kept my cool, but I did. And all I could do was listen.
He kept on talking, he said, “I’ve always surrounded myself with young, talented people. And I’ve fed off of them.” He said, “I’ve taken their energy and made it my own.”
I got word later that Buzz passed away. Some kind of cancer finally got him. But when I started calling around to hear about the service, all anyone could say was that it was modest.
“Just a memorial service,” they said. “Buzz wasn’t there.”
“Nah, he was cremated. We never saw a body.”