Johann Conrad Dippel: The original Frankenstein

Johann Conrad DippelJohann Conrad Dippel was such a mad scientist that he was actually born in castle Frankenstein in 1673, a place near Darmstadt, Germany. His life is shrouded in mystery and legend and he is said to be the model for Mary Shelley's novel "Frankenstein", though that idea remains controversial.

He studied theology, philosophy and alchemy at the University of Giessen and obtained a master's degree in theology in 1693. He published many theological works under the name Christianus Democritus; most of them are still preserved. He led a very adventurous life, and often got into trouble because of his disputed opinions (and because of money). At one point he was imprisoned for heresy.

Educated as a physician, Dippel set up a laboratory at Castle Frankenstein near Darmstadt, Germany where he would be free to conduct his bizarre experiments. There's no record of whether or not he had a hunchbacked assistant named Igor, but Dippel (who often went by the name Konrad Frankensteina) spent a lot of his time with his hobby of alchemy - a popular pursuit of the day.

Alchemy is a kind pseudoscientific experimentation with the elements - crazy chemistry - whose ultimate challenge was to be able to turn lead into gold. Like Victor Frankenstein, Dippel was also fascinated by the possibility of immortality through scientific means. It is rumored that he used the parts of butchered animals and exhumed human corpses in his vain attempt to "engender life in the dead," in his own words. It is said that he also tried his hand at moving the soul from one corpse to another, possibly with a funnel, a hose and a lot of lubricant. It should be noted that this particular experiment was only rumored to have happened, but he did perform gruesome experiments that eventually caused him to be driven out of town—when word of his activities reached the ears of townspeople he was thrown out.

He created animal oil made of bones, blood and various other animal products, known as Dippel's Oil that was supposed to be the equivalent to the alchemists' dream of the "elixir of life."

In 1704 in Berlin, he and the manufacturer Heinrich Diesbach used this oil instead of potassium carbonate in producing red dyes. To their surprise, they obtained a blue dye "Berliner Blau", also called "Preussisch Blau" or "Prussian blue". Together they founded a factory in Paris.

He died at Wittgenstein Castle near Bad Laasphe, probably from a stroke, though some contemporaries suspected poisoning.

It is still debated how much influence his life had on the creation of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein". Although Shelley is known to have visited Castle Frankenstein, it can't be documented how much, if any, research she did about Dippel's life and career...