By the time he passed away in 2011, Jack Baker — better known by his stage name Jack Dracula — was covered from head to toe in over 400 tattoos, 27 of which were on his face. He worked both as a tattooist and performer, and during the course of his career, he crossed paths with numerous other captivating people from the past, including tattooists Brooklyn Blackie, Eddie Funk, and Tom Yeomans, as well as Diane Arbus who photographed and wrote about him. He also befriended some of the strangest people to have ever walked the earth, and through living a highly unconventional life, he helped shape the tattoo scene into what it is today.
It wasn’t until after he was discharged from the Navy at the age of 19 that Dracula started collecting body art. “One day while I was in Coney Island, I passed Brooklyn Blackie’s tattoo shop,” Dracula told tattooarchive.com. “On an impulse, I walked in. On another impulse, I got a tattoo. It was a hinge on the inside of my right elbow. As time went on I added to my collection, and in less than a year I had 30 or so tattoos.”
Just two years later, in 1956, while hanging out at the Grecco Brothers shop in Coney Island, he tried his own hand at tattooing, which kicked off his over 50-year stint as a working artist.
Dracula was a person who willed his own self-image into being, indifferent to what the rest of society thought about his radical appearance. In the 1960s having a tattoo that could be easily covered was still considered a pretty major rebellion, having tattoos on your face was completely unheard of. Thus, he faced numerous instances of discrimination for his facial tattoos, but they also enabled him to live a lifestyle that didn’t conform to the mainstream expectations. Dracula clearly didn’t care what others thought of him, he attended showings of Puccini's Turandot at The Capitol Theatre without batting an eye.
Dracula is probably most remembered for his extensive facial tattoos, like the eagle on his forehead and raccoon-like shading around his eyes. He boasted that they were meant to keep gold-digging women away because he was such a handsome guy. He grew so famous for having them that Arbus tracked him down to take a series of photographs for one of her studies on identity. “[There] are...people who appear like metaphors somewhere further out than we do, beckoned, not driven, invented by belief, author and hero of a real dream by which our own courage and cunning are tested and tried,” Arbus wrote in her essay “The Full Circle” for Harper’s Bazaar. “So that we may wonder all over again what is veritable and inevitable and possible and what it is to become whoever we may be.”
Unable to work as a tattooist in NYC due to the tattoo ban, Dracula took to doing sideshow performances at circuses such as Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey. During his long vocation in what were essentially freakshows, he befriended individuals who rivaled his extreme look, including a colleague called “The Man from World War Zero” because of his reptilian skin. "He and I were buddies. We used to go to the Horn & Hardart up the street, and we'd look at people having their dinner and make them sick by looking in the window,” said Dracula in an interview with The Day. “He married an alligator woman. Her brother was an alligator man. Boy, did they used to make out, those alligator people."
Though Dracula is no longer with us, his legacy lives on through all of the amazing photographs of him, several interviews, and even some video footage of him reflecting on his experiences in the tattoo industry throughout the majority of the 20th century. Check out the video above of him talking about working with Arbus back in the day.