Loren Rhoads is a good friend of mine and just happens to be an aficionado on cemeteries. She’s here today to tell us about the vampire panic of New England.
I knew about the witch panic in Salem, but less familiar to me were the vampires of New England. Rather than Bram Stoker’s vampire, rising from his grave to roam the night, New England’s vampires could prey upon the living while still confined inside their coffins.
There are almost 20 documented cases, beginning even before the American Revolution, of vampires being exhumed in New England. One of the last instances took place in the 1880s.
George and Mary Brown farmed outside the town of Exeter, Rhode Island. Mary Brown was struck by an illness, probably tuberculosis, that drained her vitality. She withered and died in 1883.
The following year, Mary’s eldest daughter, who was called Mary Olive, died at the age of 20.
Several years passed before George and Mary’s son Edwin began to fade. The local physician suggested that Edwin and his wife move to Colorado Springs for his health.
The cold, dry air did seem to help Edwin, but while he was recuperating, his sister Mercy began to fail at home. Edwin rushed home to say goodbye to her. She died in January 1892 at the age of 19.
Since winter had frozen the ground solid, Mercy’s corpse was placed in the receiving crypt at Exeter’s Chestnut Hill Cemetery. Receiving crypts were common in the days before cemeteries developed heating blankets to thaw the winter ground. Old cemeteries often still have these crypts, although nowadays, they are usually used as sheds to store lawnmowers and other grounds-keeping equipment.
Back in the 1890s, Edwin’s health deteriorated after he returned to Rhode Island. George Brown’s neighbors decided Edwin was suffering from Vampire’s Grasp. The only way to save him would be to “perform the folk ritual.”
On March 17, 1892, while George stayed at home, the doctor and George Brown’s neighbors dug up the graves of Mary and Mary Olive. As one would expect after almost a decade in the ground, both women’s corpses were badly decomposed.
Then the mob opened the receiving crypt. When they lifted the lid on Mercy’s coffin, they discovered she had turned sideways. Rather than considering if she had been buried alive — or merely jostled as she was carried to the crypt — the onlookers took her unexpected position as proof she was a vampire.
Other than the body’s movement, Mercy’s body looked as expected. But when the doctor removed her heart and liver, they leaked blood.
The neighbors placed the organs on a rock in the cemetery and set them afire. The ashes were collected up and mixed with liquid to be fed to Edwin. Unfortunately, the remedy didn’t save him. He died six weeks later.
Whether she roamed from her tomb or not beforehand, Mercy now turns up as a ghost in this nondescript little cemetery. Apparently, the blue lights of will o’ the wisps hover close to her grave.
Loren Rhoads is the author of 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die and Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel. She writes about graveyards for the Horror Writers Association and blogs blogs about cemeteries as vacation destinations at cemeterytravel.com.
199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die
Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel