Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan
I always figured the only vampires in the US were in New Orleans, neatly interred — at least in daylight — between the pages of Ann Rice’s books.
But not so.
There was a real live, er, undead one in Rhode Island, with a really eerie grave where no grass grows and the tomb stone “must be anchored down by a steel post.” Or so goes the story. Coins, shells, rocks, even printed prayers, have been left there as gifts for 19 year-old Mercy Lena Brown.
Mercy died in the deep winter of 1892 and her body was stored in an above-ground tomb until the ground thawed enough to bury her. When suspicions of vampires arose, Mercy’s body and those of her also recently deceased mother and sister were exhumed. The decayed condition of the other two bodies was enough to acquit them. But Mercy’s, having lain only two months in the freezing, above-ground tomb, was in perfect condition. It was reported, in fact, that she still had fresh blood in her veins. Proof positive that she was “feeding off the living.” So they cut out her heart and burned it on a stone.
In another instance, the body of a 50 year old man, buried around 1830 in Connecticut, was “completely rearranged” some time after death. The skeleton was beheaded, the ribs fractured, and the head laid on the chest with the thigh bones crossed beneath it as on a pirate flag.
And they weren’t the only ones. Rhode Island Folklorist Michael Bell has exhumed some 80 “questionable” burials, some from as early as the late 1700’s or as far west as Minnesota, but primarily in backwoods New England in the1800’s. He suspects there are many more.
Stone crypt, Chestnut Hill Cemetery, Exeter, RI, where Mercy’s remains may have been kept the winter of 1892.
But what raised such powerful suspicions among the good people of New England?
Turns out, the one linking factor among all the known disturbed burials is that they occurred around the time of virulent outbreaks of consumption (tuberculosis.)
People falling ill without explanation? Wasting away till death claimed them?
What would you think?.
P.S. It’s been suggested that one Bram Stoker, traveling in the United States with a theater company the same year as Mercy Lena Brown’s exhumation, may have taken note: Lena + Mercy = Lucy??? And a doctor attending at her exhumation as with Miss Brown’s?
P.P.S. H.P Lovecraft specifically mentions Mercy’s exhumation in “The Shunned House,” and includes a living character named Mercy.
Extensive analysis and commentary here:
The Great New England Vampire Panic, Smithsonian, October 2012
mystery of Rhode Island’s vampire revealed