Throughout the ages, vampires have lurked in the dark corners of the world and our imaginations, waiting for helpless victims to prey upon in the night. While these creatures are no doubt restricted to exist in the darker realms of our dark imaginations, cultures across the globe have documented many a varied lore about vampires.
Different regions of the earth supply their own descriptions of appearance, habits and ways to kill a vampire, however, one trait remains constant: the need for vampires to feed on another creature to sustain themselves. Some eat flesh (dead or living), some drink blood while others feed from a human being‘s aura energy.
The sustenance that vampires in New England folklore preferred was “life force” or aura energy and often the night time intruder was a recently deceased family member. Accounts from different states in New England during the early times of our countries beginnings and right up until the early part of the 20th century there exists disturbing tales of the undead, returning in the night to feed from their living relatives and neighbors.
New England vampire lore tells of a different method for dispatching the un-dead than what movie makers have sensationalized. To kill a vampire one had to find the vampire, dig it up, remove the heart or other internal organs and burn them. Another step may be blessing the grave site and sprinkling the body with holly water then re admitting the body face down in the grave. There are accounts of even cremating entire corpses to assure the vampire was unable to ever return to finish off their victims. While this may be a bit strange, the cure for a vampire victim was even more bizarre. Concoctions to heal victims, were made from the ashes of the vampires burned heart mixed with herbs and holy water. The afflicted person would then orally consume the mixture. Sometimes the remedy worked or appeared to work and sometimes it didn’t.
A prime example of this antiquated allegory is exhibited in the case of Mercy Brown. Mercy’s legend starts with the death of her mother, Mary Eliza in 1883 from tuberculosis. Then only a few short months later the oldest daughter Mary Olive Brown fell to the illness. The family seemed to escape devastation until some eight years later. Mercy became sick and then younger brother Edwin became ill. In desperation Mr. Brown sent his son away to Colorado in hopes the change of climate would some how cause relief in his son’s condition. The effort was in vain; with his health failing Edwin was summoned home. Shortly after Edwin’s return Mercy died and Edwin’s health began to take a dreadful turn for the worse. Mr. Brown searching for a cure and apparently at the urging of his neighbors he (fearing a vampire was the cause of Edwin’s condition worsening so rapidly) ordered the exhumation of the deceased family members. A doctor Metcalf the county coroner was present along with grave diggers and a priest. The bodies of Mary Eliza, Mary Olive and Mercy were unearthed and brought back under the sun’s rays for examination. The mother and eldest daughter showed significant signs of decomposition, while Mercy looked flush, as if she were merely sleeping. Subsequently Mercy was labeled a vampire and her heart and liver were removed. As was the customary way to destroy a vampire, Mercy’s organs were then burned to ash upon a stone. A healing tincture was then made from the ashes and given to Edwin. But the illness had already taken too much from him and he died soon after. There is a published article about this incident in a 1882 issue of the Providence Journal.
The Brown family is not the only case in New England for anyone interested in vampires. Some other instances while not so infamous are none the less documented. Below are two more cases for you to wet your appetite for vampire legends.
Nancy Young the eldest daughter of Capt Levi Young, died of tuberculosis on April 6th 1827 in the town of Foster CT. After other family members took ill, Capt Young suspected Nancy to be a vampire. Her body was exhumed and burned in entirety while the family stood about and breathed in the smoke. The effort brought no relief. All but the youngest daughter succumbed to the disease.
Snuffy Stuke (not sure of the town or state of residence) was a well liked and prominent man who fathered 14 children. The legend of this family states that one evening Mr. Stuke awoke from a terrible dream where half of his orchard wasted away. Suspecting some significance but unaware of just what it was, Mr. Stuke pondered the meaning, but failed to come to a significant definition. The dreams hidden meaning taunted him, but he didn’t have to wait long for the relevance to show itself. One of his daughters Sarah, became ill and died. Soon after a second daughter became sick, but with a odd symptom not prevalent with the first daughter’s illness. The second child complained that Sarah visited her during the night. One by one Mr. Stukes children were dying off and all were giving chilling accounts of how “Sarah was coming to them” and sitting on them causing pain. After the sixth of his offspring died Mr. Stukes exhumed the body of Sarah. A description of her corpse’s condition stated that her hair and nails had grown while in the grave. And her physical appearance resembled a human being still full of life. Subsequently her heart was removed and burned upon a consecrated rock. But before the story ends a son who was ill at the time succumbed to his illness, bringing the death toll to seven of the Stukes children. Exactly half of his offspring or as the dream may have for told his orchard. Remarkably the rest of the children were spared.
While today the paradigm has shifted away from superstitions and has predominantly embraced science, there are still those who hold a profound belief in the walking dead. But to the dismay of believers, recently proof has risen that at least these particular vampire victims suffered from a disease that is and was even at that time recognizable by physicians. The culprit is known as tuberculosis. A lung disease that is extremely contagious by inhalation or contact with mucus. The microscopic killer was running rampant in New England and all over the country up until the 1950’s, when a effective antibiotic treatment was developed.
Does tuberculosis explain every claim of a vampire in the north east-or explain away every experience, sighting or oratory account? I would have to say emphatically, no! But for these cases I would say, yes.