|VR Publish Date:
|Jun 09 2007
“She is a Vampire! I say we have to cut her heart from her chest and burn it. It is the only way to protect the rest of her family.”
These words rang off and on throughout the late 17th century on into the early 19th century in many New England states. Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Maine all have recordings of “vampires” being dug up from cemeteries and their hearts (and other internal organs) burned.
During the 17th century, many immigrants were coming from England and bringing their myths, legends and beliefs about the supernatural. There was a severe lack of education about things unrelated to the Bible. This was the time of the Puritans. If it was misunderstood, it must be evil. It was also the “burning time” when it was believed that ailments and bad luck were brought on by witchcraft. Many innocent women were charged with being witches and suffered innumerable embarrassments, punishments, and even death.
The 18th century brought more immigrants with more stories from other countries and still a lack of education about medicines and how diseases worked. Consumption and tuberculosis (t.b.) were very prevalent during this time period. Poor housing materials, cold, drafty homes, no understanding of bacteria or how it was transferred, and a belief in “bleeding” with leeches for almost every ailment were common in this era. It was not until 1882 that tubercle bacillus (t.b.) was even discovered.
Once someone in the family acquired consumption, it often ran rampant through the rest of the family members. This led to entire families being wiped out. The “vampire” part was because they did not understand the illness. Many of the families and people in the communities were influenced by their superstitions and religious backgrounds. They felt that when the first member of the family died, he or she often fed off the other members of the family. Ill family members would often dream of the deceased sitting on their chest and it was felt that the rest of the family wasted away because the corpse or vampire was supposedly sucking off the living’s life force for nourishment.
In most cases, the digging up of the corpse led to mutilation of the body and burning the heart but occasionally they included other internal organs such as lungs and liver. The belief was also held that once the body parts had been burned to ash, they should be mixed in a drink and given to the other sick members of the family to break the hold of the vampire. One such incident in particular was in the documentation related to the case of Mercy Brown who died at the age of 19. When her body was inspected after being dead two months, her heart was “juicy, fresh and uncorrupted”. Her burned heart “ashes were mixed in medicinal brew and fed to her ill brother Edwin, who died anyway, two months later.”
Of the New England states, Rhode Island seemed to have the most “vampires” and is today known as the “Vampire Capitol of the United States”. But who were the vampires?
There are several that came to light in my research Sarah Tillinghast; Nancy Young; Frederick Ransom; Juliet Rose; Ray Family Vampires; Mercy Brown; Rachel Harris; Woodstock Vampire; Spaulding Family Vampires; and Walton Family Cemetery. What is particularly interesting is that several of these “vampires” lived along the same road, “Vampire Road”, which is commonly known today as Route 102 in Rhode Island.
Today you can travel down Vampire Road and visit several of the cemeteries where the “vampires” were buried. In particular you can visit the grave of Nellie L. Vaughn; Daughter of George B. and Ellen; Died in her 19th year, May 1889. I did not include her above as the initial documentation seemed to indicate that it might have been a case of mistaken identity. Yet, there have been stories since that tell about her ghost still walking the cemetery grounds telling people that, “Nellie is not a vampire.” This might have been plausible except for what is inscribed at the bottom of her headstone, "I am waiting and watching for you."
So if you decide to visit the Vampire Capital of the United States and travel down Vampire Road be sure to look for Nellie. After all, she is …….waiting and watching for you.
Vampires: A Field Guide to the Creatures that Stalk the Night. Dr. Bob Curan. New Page Books, NJ. 2005.
The Encyclopedia of Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Monsters. Rosemary Ellen Guiley. Check Mark Books, NY. 2005.