Post by Graveyardbride on Oct 21, 2017 13:23:33 GMT -5
New England’s Last Vampire
It may read like a grisly Halloween tale concocted by Bram Stoker, but when vampire hysteria gripped a small New England town in 1892, its residents exhumed the bodies of a family descimated by consumption and ripped the heart out of the corpse of a teenaged girl suspected of being “undead.”
Twenty-four-year-old Edwin A. Brown was wasting away. For the better part of two years, he had grown increasingly thin and weak and by March 1892, as consumption (tuberculosis) ravaged the once strapping young man, he was struggling to breathe and constantly coughing up blood. His father, Gerald T. Brown, had sent his son to Colorado Springs, Colorado, hoping the rarefied air and mineral waters would cure Edwin, but after 18 months, he returned to the Exeter farm in even worse shape than when he left. George Brown could see something was sapping his son’s life, just as it had the lives of his wife, Mary Arnold Brown, in 1883; his 20-year-old daughter, Mary Olive, in 1884; and most recently, his daughter, Mercy Lena Brown, age 19, who had died January 19, 1892. Because the ground was frozen and a grave could not be dug, poor Mercy was confined to the holding tomb at Chestnut Hill Cemetery awaiting burial.
Tuberculosis passed easily and quickly among people living in close quarters, which is the reason it swept through entire families as it did with the Browns. While the disease was common in the sparsely-populated settlement in and around Exeter, what eventually transpired wasn’t. The disease was a mystery and doctors did not know how tuberculosis started, or spread, and thus, had no explanation as to why members of the Brown family were wasting away one-by-one. However, there were friends and neighbors who had heard stories and some wondered if the answer to the question might lie beneath the sod in the nearby graveyard. Was it possible one of the young man’s dead family members was returning from the grave at night and draining his vitality? If this were the case, some argued, what harm was there in trying an old remedy?
Initially, George Brown, discounted the theory, but desperate to save his son, finally agreed to the exhumation of his dead wife and daughters. So, on the afternoon of March 17, 1892, under the direction of Harold Metcalf, M.D., who found the affair odious, the graves of Edwin’s mother and sister Mary where dug into and revealed nothing more than bones. Then the holding tomb, where Mercy’s coffin was awaiting burial, was opened. Dr. Metcalf found the corpse in what he described as a state of natural decomposition. He then reluctantly cut into the girl’s body and removed the heart and liver. Onlookers gasped at the quantities of blood dripping from the organs and though the doctor indicated this wasn’t unusual, the crowd wasn’t convinced.
People proceeded to gather wood and soon a fire was crackling atop a pile of nearby rocks and Mercy’s heart and lungs (or liver) were cremated on the pyre. The ashes from the burned organs were subsequently mixed with liquid and Edwin consumed the vile concoction. But all was in vain, for just five weeks later on May 12, 1892, Edwin Brown succumbed to the same wasting disease that had claimed his mother and sisters.
This was not the first time burning the organs of the dead and mixing the ashes into an elixir to cure the sick had been tried in Rhode Island. In 1799, the townspeople of Exeter exhumed the corpse of Sarah Tillinghast and there were others. Author Diana Ross McCain found 18 documented cases of the exhumation of family members in suspected vampire cases throughout New England in the 18th and 19th centuries, but, so far as is known, Mercy Brown was the last.
After her body was sliced and probed in full view of former friends and neighbors, the heartless corpse of Mercy Brown was buried beside her sister in Chestnut Hill Cemetery, where she rests to this day – or does she? Some say her troubled spirit still haunts the graveyard where she was so brutally violated.
Sources: Christopher Klein, History, October 31, 2014; The Vampire Hunter's Guide to New England by Christopher Rondina; The Providence Journal, March 19 and 21, 1892; and Mysteries and Legends of New England: True Stories of The Unsolved and Unexplained by Diana Ross McCain.
See also “New England Vampires”
“New England Vampires: Rachel Burton - 1793”
“New England Vampires: Abigail Staples - 1796”
“New England Vampires: Nancy Young - 1827”