It might not be October yet (but it’s close!) and we may still be a few weeks away from Halloween- but that doesn’t mean I can’t discover/visit and share some of the more creepy, macabre things around the Northeast. Along with being undeniably beautiful and picturesque- New England is also reportedly one of the most haunted places in the country. We were home to the early colonies, some of the most notorious state hospitals of the late 1800s/early 1900s- and have had our fair share of grizzly, unsolved crimes and freak accidents over the centuries.
Our hillsides are lined with old, unkempt cemeteries, monuments and memorials- and some of them have some truly unusual and even disturbing stories behind them.
For example, earlier this week I made a little back road trip to Exeter, Rhode Island to pay my respects to Mercy Brown- known as “New England’s Last Vampire”- and rumored to be one of the sources of inspiration for Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.”
In January of 1892, following in the same footsteps as her mother and older sister before her – Mercy Lena Brown contracted a mystery illness that ultimately resulted in her death at only 19 years old. When her brother, Edwin- also began to show symptoms of the same ailment- his father and the residents of Exeter started to panic. In the late 1800s, it was rumored that if multiple members of the same family were to die unexpectedly- it was the result of the supernatural and, more specifically- the result of one of their dearly departed “feeding” on the living from the afterlife.
George Brown, desperate not to lose his son, and with the urging of the townspeople- exhumed the bodies of his wife and oldest daughter to check for signs of vampirism. Mercy, who was being kept in a nearby crypt until the ground thawed enough from the frigid New England Winter for her to be buried properly in the family plot- would also be examined.
While Mercy’s mother and sister had long since decomposed- Mercy’s body was in surprisingly good condition. This was, of course- because she had been essentially resting in what could only be compared to a walk-in freezer- but people in 1892 were just a little crazy and paranoid.
George and the townspeople assumed Mercy was a vampire who had been feeding on her brother and did the only logical thing they could think of. They cut out her heart and her liver, burned them- added a little bit of water to the ashes- and made Edwin drink it in order to cure him of the mystery illness that had plagued his family.
This didn’t work, of course. Edwin died two months later from what was determined to be tuberculosis- the same “mystery” disease that had also killed his mother and two sisters and which ran rampant throughout New England during that time.
What was left of Mercy’s body was buried in Chestnut Hill Cemetery. Visitors often bring flowers, gifts, and small mementos. The crypt where she’d originally been stored prior to the desecration of her body is across the way- hidden by overgrown branches and trees. The door to it has been ripped off it’s hinges- which was a little unnerving to see during my stay.
Mercy is apparently not the only “vampire” buried in this cemetery- as New England had a way of creating hysteria over the supernatural (see: Salem) and exhuming/desecrating bodies that people felt had been afflicted by vampirism was fairly common for a period of time.
I’m just so grateful for science and medicine when I really stop and think about the whole thing.