Along with all my other quirks and unique aspirations I am working towards a doctorate in American History. The real history of America is not something read in textbooks and vampires are a part of it.
Often it’s hidden from sight. The victors write history; the ugliness washed away. I found this tidbit of history and I thought my vampire fans out there might enjoy.
In the early years of American history, New England was full of superstitions about the supernatural. The church spread fears of evil which lead to the witch trials so famously diluted in our history books. Vampires were rumored to roam New England’ rural communities by night with reports documented as early as 1793.
However early settlers and young Americans had just come from war with England, and there was no need to fear vampires. People held heart burning ceremonies when finding vampires graves. Sometimes by the family of the undead as they took responsibility.
Another Type of Woodstock
In many cases, it was a festival of sorts. In Woodstock Vermont, they held one such burning in the dead of February. Smithsonian historians reported the journal of Timothy Meade reported the event adding that there was good sleighing to be had and suggesting that these burnings were a time for celebration.
To burn the heart, however, exhumation had to occur. There are over a hundred cases between 1793 and 1892 of exhumation and heartburning ceremonies in New England states. Essayist and Philosopher Henry David Thoreau wrote about an exhumation in his journal suggesting a vampire might have been in his family.
In 1854 in the small town of Jewett City, Connecticut the Great New England Vampire Panic came to a head. A large farming family in the small town began to die from the illness seemingly, one member of the family after another. Struck down all by the same life-sucking illness. Today we know it was Tuberculous.
Fifty members of the family, including in-laws, died. It was the families believe that the undead cursed them as each member of the family feels their hearts for “safety sake” and the family members buried in unmarked graves. Now the family did this to each other; it wasn’t the community that left their souls to wander. When the family was out of blood relatives, the illness seemed to stop and the curse lifted.
Declared A Vampire
In 1892 Mercy Brown was one of the last to suffer the panic. Her mother dying at a young age her oldest sister and brother soon followed. Mercy, her father, and one older brother lived for several years without illness, and then the brother became ill. He moved away trying to find relief. It was shortly after that that Mercy too became ill.
She passed away before her brother, upon his return the people of their small community begged Mr. Brown to open the coffins of the dead family members. A local priest believed that there would be fresh blood in the heart of a vampire.
Mercy just a few months dead and having died in the winter was still nearly perfectly preserved. She was declared a vampire. Her heart removed and burnt. Two months later her brother passed away. So many the vampire was the father? Hmmm.
New England folklorist believes that many of these types of stories can be explained through medical science today. However, a few believe that vampires do exist and that they have done an excellent job at keeping themselves hidden leaving the idea that these stories, newspaper articles, and journal entries might be more fact than myth. Also, more history then folklore.