That Time There Was A Vampire Pandemic In The U.S.

March 9, 2021

Written by Capt McNeely

Georgia Division ZADF Twitter: @ZADF_ORG

2020 and the infant months of 2021 have been full of somewhat interesting theories when it comes to the Covid-19 pandemic ranging from scholarly discoveries to claims made by keyboard conspiracy theorists. Though a lot of what we see and hear from the strangest corners of the internet fails in comparison to the rumblings coming out of New England in the 19th century.
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As you may have guessed (from the title) New Englanders believed that there was a Vampire problem plaguing the region. Over time there have been cases popping up all over the New England region of the U.S. where many families have been nearly wiped out by mysterious illnesses leading many within the communities to look towards the supernatural for answers as to how or why bad luck would befall an entire household. The common answer, one of the family members was a Vampire.

R. deMoraine’s 1864 lithograph “The Vampire”

People came to this conclusion because of how the house members died. In most cases it was described that family members of a recently departed family member would begin to literally waste away as if their life was being sucked out of them, others would say that someone was fine one day and a couple of days later they would be dead. These events would lead family members as well as members of the communities this occurred in to request relatives who have died recently to be exhumed for examination and potential “disposal”.

A Satirical ad in the Boston Globe mocking rural Rhode Islanders in 1896

One case that was considered to be the most well-documented case during what became known as the “New England Vampire Panic” was the case involving 19-year-old Mercy Brown. In Rhode Island, the Brown family began to suffer a series of misfortune when the mother of the family Mary died of Tuberculosis in which the eldest daughter Mary Olive died sometime later in 1886 from the same disease. In 1891 Mary’s other daughter Mercy and son Edwin both contracted Tuberculosis in which Mercy died leaving Edwin fighting for his life.

This was too much for neighbors to handle and became convinced there was something otherworldly at work and persuaded the husband and father George to have the bodies of his wife Mary and daughters Mary Olive and Mercy exhumed. On March 17, 1892, the bodies were exhumed, Mary and Mary Olive showed signs of normal decomposition but locals were shocked that Mercy showed no signs of decomposition, further investigation proved that her heart still had blood in it. To the locals, this was evidence that Mercy was a vampire and in order to save Edwin, her heart and liver must be burned. With the ashes of Mercy’s heart and liver mixed with water, it was given to Edwin to drink in order to save him from both the disease and the vampiric influence of his sister, the lad only survived for two more months before the illness took him.
The reason for Mercy Brown’s undead-like appearance and the presence of blood in her heart comes down to her body simply being put on ice before her burial slowing the process and slightly preserving her. Her case was the last known public one during the vampire panic and the most informative one as it showed a connection to all the other vampire cases throughout the years in the region along with other cases around the world, the misunderstanding of Tuberculosis (which was called Consumption at the time). The disease was mysterious as efforts over the years made by science and medicine were aimed to combat the disease instead of prevention, a vaccine for it was not made till 1921 after more research into the disease was made.

the above-ground vault where Mercy Brown’s remains were stored before burial.

The Mercy Brown incident had one more bit of mystery with it though. Many believe that Mercy inspired the character Lucy Westenra in Bram Stoker’s story Dracula, as well as being mentioned in H.P. Lovecraft’s short story The Shunned House about toxic fungus growing in a basement of an old house where a vampire-like creature dwells in the soil.

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