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Friday, September 28, 2012

37

Vampires of New England

Often these rituals were clandestine, lantern-lit affairs. But, particularly in Vermont, they could be quite public, even festive. One vampire heart was reportedly torched on the Woodstock, Vermont, town green in 1830. In Manchester, hundreds of people flocked to a 1793 heart-burning ceremony at a blacksmith’s forge: “Timothy Mead officiated at the altar in the sacrifice to the Demon Vampire who it was believed was still sucking the blood of the then living wife of Captain Burton,” an early town history says. “It was the month of February and good sleighing.”

Smithsonian magazine has a long and fascinating article on "The Great New England Vampire Panic" of the 19th century, and it includes mention of an almost suspiciously svelte folklorist who's "devoted much of the previous decade to studying New England vampire exhumations" (!), as well as the story of a 19th-century vampire named Lena — whose quilt, if you make it to the end, is pictured here.

[Thanks, Abby!]



37 Comments / Post A Comment

The Lady of Shalott

Everyone, read this article! It's very interesting and well-written and it makes me feel bad for Lena, poor woman.

SarahP

@The Lady of Shalott I feel bad for Lena's brother! Lena was already dead and gone, but he had to eat her heart-ashes @_@

baked bean

@SarahP God yeah, grossssss.

vittoriama

I love this omg@v

Scandyhoovian

Oh, this is faaaaascinating. I love this kind of weird history!

Ophelia

Also, how did I grow up in New England, spend my youth obsessed with creepy stuff (thanks, John Bellairs, for being THE BEST), and NEVER KNOW ABOUT THIS? I suppose, in MA, it's just all witches, all the time.

Ophelia

@Ophelia Also, oh my god, this sentence is so, so perfect in describing New England: "Headquartered in a charming old schoolhouse, the Middletown Historical Society typically promotes such fortifying topics as Rhode Island gristmill restoration and Stone Wall Appreciation Day."

Veronica Mars is smarter than me

@Ophelia I also love this sentence in the context of VAMPIRES! “It was the month of February and good sleighing.”

narwhalsandwich

@Ophelia I'd never heard about it, either!

And this was my favorite part: “'Timothy Mead officiated at the altar in the sacrifice to the Demon Vampire who it was believed was still sucking the blood of the then living wife of Captain Burton,' an early town history says. 'It was the month of February and good sleighing.'”

narwhalsandwich

@Veronica Mars is smarter than me ha ha, oops! well it WAS the best part.

Ophelia

@narwhalsandwich @Veronica Mars is smarter than me YES! "Well, it looks like things have gone to shit, but the sledding's pretty good this year."

Daisy Razor

@Ophelia Same for me and I had never heard of any of it before History Detectives did a piece on it. My jaw, it dropped.

SarahP

@Ophelia I was shocked I've never heard of it, too! But they do point out it's all in backwoodsy communities, so I guess the news never spread far...?

SarahP

@SarahP OH WAIT, just got to where they said the news "spread around the world." Huh!

Blackwatch Plaid

@Ophelia <3 u New England!

Veronica Mars is smarter than me

I read "We'll turn him off when you start talking" (bottom of page 1) as like, some sort of threat/torture tactic. Then I figured it out.

Veronica Mars is smarter than me

@Veronica Mars is smarter than me
Squick warning! “The heart and liver were removed, and in cutting open the heart, clotted and decomposed blood was found.”

CinnamonSwirls

@Veronica Mars is smarter than me I think eating the ashes is worse... did they make it into a tea? or would it be like eating cinnamon?

Veronica Mars is smarter than me

@What a Pill LIKE EATING CINNAMON OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD NOOOOOOO
Sprinkle it on top of a cake, like powdered sugar? (This is a terrible conversation)

Megasus

How is this not a movie already!? Either a period piece or about when they found some of the "vampire bones" and dug them up and then PEOPLE START DYING.
Also, I'd never heard of this either!

Dancercise

More like good slaying, amiright?

Veronica Mars is smarter than me

@Dancercise I wish I had more likes for this.

Es
Es

Fantastic article, and now I'm going to waste the rest of the day puttering round the Smithsonian site.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

I read this the other day on Longform, and it made me think of the theory that the idea of vampires and werewolves was heightened by serial killers centuries ago; they would brutally kill and dismember their victims and then the town would be all, "Shit, that had to have been a monster!" and they would have been right, in a sense.

I'm not sure if it's a real theory since I can't remember where I heard it.

RK Fire

@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose: I don't know if it's a real theory either but it's a very compelling idea!

SarahP

I'm going to start looking into this Michael Bell fellow to see if he does any lectures near me!

BoatGirl

I'm so excited to see this! I grew up 5 miles from Mercy Brown's graveyard (that's like 5 blocks in city folk terms) and it was a huge source of teenage fascination.
The article talks about this as a 19th century phenomenon, but it continued into the 20th century, at least in Exeter, RI.
When I was a kid, my family stopped at a yard sale in Exeter. My dad knew the old guy who was holding it and they got to talking. The old guy talked about when he was a kid (in the 1920s or 30s), his family went out and dug up a few graves one winter when a lot of people had died, specifically to get rid of vampires.

The Attic Wife

@BoatGirl I had a friend in N. Kingston in high school, every October we'd traipse on down to the cemetery where Mercy Brown is buried. We tried to find Nellie Vaughn in West Greenwich and got horribly lost.

Word to all vampire-adventurers: Though it might seem like a good idea to visit the graveyard where a suspected vampire is buried at night, you probably want to do so during daylight hours. Cemeteries are never very well-lit and since most of them are still in use, you don't want to miss falling into a recently-dug grave.

The Lady of Shalott

@The Attic Wife More to the point: graveyards in many cities are places where Unsavory Characters hang out, and frequently it's not a terrific idea to hang out in semi-deserted places after dark anyway. In addition to falling into graves, it's also very easy to stumble and hurt yourself in graveyards, thanks to rocks/roots/uneven terrain/etc. They can be unsafe places!

And be respectful of graveyards in general! Just because there is someone Famous or whatever buried there doesn't mean there aren't loads of ordinary people buried there too, and it's just nice to be respectful of the dead.

The Attic Wife

@The Lady of Shalott Very true! Tripping over low-lying headstones in old graveyards is easy to do in broad daylight, forget stumbling around in the dark.

Respect is also super-important! I lost my head a bit a few months ago after spending the better part of an hour trying to find HP Lovecraft's family plot (yes, the cemetery offered maps, no I did not take one). I was with friends and finally decided right before we gave up that I'd climb a hill and see if maybe that oak tree was the one I remembered seeing the monument under. Lo and behold, it was! I was so excited that I forgot just where the hell I was and screamed, "I FOUND HIM!" Luckily no one was around, but if I'd interrupted someone's burial, I would have been mortified.

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