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Michael Bell
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Posted By Michael Bell

He tormented her by night and by day, following her around in the shape of a ball of fire, until she finally hit upon the happy thought of wearing a horseshoe around her neck. It cured Ike completely. The horseshoe was rather heavy and cumbersome, but it was better than being singed by a ball of fire.

For this legend the Sodomite had no explanation.

Then there is the good elder Edwards, town clerk, librarian of the public library on Pine Hill, farmer and preacher. He is one of the most pronounced of the anti-vampirites. Among the laity, the hard-headed farmers of the town who work early and late to coax a living from the reluctant soil, there are plenty who are outspoken in their disbelief in vampires.

If you talk with Reynolds Lillibridge, the successful farmer, gunner and trapper of Pine Hill, you will discover that he is much more interested in minks and otters, and the trout in his fine pond, than in the vampires.

“When a man’s underground, he hasn’t anything more to do with anybody that’s above ground—that’s my theory,” he said. “Still, I can understand how a man like Brown must have felt. When you are in trouble you will grab at a straw, and when you are in a good deal of trouble you will grab at a whole bundle.”

The lonely telegraph operator in the little station up on Pine hill is too busy looking after his wires to bother about vampires. And then, too, he has just brought a charming little wife there to share his solitude and his salary.

Mme. Douglas, the lone clairvoyant and business medium, who lives on the Ten Rod road, hasn’t any doubt about the existence of vampires and lots of other things, seen and unseen.

When you take this community, “full and by,” or “by and large,” you will find it pretty evenly divided on the vampire issue. But it is strongly republican, and so the issue has not yet crept into politics.

Over in North Kingstown and up in West Greenwich, Coventry and Foster, as well as in Hopkinton, Richmond and South Kingstown, the vampire belief holds extensive sway. There have, however, been no recent resurrections of bodies of consumptives.

As to the origin of the belief there is no satisfactory explanation given. How it could have been transplanted from the old world and found a lodgment only in Rhode Island, among an otherwise very intelligent and enterprising and wideawake population, is a mystery. It is not an English superstition, and yet the settlers of this region were all English.

Mr. De Jongh of Wickford, who has devoted some attention to the subject, is inclined to think that it comes from the old voodoo superstition, as there were formerly many negroes in Rhode Island.

Posted By Michael Bell

About 100 years ago there lived two families on the western slope of Pine Hill in Exeter. They were prosperous farmers for those days. Jonathan Brown and Ezekiel Nichols were the names of the fathers. Jonathan’s daughter, Mehitable, and Ezekiel’s son, Isaiah, fell in love with each other and were betrothed. Before they could get married, however, Mehitable died of consumption. It nearly broke Isaiah’s heart, and he, too, fell a victim of the disease.

One night, not long before his death, his mother heard a peculiar groan coming from his room, and what was her horror on entering to see Mehitable, who had turned vampire, sucking Isaiah’s blood. Caught red-handed, or rather red-mouthed, in the act, she could not deny it, but she gave the mother a half-piteous, half-reproachful look, and then went and sat on the mantlepiece. She said not a word, and when the mother came out of her swoon Mehitable had vanished.

But she staid long enough to settle once and forever the disputed question of the existence of vampires.

“You see,” said the Sodomite, “them two young folks had probably been kissing each other a good deal, and Isaiah caught the disease from his sweetheart. Contagion, they call it, don’t they?”

There was once a man named Godlove Arnold, who lived on the southern shore of Yawgoo pond in South Kingstown. He was a notorious skeptic in regard to vampires, but by and by his wife died of consumption. He and his spouse had not always been on the best of terms, and after her death, for which Godlove did not grieve too long, he began to look around for another partner.

But Mrs. Arnold became a vampire, and began to pay off some of her old scores against her recent husband. She made life a burden for the unhappy man. She was far more importunate as vampire than as wife.

She chased him one afternoon all the way to Bald hill, and finally he had to give in. They found his body about a week later on the hillside, and the expression on his face was something ghastly.

“Probably died of heart disease,” said the Sodomite, as he finished the story.

Over around Kettle hole and Goose Nest spring, in the Pork hill district of North Kingstown, there once lived a man by the name of Isaac Harvey. It was a good many years ago, and they say Ike died of consumption. Mrs. Harvey was rather glad of it, for he had seldom contributed anything but advice to her support. It was just like Ike to go into the vampire business after death, and to turn his attention to Mrs. Harvey.

Posted By Michael Bell

“And then, too,” said the Sodomite, reflectively, “we have lots of natteral remedies that the doctors don’t know nothin’ about. Fer instance, when you are touched with rheumatiz, and feel kinda meager like, they say there ain’t nothin’ better than to bite angel-worms till all the juice is out, and then mix it with some hog’s lard or mutton taller and rub it on to the jints. Unless I conceit it”—an expression, by the way, which the writer has not heard outside the vampire belt, and which means “unless I’m mistaken”—“there do be a good many real cures of rheumatiz with angle-worm juice.”

Slowly but surely the conversation drifted to vampires. The smoldering interest in the subject has been revived by the recent publication of a newspaper syndicate article over the signature of a rather well-known writer, who borrowed the article almost word for word from an essay by George R. Stetson in the Anthropologist.

Since Mr. Stetson made his investigation, some years ago, there has been no case of the resurrection of a body for the sake of burning the heart and liver, the last instance being in March, 1892. A firm belief in the existence of vampires still exists, however, and the main reason why the belief is not practiced is that no one has recently died of consumption who had surviving relatives afflicted with the disease.

For in Rhode Island no one becomes a vampire after death unless he has died of consumption. And not even then unless he has next of kin, or heirs and assigns who are consumptive. Thus, for the present, the vampire industry is stagnant.

It was not always so, and these pleasant hills and valleys are full of legends and traditions. This once busy and populous region is now but sparsely inhabited, and you can travel for miles through the “south county” without seeing a house.

There are plenty of ruins of mills and factories and homesteads, but they are about the only remnants of a former active industrial life. For a few hundred dollars you can buy a great deal more land here than you can attend to. The farms are not abandoned, they are only neglected.

But sportsmen are acquainted with the game in the woods, and fishermen say that there are more trout in the “south county” than anywhere else in New England. Hence in the spring and fall this is by no means a deserted country, even without the vampires.

The Sodomite was quite unable to give the writer any connected history of the theory and practice of vampirism in southern Rhode Island, but he was well stocked with authentic traditions on the subject, and here are a few of them:

Posted By Michael Bell

The persons who become vampires are generally witches, wizards, suicides and persons who have been cursed by their parents or the church, and in Rhode Island those who have died of consumption. But any upright, well-meaning man is liable to turn vampire if an animal, especially a cat, leaps over his corpse or if a bird flies over it. That is said to be the reason why undertakers do not keep cats.

All of which, and more, may be found in that entertaining work, the “Encyclopedia Britannica,” and is here given only as a preface to the following chapter on the belief in vampires which still obtains among certain of the natives throughout southern Rhode Island. The foreign-born population do not cherish the belief. It is found only among some of the descendants of those who settled this part of the state in the 17th and 18th centuries.

And not only in the country places, “where the old plain men have rosy faces and the young fair maidens quiet eyes,” remote like Sodom from the outside world, but in the centers of population along the railway and along the shore you will meet plenty of men and women who take it as an insult if you speak lightly in their presence of the belief in vampires.

At least that was the writer’s experience—he discovered that vampires should be discussed in a serious tone and without any elevation of the eyebrows.

“Are the folks around here rather intelligent?” he asked of a native who lives on the outskirts of Sodom.

“Well, fairish,” was the reply.

“And are they quite religious?”

“Some be, and some are Seven Day.”

Although the Seventh Day Baptists, who are numerous in southern Rhode Island, are really very pious, and just as good citizens as you can find anywhere, yet in the popular mind their custom of praying on Saturday and working on Sunday takes them out of the category of “religious.”

Perhaps the frequent intermarriage of families in these back country districts may partially account for some of their characteristics.

“If they don’t marry each other there don’t be nobody else for ’em to marry,” said the Sodomite, “and they do say hereabout if a woman marries a man of her own name that all the bread she makes will cure the whooping cough. There may be something into it, for what I know. Leastwise I’ve heard tell on it many times, and some old women round here would give you goudy if you said it was foolishness.” To give “goudy” is about the same as “-a-ooling” or “ripping up the back.”

Posted By Michael Bell

Boston Globe, January 27, 1896
From the subtle insertions of Edith Wharton to the explicit inclusions of Manly Wade Wellman, most stories that hinge on authentic vampire traditions are clear regarding their fictional status. But sometimes the boundary between fiction and nonfiction is deliberately blurred. A good case in point is a narrative about vampires published anonymously in the Boston Globe on January 27, 1896.

Under a drawing of a man with a long beard, wearing comically rustic clothing and carrying a buggy whip, walking next to a cart hitched to a horse and a pair of oxen, is the caption: “A member of the anti-vampire party.” The illustration is a paradigm for the narrative that follows, mixing the factual and fanciful in what surely was meant to be a parody of southern Rhode Island’s vampire tradition.

BELIEVE IN VAMPIRES. Rhode Islanders Who Are Sure That They Do Exist. Instances Told of Where the Living Have Been Attacked and Preyed Upon by These Representatives of an Unseen World.

SODOM, R.I. Jan 26—You will not find this place on any map. But if you leave the railway at Wickford Junction and follow the Ten Rod road westward through Exeter until you come to Robbers Corner, and then go south a mile or two over Purgatory road, you will come to Sodom.

The chances are that you won’t know Sodom when you see it, for even in the days of its highest prosperity its population was only about 10 or 20, and now it is a great deal less. There were once four or five houses here, but now there are not nearly so many.

Like Swamptown City and Escoheag, and Noose Neck Hill and Usquepaug, and Skunk Hill and Exeter Hollow, and Gomorrah and many other once flourishing hamlets in southern Rhode Island, Sodom is a back number.

In spite, however, of its present insignificance, Sodom may be called the geographic center of the vampire district of Rhode Island. Now a vampire, as everybody knows who has seen one, is a blood-sucking ghost—the soul of a dead person which quits the body by night to feed upon the blood of the living, especially of its relatives and dearest friends, if it has any.

When the vampire’s grave is opened the corpse is always found to be fresh and rosy from the blood which it has thus absorbed; otherwise it is not a genuine vampire.

There are several excellent ways of putting a stop to the vampire’s ravages. First, you may pour boiling water and vinegar on the grave. This remedy is generally sufficient for the milder forms of vampirism, but if more energetic measures are required it may be necessary to drive a stake through the body or cut the head off, or take out the heart and liver and burn them and eat the ashes. This last precaution, as will be seen, should not be neglected.

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