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Michael Bell
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Posted By Michael Bell

After a couple of months, the production team had worked up an itinerary and scheduled locations. Over the course of three days in mid-May and a follow-up day in June, we were to shoot on location at Willington, Connecticut—in the town hall, library and old cemetery—and also in Rhode Island at the graves of Mercy Brown in Exeter and Simon Whipple Aldrich in North Smithfield. It felt great to be back on the vampire trail after a long break!

Our search in the old cemetery for unmarked graves that could be those of Isaac Johnson’s family, using electro-magnetic imaging, was less successful than our research at the town hall. Although I still haven’t located the graves of the Johnson family, I was able to document their actual existence. According to town records, Isaac Johnson married Elizabeth Beal on July 15, 1756. They had eight children, and two of them match the details provided in Moses Holmes’s letter: Amos died on July 15, 1782 (at the age of 21 years and nine months), one year and eleven months before the exhumations; Elizabeth died on May 18, 1783 (at the age of 18 years and eleven months), one year prior to being exhumed. According to the 1790 census, the Isaac Johnson household included two free white males aged sixteen and older, and seventeen “all other free persons.” Besides his immediate family, Isaac had seventeen other people in the household! No one else in the Willington census had even one! Who were all of these people and what were they doing?

On December 23, 1799, “In the raising of heavy timbers of the new church, Mr. Johnson was killed outright and blood was on the underpinning for a third of a century. Deacon Holt was broken down to the space of three inches in his middle, so he said, and never enjoyed good health again, though he lived to ‘a good old age.’” Isaac’s blood being visible for a generation incorporates the motif known to folklorists as “the ineradicable bloodstain after bloody tragedy” (motif E422., if you’re taking notes). One wonders if this “bloody tragedy” was seen as divine retribution for what some in the community might have viewed as Isaac’s a sacrilegious act fifteen years earlier.

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