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Michael Bell
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Posted By Michael Bell

Earlier (America’s Restless Vampires, Part Four), I briefly touched on an incident in Upstate New York at Chazy, where the body of Shepherd Woodward was exhumed and burned. This event, which occurred in 1819, was recorded in several different sources. The following excerpt is from a newspaper article: “As old people will remember the notion was quite prevalent in those days that from the lungs of a person dying with consumption, there sprouted a growth which proceeding through the earth communicated the consumption to the blood relatives of the deceased, and that the only way to save the lives of surviving relatives who were predisposed to consumption was to burn the body.”

Once again, the murderous vine appears. In this case, it is explicitly blamed for spreading the disease. The vine originates in the lungs, which are infected with consumption, then proceeds to contaminate other blood relatives. This appears to be a rudimentary explanation for the contagious aspect of tuberculosis. In the context of not knowing about microscopic germs, it seems to be a logical, or at least plausible, notion.

Another account of this incident, written prior to 1886, had some details not present in other sources: “After much debate and mature deliberation, the consultation of the elderly bodies of large experience and observation, it was decided to exhume the body of Mr. Woodward and commit it to the flames, so a few days after the burial, Messrs. Chandler Graves, Aaron Adams and Seth Graves took up the remains in the night with lanterns dimly burning, and placed them on a pile near the burial-ground, where they were consumed by fire. Among those who observed their proceedings were Mariette and Maria Carver, who was attracted by their lanterns in the burying-ground, and went out to see what was being done, but were required to return. Maria is still living, the wife of Henry Gregory. But we do not learn that the “cremation” prolonged the life of Mr. Woodward’s sister, who soon after fell a victim to the same disease.” Unfortunately, she died two years after her brother.

By the way, this is one of a very few exhumations that was undertaken at night. I wonder what the young sisters, Mariette and Maria, thought of the scene that they witnessed?

2 Comment(s):
Michael Bell said...
Thanks, Tom. If you're patient, you will probably get to read most of what will be published in hard type eventually.
February 6, 2010 11:50:59
Tom said...
This all very exciting stuff, can't wait to read the new book!
February 4, 2010 07:59:19
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