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Michael Bell
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Posted By Michael Bell

While families afflicted with consumption took matters into their own hands, the medical establishment continued the fruitless search for a cure, mainly by attempting to identify the cause of the disease. But, the elusive nature of consumption thwarted these efforts, pitting theory against theory in a seemingly endless pageant of futility. One major theory proposed that consumption was caused by environmental conditions. Dr. Henry I. Bowditch of Massachusetts, for example, argued that living in damp, especially cold and damp, places was the major cause of consumption. In an 1862 publication, Bowditch presented pages and pages of testimony and statistical correlations, including many sad case histories of entire families being wiped out, to “prove” his “law.”  One of his few happy stories described how a member of an afflicted family was spared because he spent most of his time at sea, away from the boggy farm. Of course, Bowditch and his colleagues had no way of knowing that the mariner probably avoided consumption because he wasn’t living in a household infected with the tuberculosis germ.

I read through Bowditch’s anecdotal evidence several times, looking for passages that suggested possible vampiric activities, such as exhumations or the burning of vital organs, before my eye finally caught the word, “disinterred.” In this citation, Bowditch described the experiences of a colleague, Dr. J. L. Allen, of Saco, Maine. Bowditch wrote that Allen, “a practitioner of long standing,” had noticed two ridges of land that were identical in every respect save for the amount of moisture in the soil. “Almost every family has been decimated on the wet part, while almost all upon the dry portion have escaped. . . . One ridge is quite dry, the other is literally filled with springs. Nowhere can a spade be driven a few feet into the ground, without meeting water.”

The next sentence in Bowditch’s discussion spoke volumes to me:  “In fact, in former times, the superstitious frequently had their friends, who had died of consumption, disinterred, and Dr. Allen invariably found the coffins filled with water, however shallow may have been the graves.” This brief passage does not refer to any specific instance that I might be able to investigate, nor does it provide specifics regarding what procedures were followed after disinterment, but it strongly suggests that vampires were being sought “in former times.” And just as tantalizing, it is plain from this passage that a medical doctor, Dr. Allen, himself, was routinely present at the exhumations. Why was he there? Simply to add weight to the thesis that damp conditions caused consumption? Or was he there at the request of the families and friends, apparently seeking vampires among the deceased? These questions cannot be answered with certainty at this time; however, I think we CAN conclude that, to the people living in the area of Saco, Maine, vampiric exhumations were neither rare nor extraordinary in the early years.

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