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Michael Bell
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Posted By Michael Bell

I’ve been researching—and re-searching—the vampire incidents I’ve found at a furious pace in a last-ditch effort to put some sort of time limit on this process. My addiction to research has given me some insight into what it must be like to have a gambling addiction. I know the odds of finding a “new” vampire incident are small, but my mind tells me that if I can just sort through these 15,000 newspaper articles that contain certain key words, I might find two or three additional exhumations. The thrill of finding even one drives me to endure a tedium that would send a normal person over the edge. (I know what you may be thinking, and we’re not going there.)

To date, that total number of vampire exhumations I’ve found is around sixty, still mostly in New England and its cultural extensions, such as Upstate New York. One case outside of this area continues to elude me. Two brothers from a small town in Pennsylvania were arrested for exhuming the body of one brother’s boss. That brother was ill with consumption. His boss had died of consumption. So the obvious conclusion was that the boss was responsible for the illness. (How bad is it when your boss continues to ruin your life even when he’s dead? The worst of all possible worlds.) The brothers were never prosecuted, because of “allowances being made for their ignorance. In spite of the burning of the boss’ heart, the consumptive . . . , although he professed at first to feel perfectly well, died not long afterward.”

Of course, as is the case more often than not, there were no names, or even dates, in the reference I found. I sent a copy of the text of the incident to the county’s historian, writing that I had several questions I was hoping he might be able to answer or, if not, I hoped he may be able to direct me to someone in the community who could shed some light on this interesting narrative. I asked if he was familiar with this story, if there were archives of a local newspaper where this account might have appeared, and if there would there be arrest records kept from that era (sometime in the 1800s).

His response was not encouraging. After telling me that he hadn’t heard anything about this incident, he wrote: “There probably is no name connected to [the] event is there? The civil and criminal court cases all go back to 1813. The problem would be like hunting a needle in a haystack without a name. Was there any name even a first one mentioned or name of the boss?” No. No.

Ha! Hunting a needle in a haystack, as if I’m not familiar with that process. Actually, my thinking about that is, with the right technology, one could find a needle in a haystack. A powerful electromagnet, for example, could facilitate the hunt; it might take only days—perhaps just hours—to find the needle. That sums up how I see the recent electronic, digital technology helping me do this research.

As I write in the new preface to Food for the Dead, “Vampire hunters of centuries past visited morgues and cemeteries in search of their undead prey.  The morgues I search are old newspaper archives and long-forgotten local histories, where the stories of vampires whose bodies were exhumed and examined lie waiting to be rediscovered. My task is to find them and bring them back to life. Since the first copies of Food for the Dead became available in 2001, the Internet has grown into a web of communication whose pervasive scope was unimaginable a mere decade ago.  Access to the enormous amount of data now available online has allowed my research to expand wider, deeper and faster than was possible when I was writing the first edition.”

Of course, all of this technology only serves to feed my addiction.

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