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Michael Bell
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Posted By Michael Bell

“A young man who boards at one of our most respectable boarding houses has for some weeks past been growing weak and pale from loss of blood during the night. For some time he could not imagine the cause of the lassitude he felt every morning, but about a week ago he discovered a small puncture on his arm from which it was evident that blood had been drawn, and every morning thereafter he found a new puncture upon some fleshy portion of his body. He was mystified as to how these punctures were made, and what made them.

“For several nights he remained awake late in the night for the purpose of solving the mystery, but such was his weak condition he invariably became exhausted and fell asleep before morning, and always found a fresh puncture. He got an acquaintance to sleep with him, but becoming tired of watching he, too, fell asleep, and in the morning there was a fresh puncture upon both of them which so alarmed his acquaintance that he refused to sleep in that room again. Between the loss of blood and his anxiety to know the cause of it, the young man was nearly crazed, and he was an object of solicitude to his friends, who sympathised with him in his distress, and advised a change of scene, but such was the fascination with which he had become imbued that nothing they could say could induce him to forego his determination to remain and clear up the mystery. A few nights ago he was awoke by a stinging sensation in his arm between the elbow and the shoulder, and instantly reached his hand to the spot, but could feel nothing, and although a light was burning in the room could see nothing—The old superstition of vampires at once became fixed upon his mind, and he resolved to leave the house which he did the next morning, repairing to another part of the city. Strange to say since his change of quarters he has not been visited by the midnight blood-sucker, and is fast regaining his health. Since his story has become known, we have heard of several other persons who occupied the same room, that were visited in the same way, but they never stayed more than a few nights before they left the house, and said nothing about it for fear of injuring the reputation of the house. We have given the facts as they were related to us, and have no reason to doubt the veracity of the parties.”

I just stumbled on this vampire story last week as I was researching an unrelated incident; it appeared in a Wheeling, West Virginia, newspaper shortly after the close of the Civil War. The narrative was preceded by the following introduction: “There is an old superstition, dating back to the Greeks and Romans, that bodies of persons who die under sentence of excommunication do not decay, but devour their own flesh, and during the night leave their graves and suck the blood of living persons. The old superstition has been revived in this city under extraordinary circumstances.”

Extraordinary, indeed, because the vast majority of vampire incidents in America—those that have been reported as actual events, at least—do not follow this “classic nocturnal assault” pattern, even though this is the image that most of us conjure up when we hear the word “vampire.” This tale from West Virginia easily could have come from Eastern Europe or, even more likely, a fictional setting, such as a nineteenth-century short story or novel, a twentieth-century movie, or a contemporary TV show.

 Next: I DID come across some vampire tales in West Virginia long before I found this one. Could there be any sort of connection?

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