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Posted By Michael Bell

“BELIEVE IN VAMPIRES”: HISTORY OR HOKUM? #2
The persons who become vampires are generally witches, wizards, suicides and persons who have been cursed by their parents or the church, and in Rhode Island those who have died of consumption. But any upright, well-meaning man is liable to turn vampire if an animal, especially a cat, leaps over his corpse or if a bird flies over it. That is said to be the reason why undertakers do not keep cats.

All of which, and more, may be found in that entertaining work, the “Encyclopedia Britannica,” and is here given only as a preface to the following chapter on the belief in vampires which still obtains among certain of the natives throughout southern Rhode Island. The foreign-born population do not cherish the belief. It is found only among some of the descendants of those who settled this part of the state in the 17th and 18th centuries.

And not only in the country places, “where the old plain men have rosy faces and the young fair maidens quiet eyes,” remote like Sodom from the outside world, but in the centers of population along the railway and along the shore you will meet plenty of men and women who take it as an insult if you speak lightly in their presence of the belief in vampires.

At least that was the writer’s experience—he discovered that vampires should be discussed in a serious tone and without any elevation of the eyebrows.

“Are the folks around here rather intelligent?” he asked of a native who lives on the outskirts of Sodom.

“Well, fairish,” was the reply.

“And are they quite religious?”

“Some be, and some are Seven Day.”

Although the Seventh Day Baptists, who are numerous in southern Rhode Island, are really very pious, and just as good citizens as you can find anywhere, yet in the popular mind their custom of praying on Saturday and working on Sunday takes them out of the category of “religious.”

Perhaps the frequent intermarriage of families in these back country districts may partially account for some of their characteristics.

“If they don’t marry each other there don’t be nobody else for ’em to marry,” said the Sodomite, “and they do say hereabout if a woman marries a man of her own name that all the bread she makes will cure the whooping cough. There may be something into it, for what I know. Leastwise I’ve heard tell on it many times, and some old women round here would give you goudy if you said it was foolishness.” To give “goudy” is about the same as “-a-ooling” or “ripping up the back.”

 
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