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Michael Bell
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Posted By Michael Bell

The narrative ground between vampire history and hokum is occupied by folklore and literature. Sodom is a good place to begin untangling these intertwined contexts, since that is the dateline of the Globe article. Yes, there is a Sodom, Rhode Island. I was there, at the end of Sodom Trail, in town of Exeter, on November 18, 1981, to interview Lewis “Everett” Peck, a descendent of the Brown family. “Too small to be on the map” is how the anonymous author of the Globe article described Sodom. “There were once four or five houses here,” he wrote in 1896, “but now there are not nearly so many.” At the beginning of our interview, Peck presented me with a yellowed clipping (coincidentally dated 1896) that included text, photographs, and a map. Peck asked me to read aloud the text under the map: “Half a mile from here, in a locality called Sodom, is the site of what is claimed to have been among the first cotton or woolen mills established in this state. . . . Only two families reside in the hamlet.” Everett interjected, “Yeah, and I’m one.” The Sodom Mill Historic and Archeological District had been established as a National Register District the year before our interview. A topographic map included in the nomination form shows the old farmhouse at the end of Sodom Trail (where Peck was living), along with the ruins of the 1814 mill, located just to the south on the mill pond created by a damn on Sodom Brook. Sodom obviously was not too small to be some maps.

The arc of the Brown family’s exhumation story published in the Globe is essentially the same as presented in two Providence Journal articles that appeared just days after the exhumations of March 17, 1892. George Brown was a farmer who trained trotting horses, and, by all accounts, he resisted the “old-time superstition” about curing consumption. It was only after several entreaties from kin and neighbors that he assented to the exhumations, which were, indeed, overseen by Dr. Metcalf. But the narratives diverge in significant ways. Since Edwin was Brown’s only son, Edwin could not have been preyed on by “his brother and sister.” The Globe article failed to mention that George Brown’s wife, Mary Eliza, had also died of consumption, and that her body was exhumed, along with those of her two daughters, Mary Olive and Mercy Lena. The corpses of the mother and Mary Olive were badly decomposed; since the only vital organs that contained blood were those of Mercy, it was her heart and liver that were burned to ashes. No one interviewed by the Providence Journal seemed to know whether or not Edwin ingested the ashes, but he did die in May. Jennie was recently married when she died at the age of eighteen in 1895. Records have not revealed the fate of Annie, although an unsourced family tree shows her dying of tuberculosis, also in 1895. Hattie married and lived for many years; her father, George Brown, died at her residence in 1922.

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