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Michael Bell
McKinney, Te...

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Posted By Michael Bell

Stetson writes:

In the same village resides Mr ——, an intelligent man, by trade a mason, who is a living witness of the superstition and of the efficacy of the treatment of the dead which it prescribes. He informed me that he had lost two brothers by consumption. Upon the attack of the second brother his father was advised by Mr ——, the head of the family before mentioned, to take up the first body and burn its heart, but the brother attacked objected to the sacrilege and in consequence subsequently died. When he was attacked by the disease in his turn, ——’s advice prevailed, and the body of the brother last dead was accordingly exhumed, and, “living” blood being found in the heart and in circulation, it was cremated, and the sufferer began immediately to mend and stood before me a hale, hearty, and vigorous man of fifty years. When questioned as to his understanding of the miraculous influence, he could suggest nothing and did not recognize the superstition even by name. He remembered that the doctors did not believe in its efficacy, but he and many others did. His father saw the brother’s body and the arterial blood. [pp. 8-9]

The other incident described by Stetson undoubtedly is that of Mercy Brown, which appeared in newspapers in March of 1892, a little more than three years prior to Stetson’s visit to the community. While Stetson’s time frame of “within two years” is a bit off, other corresponding details help cement the connection; these include a doctor at the scene, Harold Metcalf (“who made the autopsy”), the reported fact that Mercy’s father, George, initially objected to the exhumation but finally consented in the face of pressure from his extended family and neighbors, and the subsequent death of another family member (Mercy’s brother, Edwin):

At ——, a small isolated village of scattered houses in a farming population, distant fifteen or twenty miles from Newport and eight or ten from Stuart’s birthplace, there have been made within fifty years a half dozen or more exhumations. The most recent was made within two years, in the family of ——. The mother and four children had already succumbed to consumption, and the child most recently deceased (within six months) was, in obedience to the superstition, exhumed and the heart burned. Dr ——, who made the autopsy, stated that he found the body in the usual condition after an interment of that length of time. I learned that others of the family have since died, and one is now very low with the dreaded disease. The doctor remarked that he had consented to the autopsy only after the pressing solicitation of the surviving children, who were patients of his, the father at first objecting, but finally, under continued pressure, yielding.

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