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Michael Bell
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Posted By Michael Bell

Sidney S. Rider probably was the foremost, certainly the most prolific, chronicler of Rhode Island history, yet his own biography remains elusive, as Russell J. DeSimone and Erik J. Chaput noted in their article, “Sidney Rider and the Business of Rhode Island History”:

For those who have set out to write about Rhode Island’s rich history, Rider is a familiar name. The size of the ‘Sidney Rider Collection’ at Brown University’s John Hay Library is extensive, often overwhelming those who set out to sift through it. Researchers will encounter more than 15,000 items including books, pamphlets, manuscripts, and newspaper clippings chronicling the founding of the colony in 1636 to the post-Civil War era. However, while researchers may spend months with this material, most know nothing about the man who assembled it.

As I recounted in Food for the Dead, I spent some time with the Rider Collection at Brown University's John Hay Library in early 1983. But I must have been fortunate, indeed, for I located my quarry in about an hour.

I was attempting to assemble as much information as possible that would shed some light on the extraordinary vampire narrative that appeared in Book Notes in 1888, Rider’s long-running periodical on Rhode Island history. Rider’s narrative follows a pattern similar to that employed by George Stetson some eight years later, and by the Providence Journal in 1892:

  •     the definition of vampire;
  •     the historical and geographical distribution of the belief and practice;
  •     the local narrative(s) under consideration;
  •     speculation concerning how the tradition came to New England; and
  •     an attempt to contextualize the incident and summarize its meaning.

Rider sees two European vampire traditions. The first, he maintains, is an earlier form that originated in Eastern Europe (which, today, we might see as the “classic” vampire); the second is the werewolf tradition. According to Rider, the first form

came to this country, and seems to have been prevalent at one time here in Rhode Island. In fact, in may even at this day be held in her remote regions, if, indeed, that term be not inapplicable with the narrow confines of this little State. Strange, even incredible is it that anybody should believe in such absurd superstitions. It is true, nevertheless. There were, and there are now, those who do believe them, and the purpose of this paper is to narrate a case which took place here in Rhode Island at no very remote period. It was of a genuine vampire.

 
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