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Michael Bell
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Posted By Michael Bell

The Globe’s narrative of Mercy Brown may have been more history than hokum, but the same cannot be said of its other vampire narratives. The one about the two families living on the western slope of Pine Hill in Exeter, about 100 years earlier, is intriguing because it recalls a narrative published by Sidney Rider in 1888. In the Globe account, Mehitable Brown died of consumption before she and her fiance, Isaiah Nichols, could marry. Isaiah soon developed consumption, too. “One night, not long before his death, his mother heard a peculiar groan coming from his room, and what was her horror on entering to see Mehitable, who had turned vampire, sucking Isaiah’s blood. . . . She said not a word, and when the mother came out of her swoon Mehitable had vanished.”

Here is a summary of Rider’s tale: Near the beginning of the Revolution, in a remote Rhode Island town, a young man named Stukeley married and created a prosperous farm and large family. All was going well until Sarah, his oldest and most beautiful daughter, died of a quick consumption. Soon after, a second daughter became ill, just as Sarah had. But there was a new and disturbing complaint from the second child: Sarah came at night and “sat upon some portion of the body, causing great pain and misery.” So it went, until one after another of Stuckeley’s children had sickened and died. By the time Stuckeley’s wife began to complain of Sarah’s nightly visits, six of their fourteen children had died and a seventh was ill. A community consultation was convened and it was decided to go to the family cemetery and exhume the bodies of the dead children. As they unearthed the children, one by one, they found the bodies in advanced stages of decomposition—until they got to Sarah. Her eyes were opened and fixed, her hair and nails had grown, and her heart was filled with fresh red blood. They removed her heart and burned it on a rock in front of the family home. After the bodies were returned to their graves, “peace then came to this afflicted family, but not, however, until a seventh victim had been demanded.” (See Food for the Dead, pp. 65-75.)

One striking similarity between these two tales, which separates them from other historical New England vampire narratives, is the corporeal revenant: both Sarah and Mehitable returned from the grave in bodily form to drain life from the living. Both authors explicitly invoke European vampire folklore (filtered through literary tradition), in which no credible vampire would make an appearance without actually making an appearance. There would be none of this astral-vampire thing of draining life while remaining in the grave.

 
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