There were two Rhode Island vampires as they were known, The first, Sarah Tillinghast, was one of the children of Stutley and Honor Tillinghast of Exeter, Rhode Island. Sarah was the first to die from the consumption that afflicted the family at the comparatively early age of 22. (1799) When the fifth child fell ill, the Tillinghasts exhumed the bodies of the the four children that had died previously (Incidentally, they are buried in Historic Cemetary #14). Three of the bodies had decomposed, but Sarah was found in a strange condition. She had not decayed, her eyes were open and her hair and nails had grown. When the family cut her heart out, fresh blood flowed. They burnt the heart on a nearby rock and reburied the corpses.
The most famous 'Vampire' was Mercy L Brown. Bram Stoker had clippings of the story in 1892, and wrote 'Dracula' five years after. The exhumation of Mercy is also mentioned in 'The shunned house' by HP Lovecraft, who lived in Providence, Rhode Island. The Brown family, consisting of 1 boy and five girls, had a small farm just outside of Exeter, Rhode Island. Mary (the mother) fell sick first, dying in December 1883. Mary Olive, the eldest daughter followed less than six months later. The son Edwin went to Colarado Springs to try and find a cure in the mineral waters.
Mercy fell ill and died in 1892, and was interred at the Chestnut Hill cemetary off Purgatory road. Meanwhile, family and friends decided that some evil had descended upon the household and dug up the corpses of the Brown family, the two Marys were both virtually bones, but Mercy's body, two months after burial was still fresh, and when they cut out the heart it dripped blood. The family burned the heart and liver, and gave the ashes to Edwin as a potion. Edwin died two months later. Apparently, Mercy's grave is a bit of a local tourist attraction, even though the Brown grandchildren were warned never to touch it.
Some general information on Vampires, Charlotte Stoker used to tell the young Bram a local horror story about a victim of a cholera epidemic that was thrown into a lime pit for burial. The womans husband, overcome with grief, wanted to give his wife a decent Christian burial and went to the lime-pit to retrieve the body, whereupon he found that the woman was still breathing. She apparently lived for many years after that.
In the 1800s, a popular time for vampire stories, medicine was little understood and the borders between life and death were very vague. Cholera, for example, induced a state that is very close to death, akin to a very deep coma. The Victorians had a roaring industry in coffins with tiny bells on the outside to allow the newly awakened 'corpse' to indicate he/she was alive! Premature burial can be due, also, to the misunderstanding of Rigor Mortis. Rigor Mortis sets in, roughly an hour-and-a-half after death, usually in the face and neck, depending on the temperature of the surrounding environs. Rigor Mortis then passes off again in roughly 36 hours, again depending on temperature. An entertaining story regarding this is Romanian in origin.
A gypsy woman in the valley of Curtea de Arges, was laying out the body of her dead father, when she noticed that the limbs were pliable. The news raced around the village and the old man was duly staked. Hopefully he was dead and Rigor Mortis had dissapated early, rather than being catatonic. As few as 6 years ago, a woman was buried in America with the condition in her will that she be buried with a telephone, just in case. It hasn't rung for all that time, so I think we can safely say that she is dead!!
A large number of Vampire/Undead stories can be put down to the tragedy of near-death diseases or catalepsy, as when an 18th century cemetary in England was demolished for replacement by a car-park a third of the interred corpses showed signs of struggling within their caskets suchas broken fingers from scratching at the coffin lid, hands protruding from the caskets, and blood on the shrouds from 'corpses' biting their own flesh as madness or suffocation took it's toll.
With such a high number of premature burials, we can expect the fortunate few who escape to have serious doubts about their own existence and possibly be quite unhinged by the entire episode. Perhaps this could account for the sightings of ghouls around churchyards? Another explanation for the Vampire explosion of 200 years ago, in the UK, came from Dennis Wheatley. He pointed out that derelicts prefer to sleep during the day in graveyards because of the relative peace and quiet that can be found there.
Now, In 1924, at the stage show of 'Dracula' the actor who played Van Helsing came throught the curtain at the end and addressed the audience, "Just a moment, ladies and gentlemen! Just a word before you leave. We hope the memories of Dracula...won't give you bad dreams, so just a word of reassurance. When you get home tonight and the lights have been turned out and you are afraid to look behind the curtains and you dread to see a face appear at the window - why pull yourself together! And remember that, after all, there are such things!"
Bram Stoker was undoubtably inspired by the tales he was told as a child, but what of Dracula, or Vlad Dracul. Most people acknowledge that the character was based upon Vlad the impaler, cruel and despotic leader of Romania and undoubtably a member of the Voivod. Vlad was a thouroughly nasty piece of work, ordering that the hats of ambassadors be nailed to their heads when they refused to remove them in his presence.. But Vlad wasn't the only nasty piece of work in that time.
Elizabeth Bathory (1560-1614) was a *really* nasty piece of work. A noblemens daughter that married a soldier, Ferenc Nadasdy, at the age of 15 she had some quite unusual hobbies while her husband was away on military campaigns. She used to burn her maidservants with hot irons and delighted in cutting of fingers, and she was renowned for flying into rages where she *bit* the object of her rage.
After her husbands death in 1604, she used to lure young girls from neighbouring villages into her castle, whereupon she used to beat, starve and freeze them to death, alledgedly bathing in their blood to keep her beauty (There is a Hammer film based upon her life, Laughable, but entertaining). Elizabeth would have gone on forever had not the King of Hungary heard of her strange practices. Her accomplices were put to trial, while Elizabeth herself was sentanced to life imprisonment - and was walled up, alive, in a room in her castle. Her body count up to 1610, when she was caught, was estimated to be in the 600+ region, earning her the name of the 'Blood Countess'
Then we have Highgate. Highgate is an area of London that used to be mostly Jewish, the Cemetary there is one of the finest examples of Victorian 'Death-cult' Grave art, and cemetary furniture. Karl Marx was buried there, as well as a few more luminaries (I can't remember any more names). During the last two hundred years or so, various animals and even some children were found drained of blood around the gates of the Cemetary. The Reverand (Old Catholic) Sean Manchester, an unsmiling man and reputed to be Britain's only real Vampire Hunter, undertook to track and destroy the monster, which he managed.
Copyright Artist: Rebeca Saray