Would you turn down the idea of being turned into a vampire? We picture Damon Salvatore or Alice Cullen when we think about vampires. Who doesn’t want to be fast, strong, attractive and immortal? If you are really lucky, you get supernatural powers too. That’s what the popular culture has told us about vampires. Bram Stoker’s Dracula tells us a different story which is scarier than the contemporary vampire tales. Then again, it doesn’t prepare us for the sad and horrifying tales of the traditional vampires, the most recent one being the story of Mercy Brown.
Mercy Lena Brown along with her siblings lived with their parents Mary and George Brown, members of the rural Exeter, Rhode Island in the nineteenth century. Back then, families were being destroyed by Pulmonary Tuberculosis in a matter of months. The Brown family was one of its victims. It chose Mary Brown and her eldest daughter Mary Olive first. Then it went after the rest of the family. When Edwin Mercy’s 24-year-old brother caught the disease, George Brown being desperate to save his only son took him away to west Colorado. While George and Edwin were away, Mercy caught the disease and died at the age of nineteen. Her body was placed in an above ground crypt until a proper burial could be conducted after the arrival of spring because of the severe cold.
George Brown and Edwin returned to Exeter and his condition started deteriorating. This was when the neighbors started suspecting the dead. They concluded that one of the members of the Brown family must have had returned from the dead and now was determined to draw the life out of her entire family. Some claimed that they had seen Mercy walking among the graves in the cemetery. Edwin himself claimed that he had felt his sister trying to take away his life. Everyone was convinced that a vampire was behind all of this.
George Brown was persuaded to give permission to exhume the bodies of his family members to save the life of his dear son. Brown, with the help of Dr. Metcalf, dug up the graves of Mary and her elder daughter to find that the bodies were decomposing. What shocked them was Mercy’s corpse. It was discovered that not only had her body changed position inside the coffin, her face was flushed, her skin had not decomposed and most importantly, her nails and hair had continued to grow. This confirmed that Mercy was indeed the vampire who was responsible for all the tragedies.
Brown and Metcalf did what had to be done to save everyone. They cut open Mercy’s body to find liquid blood, which they concluded was the fresh blood she had drunk from others. In order to guarantee that she would never rise from the grave again, they burned her heart on a nearby rock and gave the ashes mixed with water to Edwin to drink. In those days, it was believed that consuming a vampire’s ashes would bring an end to the curse of death.
This couldn’t cure Edwin and he died after two months. Mercy was given a proper burial and was laid to rest with the rest of her family. She is interned in Exeter’s Chestnut Hill Cemetery along with her other family members.
This might all sound ridiculous to us in the twenty-first century but back then, Tuberculosis was unheard of. Science offered no explanation for it and people were desperate and turned to folklore and superstition. The symptoms of Tuberculosis or Consumption are the gradual loss of strength and skin tone. The victim becomes pale, stops eating, and literally wastes away. In the later stages of Tuberculosis, a person does look like a walking corpse, like a vampire.
Mercy Brown died before embalming became a common practice. During decomposition, it is possible for bodies to sit up, jerk, even sounds can emit from them because bloating can occur, and if the wind escapes by passing over the vocal chords, there could be groans. The freezing weather had kept her body ‘too well preserved’.
Maybe the rituals of killing the vampire couldn’t save Edwin but it did help the people cope with their situation. The legend of Mercy Brown, The Rhode Island Vampire has been told and retold and has influenced writers like Bram Stoker, H.P Lovecraft. Rapper B. Dolan has also written a song on it named The Hunter.
Mercy Brown’s burial site continues to attract people. Some still claim to have seen her walking around. In spite of all the scientific explanations, Mercy’s story remains a mystery.