Mercy Brown vampire incident
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The Mercy Brown vampire incident occurred in 1892 and is one of the best documented cases of the exhumation of a corpse in order to perform rituals to banish an undead manifestation. The incident was part of the wider New England vampire panic.
Several cases of consumption (tuberculosis) occurred in the family of George and Mary Brown in Exeter, Rhode Island. Friends and neighbors believed that this was due to the influence of the undead. Two family members' bodies were dug up, and they exhibited the expected level of decomposition, so they were thought not to be the cause. Daughter Mercy, however, was held in a freezer-like, above-ground vault, and her corpse exhibited almost no decomposition. This was taken as confirmation that the undead were influencing the family to be sick. Mercy's heart was burned, then the ashes were mixed with water and given to her brother, Edwin, to drink as he was sick, in order to stop the influence of the undead. The young man died two months later.
In Exeter, Rhode Island, the family of George and Mary Brown suffered a sequence of tuberculosis infections in the final two decades of the 19th century. Tuberculosis was called "consumption" at the time and was a devastating and much-feared disease.
The mother Mary was the first to die of the disease, followed in 1883 by their eldest daughter Mary Olive. In 1891, their daughter Mercy and son Edwin also contracted the disease. Friends and neighbors of the family believed that one of the dead family members was a vampire (although they did not use that name) and had caused Edwin's illness. This was in accordance with threads of contemporary folklore linking multiple deaths in one family to undead activity. Consumption was a poorly understood condition at the time and the subject of much superstition.
George Brown was persuaded to give permission to exhume several bodies of his family members. Villagers, the local doctor, and a newspaper reporter exhumed the bodies on March 17, 1892. The bodies of both Mary and Mary Olive had undergone significant decomposition over the years, but the more recently deceased Mercy was still relatively unchanged and had blood in the heart and liver. This was taken as a sign that the young woman was undead and the agent of young Edwin's condition. Her lack of decomposition was more likely due to her body being stored in freezer-like conditions in an above-ground crypt during the 2 months following her death.
As superstition dictated, Mercy's heart was removed from her body, burned, and the remnants mixed with water and given to the sick Edwin to drink. It was thought that giving the victim of consumption ashes of the "vampire's" heart would cure them, but he died two months later.
What remained of Mercy's body was buried in the cemetery of the Baptist Church in Exeter after being desecrated.
In popular culture
The Mercy Brown incident was the inspiration for Caitlín R. Kiernan's short story "So Runs the World Away", which makes explicit reference to the affair. It has also been suggested by scholars that Bram Stoker, the author of the novel Dracula, knew about the Mercy Brown case through newspaper articles and based the novel's character Lucy upon her. It is also referred to in H. P. Lovecraft's "The Shunned House". Mercy Brown's story was the inspiration for the young adult novel Mercy: The Last New England Vampire by Sarah L. Thomson. An account of the events as told by the remaining decedents of Mercy is available in Michael E. Bell's book "Food for the Dead: On the Trail of New England's Vampires". Rapper B. Dolan also wrote a song from the perspective of a fictitious party involved in the case in his song "The Hunter" from his 2010 LP Fallen House, Sunken City.
The Mercy Brown incident is depicted in the 2015 film Almost Mercy, written by B. Dolan and Tom DeNucci, directed by DeNucci, and starring Bill Moseley and Kane Hodder. The film's main characters Emily (played by Danielle Guldin) and Jackson (Jesse Dufault) visit the grave of Mercy Brown and call themselves the "Friends of Mercy". In a flashback sequence, the film's characters from the present day appear as characters in the story of Mercy.
- Tucker, Abigal (October 2012). "The Great New England Vampire Panic". Smithsonian Magazine: 3. Retrieved 29 June 2013.
- "The Great New England Vampire Panic". Smithsonian. 2012-10-01. Retrieved 2015-12-01.
- Spiers, Richard (2004). "Mercy Brown: A Real Rhode Island Vampire". Underworld Tales Magazine. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
As Lovecraft's Mercy Dexter character allows the plot to flow, he cagily reveals, "[don't] hire anyone from the Nooseneck Hill country … seat of uncomfortable superstitions. As lately as 1892, an Exeter community exhumed a dead body and ceremoniously burnt its heart in order to prevent certain alleged visitations."
- "B. Dolan - The Hunter Lyrics". SongMeanings. Retrieved 2015-12-01.
- "Tommy DeNucci's 'Almost Mercy' Coming to VOD this May". The Horror Asylum. Retrieved 2015-12-01.
- Bell, Michael E. (2001). Food for the Dead - On the Trail of New England's Vampires. New York: Carrol & Graf Publishers. 338 pages. ISBN 0786708999.
- Connecticut Public Television (1996). Vampires in New England (TV Documentary).