Tuesday, October 29, 2013

New England Vampires



With Halloween approaching this week, we give thought to an episode in New England history when vampires were thought to dwell among us.
Not vampires like Dracula, but it was very common in the folklore of New England, even unto the early 1800s, that death by consumption—or tuberculosis as we now call it—was due to the souls of the dead feeding on the living.

Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection, easily spread among people in close quarters.  Entire families were wiped out by the disease, but with absolutely no knowledge of germs, the infected victims and their frightened relatives sought other answers.

In rural New England, folklore persisted that in order to stop the disease, the body of a family member who died of it would be exhumed, and ritually desecrated in various manners—the organs would be removed and burned, or the head decapitated, or the body simply turned over to face downward.

It might have given a panicked family a night’s sleep to think they’d solved the problem, but the ritual obviously did nothing to curb the consumption of remaining family members.
A fascinating article on the subject by Abigail Tucker, which begins with an eerie investigation into an unmarked graveyard and leads to incidents in Griswold, Connecticut; Woodstock, Vermont; Plymouth, Massachusetts; and Exeter, Rhode Island; was published in Smithsonian magazine in October 2012, and reads like a mystery novel, an historical documentary, and a tantalizing ghost story.  You can read it here.

 

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