The New England Vampire Scare and Modern Vampires in the US
Real Vampires in Colonial New England
They've been called creatures of the night, demons, and the evil undead. They are said to suck the blood of the living in order to keep their physical bodies from the grave. They are the vampires of legend and myth. While there are people in society today that claim to be real vampires and are not exactly undead, there are myths and stories that still dominate our modern-day view on what vampires really are and were in history. During the Middle Ages in Europe, many tales of vampires and vampire slayings were documented and passed down by mouth, but did you know that there are similar vampire legends dating back to the Colonial times of the US? Let's explore some of what is known as the New England Vampire Scare of the Nineteenth Century and some of the newer tales of vampires today and you can make your decision as to what a vampire truly is...
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In nineteenth century New England, long after the witch trials in Salem had come to an end, superstition was still very much a prevalent factor among the New England residents. One of those superstitions was the belief in vampires, the walking dead. Many scholars and theorists of the belief in vampires claim that certain diseases were the underlying cause for the fear of vampires, one of those diseases being that of "Consumption" (or Tuberculosis).
When people of the nineteenth century became very ill with Consumption, their bodies tended to "wither away" making them look almost like the walking dead. Their fingernails would grow brittle and long and they would lose the color in their skin or appear very washed out. Appearances very similar to what people believed vampires looked like. This confusion could have led to the idea of vampires feeding off of the sick and weak and possibly turning them after death.
In the History Channel's popular show "Monster Quest", one episode covered the topic of Vampires in America. One of the largest discoveries and mysteries surrounding the New England vampire scare included one particular gravesite found in Connecticut. This grave was known simply as J.B.'s grave, as the man's name couldn't be identified...just his initials. In the 90's, some kids came across the gravesite and actually found JB's bones coming up through the dirt, this ensued a major archaeological dig and fueled many scholars to research the idea of vampires in a nineteenth century United States. After digging up JB's bones, the archaeologists found that his thigh bones had been placed in an X shape and that his skeleton had been mutilated. The thought was that JB was considered to have been a vampire and that the townsfolk or possibly his family members had exhumed his remains from the ground and mutilated them so as to stop his vampirism and keep him in the grave for good.
While this seems utterly insane today, it was all very real to the New England communities back then and was also seen in Europe and other parts of the world. These people truly believed that their own kind were dying and turning into vampires and then feeding off of the living members of the community for survival. This superstition or belief goes back centuries, even millenia, as the "vampire" has been around since the belief in demons.
Isaac Johnson's case was another case researched for the Monster Quest show, and in this story a man in Connecticut in the late nineteenth century dug up his children's graves in order to mutilate their bodies and prevent them from returning from the dead. Though they weren't able to prove this, they did find graves on the old Johnson family plot and are awaiting the permission for an archaeological dig.
There were many other cases like this, in that the town and family of recently departed people began believing that they were turning into vampires and feeding off of the innocent within the community...could this have been true? Was the idea of "consumption" just a cover-up for what was really happening in nineteenth century New England?
Read History of Vampires on Amazon:
Mercy Brown - A Vampire in Rhode Island
Mercy Brown was a teenage girl living in Exeter, Rhode Island in the late nineteenth century. She lived with her father and brothers, and her mother and older sister had passed away due to Consumption. Her younger brother, Edwin, also contracted the disease and became very ill. And because TB (Consumption) is a very contagious disease, one can guess that Mercy also contracted the illness and passed away leaving her father and younger brother the last of the family.
Edwin was still very sick and his father couldn't understand why, until rumors that one of his dead family members might be a vampire, causing Edwin's illness by sucking his blood or lifeforce at night while he slept. The little boy even told stories of seeing his older sister enter his room at night and talk to him. The father became frightened and listened to the rumors that his neighbors were telling him. He decided to pull up the bodies of his dead family members and find out who was causing his only surviving offspring to remain so ill. He and some friends/townsfolk dug up the three bodies - his wife's body, his eldest daughter's body, and Mercy's newly buried body. The two bodies of his wife and eldest were older and so therefore they had more time to break down; however, Mercy's body had just been buried a couple months prior...so she still looked quite fresh.
He took this to mean that it was his daughter who was the vampire and who was causing his son's illness. They could see that her skin was still lively looking and once they staked her in the heart, blood squirted out...so that proved to them even further that she was a vampire and was feeding off of Edwin's blood. They took Mercy's dead heart and burnt it...then mixed it up in some nice nasty form of elixir and gave it to the youngest son in hopes that it would heal him of his torment & illness. Well, it didn't...he died two months later anyway.
Was Mercy Brown really a vampire? A member of the walking dead who sucked her family's blood in order to survive in physical form on earth? Or was it simply the townsfolk's and her father's superstition that caused confusion, and the lack of knowledge concerning medical conditions such as Tuberculosis. You be the judge.
The Vampire of Masquerade & The Vampire of The Castle (Club Vamps)
Besides the idea of the Sang and Psi Vampires living in today's society, what about the idea of a "real undead vampire" existing still? There are many accounts of the undead still being discussed and documented today. The two stories I will tell here actually both take place in night clubs, could it be coincidence? You decide...
In Atlanta, where the air is hot and the nights are wild, there is a nightclub by the name of Masquerade. This nightclub was once a manufacturing plant and has been around for decades and has many stories of restless ghosts and spirits hanging around the atmosphere. One particularly interesting story about Masquerade is the story of the "dark figure" that wanders around the outside of the building on certain nights. They say he is a tall black man and many people believe him to be a vampire, a member of the undead. He is said to stalk the nightclub for willing, gothic female donors...or possibly he'll just bite whoever he can get his dead hands on! Why don't you pay him a visit and let me know?
The second nightclub-haunting vampire that is known as "Rex", and he is said to haunt a gothic nightclub in Ybor City (Tampa, FL) known as The Castle. Rex is said to be a tall white man with long hair and knee-high black boots. He is sort of an enigma, as no one really knows him well and he tends to sort of disappear when someone's back is turned for a minute or so. He enjoys speaking with women particularly and many rumors circulate The Castle as to whether Rex is a vampire or a ghost. If I had to make a decision, I'd say a vampire. The undead kind? Sure! Why not? There's no better place to find a willing donor in Tampa, FL than at The Castle! Real vampire clubs (Sang & Psi Vamps, not undead) actually hang out at The Castle in the VIP area on certain nights.
You can read more about the stories of the vampire of Masquerade and Rex of The Castle by clicking here.
So what do you think? Are vampires purely imagination and superstition blended together to make for a hell of a story (pun intended)? Or are vampires actually real undead creatures with a need to feed off of the living? Maybe you just believe that the Sang & Psi Vampires are the only kind...or maybe you don't believe in them at all? Let me know if you ever visit The Castle or Masquerade and happen to have a run-in with one of our undead friends...you might want to wear a turtleneck that night!
What do you believe about vampires?
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© 2011 Nicole Canfield