Many of our favorite hauntings, horrors and ghost stories seem to have their roots in New England – I mean, we pretty much invented witches, or at least made them famous! With writers like Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft taking their famous inspirations from early New England myths and legends, I thought it would be fun to explore the real stories behind some of these tales!
First up is the Legend of the Woodstock Vampires.
More than 200 years after the Satanic panic that led to the famous Salem Witch Trials, yet another supernatural delusion took holds of New England. During the 19th century Vermont and several other New England states were in the midst of a terrible outbreak of tuberculosis – known at the time as consumption.
In the 1800’s little was known about how the disease spread, but it seemed to affect several members within the same family. This led to the belief that the deceased were returning to “drain the life” from their loved ones, and eventually resulted in “Vampiric Panic.”
The events surrounding the death of Frederick Ransom, a 20-year-old student at Dartmouth College, were surely not the first spark on the flames of vampiric panic in Woodstock, but the story became quite famous because the young man hailed from a well-to-do family, making him an unlikely victim.
After the boy died on February 14, 1817 his father became convinced that his son had become a vampire and would return to drain the rest of the family. He ordered the body exhumed and had the heart removed and burned in order to protect them.
In 1830 a man named Corwin died of consumption and was laid to rest in Woodstock’s Cushing Cemetery. 6 months later, Corwin’s brother also became afflicted with tuberculosis leading many prominent men in the village, including Dr. Joseph Gallup and Dr. John Powers from the Vermont Medical College to leap to the drastic conclusion that Corwin had returned from the dead to feed on his brother’s life force.
The body was exhumed for an autopsy and the examination supposedly revealed that Corwin’s heart was still fresh-looking and engorged with blood, not decayed at all. The heart was publicly burned in the Woodstock town square.
The most famous case of all did not occur in Woodstock, but in Exeter, Rhode Island. By this time New England was consumed by tuberculosis and the panic that began in Vermont had spread, thanks in part to the October 9, 1890 edition of The Vermont Standard which ran the sensational headline: “Vampirism in Woodstock.”
In 1892 the mother of Mercy Lena Brown died of tuberculosis and the disease spread throughout her Exeter family like wildfire killing a daughter, a son and finally, Mercy. George Brown, Mercy’s father did not believe in vampires, but neighbors convinced him that someone in his family must be to blame for the mystery illness.
He reluctantly agreed to have his daughter exhumed allegedly revealing that her body was fresh and had turned in its grave. Her heart supposedly contained fresh blood. Believing that this was evidence that Mercy was a vampire who had caused the outbreak, the villagers cut out the heart, burned it, mixed the remains with water, and forced Mercy’s surviving brother to drink it in an effort to protect him from illness – it didn’t.
That’s the story of the Woodstock Vampires. Tune in next week to learn about the Wood Devils of Coos County, New Hampshire!