Tuberculosis is one of the most prevalent diseases and is consistently among the top ten causes of death throughout the world, but it is rarely encountered within the borders of the United States. This was not always the case.
During the 1890s, tuberculosis, often termed “consumption”, was the top killer in the country. In Exeter, Rhode Island, farmer George Brown had learned this fact the hard way… his wife Mary had died in 1883 after a long bout with the disease, and his oldest daughter, Mary Olive, passed a mere six months later. His son, Edwin, contracted the disease in 1890 and spent two years growing steadily weaker. His youngest daughter, Mercy, followed the same arc, weakening and coughing up blood until she passed away in January of 1892.
George Brown was a desperate man. He’d lost three members of his family within the span of nine years and he was on the verge of losing another. He demanded that the local physician, Dr. Harold Metcalf, cure Edwin… which, unfortunately, was beyond medical science of the day. When he was informed of the impossibility, he reached what seemed to him to be the obvious conclusion: something outside of medical science had to be responsible.
As to what that might be, the locals had provided a ready answer. It was well known that if members of a family were sickly, the reason might be vampiric. When someone dies, should they become a vampire, they gravitate toward first draining their relatives of blood. Why this might be the case was rarely considered, but it had long been established in the folklore.
George gave the order for exhumation of his wife Mary, his daughter Mary Olive, and his daughter Mercy. He was uncertain of the existence of vampires, but it was a possibility….
Opening the coffins of the two who had died in 1883 exposed long-decayed cadavers, as would be expected. In contrast, when the coffin of Mercy was opened, she was shown to be full preserved and lifelike, and after being cut open was determined to have blood remaining in her heart.
As Dr. Metcalf pointed out, Mercy’s January death would not have provided much time for degradation of the body… particularly while interred during Rhode Island’s frigid winter months. Rather than an odd result, Mercy’s body was in the exact state anyone reasonable would expect.
The doctor’s protestations fell on deaf ears. Mercy was positively identified as a vampire, and George finally had a solution at hand. With the aid of some other locals, he hacked out the heart and lungs of his youngest daughter and burned them on a bonfire. They, in accordance with the folk cure, he returned home and mixed the ashes with water for his son to drink.
The magic didn’t work… Edwin died two months later of consumption. But Mercy Brown went from being one of many people cut down too early by a terrible disease to being one of a handful of documented American vampirism cases, so at least the Brown family left a legacy (of sorts) behind.
Question of the night: What actor or actress played the best vampire?