The Strange Case of Mercy Brown
In the late 1800s, tuberculosis was running rampant through New England. Exeter, Rhode Island was no exception. The Brown family was hit hard. George T. Brown was a respected farmer, and had lost his wife Mary in December 1883. George lost his oldest daughter to the same disease six months later.
George was left with a remaining daughter, Mercy, and a son, Edwin. They seemed healthy for several years, then Edwin began to feel ill. He exhibited the telltale signs of tuberculosis and traveled west to Colorado Springs to take the mineral waters cure. In the meantime, Mercy also became ill. Her tuberculosis progressed much faster than her brother’s and she died in January 1892. Because of the frozen ground, her body was placed in a mausoleum until the ground was warm enough to dig a grave.
Edwin returned from the west no better, and the superstitious New Englanders began to look for a supernatural cause for the illness. They became convinced a vampire was living in the Brown family graves. Folklore at the time said that a vampire needed fresh blood to replenish his or her heart. Edwin was wasting away, and they deduced it was due to the vampire leaching away his blood. Something must be done.
The family employed Dr. Harold Metcalf to exhume bodies of Mary, Mary Olive and Mercy to see if they were vampires. Both Mary and Mary Olive’s bodies had decomposed normally. However, there was an anomaly when they got to Mercy. Because she had not been buried, her body had frozen in the mausoleum. It was perfectly preserved. Also, when they moved the coffin, the body shifted and looked as if it had turned in the coffin. The final item was when Dr. Metcalf disected Mercy’s heart, he found what looked to be fresh blood. This clinched it in their minds. Mercy was a vampire.
Folklore told them there was only one cure and it was a gruesome one. They removed Mercy’s heart from her body, smashed it on a stone and burned it. Then they gathered the ashes and mixed it into a potion, which they fed to Edwin. Despite this drastic treatment, Edwin died two months later. Mercy was buried in the small cemetery behind Chestnut Hill Baptist Church.
Newspaper accounts of this were thought to be part of the inspiration for the character of Lucy in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Sources available on request