Mercy Brown was 19 when she died of tuberculosis. Her town thought she was a vampire.

Before Twilight came along and ruined everything romanticised vampires by giving us a sparkly Edward Cullen, before The Vampire Diaries' brooding Salvatore brothers, before True Blood's love-stricken Bill Compton and the insanely hot Eric Northman, vampires were actually pretty goddamn scary. 

They were bloodthirsty creatures of the night, waiting under your bed or hovering outside your window, ready to latch onto your flesh and drain your life. Sometimes, they even made you one of them, a fate worse than death.

Think Nosferatu's Count Orlok. Or Bram Stoker's Dracula. Fright Night's Jerry Dandrige. Kurt Barlow from Salem's Lot. The Lost Boys. Heck, think of Tom Cruise's Lestat in Interview with the Vampire.

You guys need some sunscreen. SLIP, SLOP, SLAP. Image: Summit Entertainment and Prana Films.


That's how vampires were originally perceived - and conceived.

Vampires as we know them today originated in the 1700s in Eastern Europe, but the lore of these creatures existed for hundreds of years prior. People believed vampires to be demons possessing the bodies of the dead, and sucking the blood from those of the living.

One of the most famous vampire stories, which is thought to have inspired Stoker's Dracula, is of the "last New England vampire", Mercy Brown. She also has the dubious honour of being named the first female vampire.

Gather around, everyone. This tale is sad, spooky, a little bit gross... and true.

In the 1800s, tuberculosis (then known as consumption) was the leading cause of death in the world. People with TB had an 80 per cent chance of dying as there was no cure and no treatment. The outbreak caused a documented "vampire panic", especially in the United States' New England region.

A satirical cartoon from an article in the Boston Daily Globe in 1896.


In 1884, in the town of Exeter, Rhode Island, there lived a farmer named George Brown, his wife Mary Eliza, and their three children - daughters Mary Olive and Mercy, and son Edwin.

Mary Eliza contracted tuberculosis first. She had fatigue, night sweats, coughed up phlegm and blood, and died a painful death.

Two years after she passed away, their oldest daughter Mary Olive also contracted TB. She too died from the disease.

Even though their deaths were terrible for the Brown family, no-one else got sick so they felt fortunate to be healthy and alive. But in 1891, Edwin became very ill from TB. Hearing that "better climates" would help get rid of the disease, he and his wife retreated to Colorado Springs. When he returned a year later, he was initially better but then his health declined once again.


That same year, Edwin's 19-year-old sister Mercy contracted TB. She died soon after.

As you can imagine, their father George was beside himself with grief and heartbreak. His entire family was slipping away from him and he didn't know how to save them.

Seeing what was happening, a number of people in town told George about an old folktale. Legend had it that when members of the same family waste away from consumption, it was because one of the dead family members was draining the life away from the still living relatives. In short, they told George that either his dead wife or daughters were killing his son.

At first, George rejected the folktale. He preferred to listen to science and his doctor. But as Edwin's health worsened, he became increasingly desperate to save his son - the only family he had left.

So one night, under the cover of darkness, George, a few townspeople, and Dr Harold Metcalf - who did not believe in vampires but was participating out of kindness - exhumed the bodies of George's wife and daughters.

In Mary Eliza and Mary Olive's graves, they found only skeletons.

But in Mercy's coffin, they found an undecayed body. In fact, she looked exactly as she had the day they laid her to rest. To add to their suspicions, blood was found in Mercy's heart and liver. To them, this was proof she had indeed been sucking the life out of Edwin.


In actuality, the state of Mercy's body was not unusual. She had been buried during the winter months - which were extremely cold - and her body had been naturally preserved. The doctor tried to explain this, but he was rebuffed.

In those days, to stop "vampires" from continuing to "live", the bodies would either be turned around in their coffins (so they couldn't get out) or they would be decapitated. Their organs would also be removed.

The townsfolk asked for Mercy's heart and liver to be removed and burned before they would rebury her. The doctor, sensing it was futile to disagree, did as requested.

The crypt where Mercy was interred. Image: Scoop Whoop.


The ashes of Mercy's heart and liver were mixed with water and fed to poor Edwin. George, and the rest of the townspeople, waited to see what would happen.

Sadly, two months after being fed the concoction, Edwin died. Mercy was then reburied in the cemetery of the Baptist Church, Chestnut Hill Cemetery, in Exeter.

While Mercy's case is widely known, it is not unreasonable to think that many other exhumations and desperate hope would have taken place all across the world while tuberculosis ran rampant. There are likely hundreds or thousands of unreported "vampires" and "supernatural concoctions".

The Brown family's ancestors have reportedly saved newspaper clippings from that time, and often discuss the story on Decoration Day, which is when local cemeteries are decorated.

As well as Dracula, the tale of Mercy Brown has been the source of inspiration for many a story, including Caitlin R. Kiernan's short story So Runs the World Away, H. P. Lovecraft's The Shunned House, and Sarah L. Thomson's Mercy: The Last New England Vampire.

Today, Mercy Brown's resting place is still a source of curiosity for visitors to Exeter. Her gravestone is reinforced with a metal band connected to a post embedded in the ground in order to protect it from being stolen. There is apparently a tupperware container with a notebook for people to sign if they feel so inclined. 


Another "Rhode Island vampire" Sarah Tillinghast is buried nearby... but that's a story for another time.

Often, people will leave small gifts like vampire teeth and flowers for Mercy Brown, a woman who died too young from a terrible disease, and who will, sadly, be forever known as a vampire.

Mercy Brown's gravestone. Image: Scoop Whoop.

Feature Image: Scoop Whoop.

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