No Mercy For Mercy Brown, Rhode Island's Resident Vampire

Dr Koch's Treatment for Consumption at the Royal Hospital, Berlin: Professor Pfuhl Inoculating a Patient with the Lymph (engraving) (b&w photo) (Photo by Art Images via Getty Images)

You probably associate vampire hysteria with 15th- and 16th-century Europe, but the U.S. had its share of vampire scares back in the witch trials days. The story of Mercy Brown is particularly odd and disturbing, mostly because it occurred so late. It was only a little more than a century ago that New England exhumed its last vampire.

Tuberculosis And Vampires

In the 1880s, the Brown family of Exeter, Rhode Island fell ill one by one with "consumption," the common name for tuberculosis. First, matriarch Mary Brown died in 1884, followed by the family's oldest daughter, 20-year-old Mary Olive, and then 19-year-old Mercy in 1891. In those days, tuberculosis was a much-feared illness, and because people didn't understand how germs spread, it was mired in superstition. Because the highly contagious disease often swept through entire families, some believed it was caused by supernatural forces, specifically a vampire in the family. One believer was George Brown, who was desperate, after watching his wife and daughters die, to suss out the vampire and save his son, Edwin. To that end, George Brown granted the people of Exeter permission to exhume the bodies of his deceased family members.