Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sights ~ Mercy Brown grave ~ Exeter

Gravestone of Mercy Brown
headstone at twilight

In the spirit of the Halloween season, Bear, C and I set off in search of the grave of Mercy Brown, Rhode Island's own post-mortem accused vampire. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Mercy Brown was one of five children on the Brown farm in the early 1880s when tuberculosis (then called "consumption") took her mother and sister, both named Mary. Nearly ten years later, in January 1892, Mercy herself died of the disease. Because the ground was frozen, her body was interred in an above-ground crypt to wait for the spring thaw for burial.
Her brother Edwin had already begun showing symptoms and was packed off to Colorado, in the belief that the healing waters of Colorado Springs would help. He returned some time later in better health, but suffered a relapse. Neighbors became suspicious. Local superstition held that when many deaths occur in the same family, a member of that family was "undead" and rising at night to steal the lives of the living.

Whether he believed it or just wanted to appease his neighbors, in March of 1892 father George Brown allowed Dr. Metcalf of Wickford to exhume the bodies of both Marys, and Mercy. Mother and daughter Mary had been dead for ten years, and showed signs of decay, however Mercy's body had shifted in the coffin and appeared still fresh (not surprising since it had been stored in freezing temperatures). When the doctor removed her heart, there was blood in it.

This convinced the locals, and Mercy's heart was burned then and there. Depending on the story, it was either burned on a stone nearby to her mother's grave, or on the stone wall near the crypt. The remains of the heart were mixed into water, and given to brother Edwin to drink. Despite - or because of - these ministrations, Edwin died a couple of months later, on May 2, 1892. There were no family cases of tuberculosis following that, and father George lived to be 80.
Although there are five known cases of suspected vampirism in Rhode Island (although it wasn't called vampirism at the time), Mercy's is the last and most famous. Her story was found among Bram Stoker's (the author of Dracula) notes at his death, and is mentioned specifically in H.P. Lovecraft's The Shunned House.

Mercy's gravesite is the object of pilgrimage for the goth, the morbid and the curious. I'll leave it to you to decide which category my family is in. The stone was stolen in 1996, and has since been tethered to the ground with a metal band. In the paranormal community, there are tales of bright lights (sometimes called "ghost lights" around the grave).

When we arrived, it was nearly dark, with just enough light to read the stones if you leaned in very close. We didn't know where exactly the stone was located in the cemetery, so we hunted around until we found it. If you're interested in looking, the stone is under the big pine tree, just on the left side of the main drive into the cemetery, less than halfway down. Once you find the tree, you can practically see the stone from your car.

I don't have a tripod and only the basic working knowledge of my point-and-shoot camera, so I couldn't get well-lit shots. This is what we saw with a flash.


Gravestone of Mercy Brown
headstone with flash
Someone had left flowers for Mercy, as well as candy, pumpkins and cash. You can get a better view of the metal band that now holds her stone in place, too.

The headstone is unassuming and reads simply

MERCY L.
daughter of
GEORGE T. & MARY E.
BROWN,
Died Jan. 18, 1892,
Aged 19 years.

We didn't stay long, because there really wasn't much to see other than the headstone. I took shot after shot of it, using the camera's basic settings, trying to get one that would come out okay without a flash. Two came out completely black, but one looked like this:

Gravestone of Mercy Brown
spoooooky
eerie, no doubt, with what looks like smoke emanating from the grave. I'm pretty sure it was more a jiggle of the camera than a ghostly form, but there it is.

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