In Rhode Island the thought of vampires still cause locals to quiver and shake. For deep in the belly of this small state, Behind the Chestnut Hill Baptist Church in the town of Exeter, lies New England’s famous vampires grave. where Mercy Brown is buried. No longer is this fear summoned by the belief in souls rising from the grave though. The telling Mercy’s story has become a long-lived RI tradition. A tradition that combines true local history told in the customary fireside style with a late October night visit to the site where this unusual story took place. Some who have braved these moonlit adventures have returned with tales of strange and frightening experiences. So stoke the fire, turn off the lights and curl up in the easy chair as we roll back the clock to the late 1800’s.
George T. Brown was a well respected farmer in Exeter RI. In December 1883 he lost his wife Mary Eliza to consumption. He was given little time to recover from this horrible tragedy when the same disease took his 20-year-old daughter Mary Olive 6 months later. Several years passed and George’s streak of misfortune had seemed to come to an end. His only son Edwin and several daughters all were healthy and strong. Edwin was living in Wickford RI and working as a store clerk when he suddenly became to show signs of consumption. Worried George immediately took Edwin to a doctor. If he too had contracted consumption it would sure lead to death. Edwin traveled to west to Colorado Springs hoping to find a cure in the mineral waters. While Edwin was away George’s daughter Mercy Lena had also contracted the “galloping” variety of consumption. She quickly passed away in January of 1892. Her body was stored in the stone crypt awaiting burial after the spring thaw. Several months later Edwin returned to his family. He had been diagnosed with consumption and his health had made a turn for the worse. At this point, family and friends concluded that the deaths were the result of a vampire and this daemon was living in one of the Brown graves. George decided to turn to an old folk remedy. With the help of Harold Metcalf, a doctor from Wickford, they exhumed the bodies of Mary Eliza, Mary Olive and Mercy Lena to find if any of them were vampires. Mary Eliza and Mary Olive’s bodies had already returned to the earth. Only the skeleton remained. However, Mercy Lena who had only been buried a few months earlier seemed in excellent condition. When they examined her heart, they found what they interrupted as fresh blood. Though Dr. Metcalf assured them that this unexceptional, they felt they had found the daemon. They proceeded to remove her heart and burn it to ashes on a rock nearby. The ashes were mixed in water and consumed by Edwin’s as a medicine for his illness. Unfortunately this didn’t prevent Edwin from passing away 2 months later.
To this day people have reported experiencing a variety of strange phenomena within’ the walls of this cemetery. Many witness who were interview claimed to have seen the ghost of Mercy strolling through the graveyard on a moonlit night. Others report having heard the crying of a young woman or seeing a bright blue light near Mercy Brown’s tombstone. Most people who have visited Mercy’s grave tell of sensing a presence nearby. Feeling as if they are being watched. Whether these experiences were due to heightened emotions or restless spirits, no one can be sure. One thing I can say is that no matter what your beliefs are, an evening visit to Mercy’s grave will send shivers up your spine and scare up some fond memories for you and your friends.
Historic Cemetery #22 is off of Victory Highway (Rt#102) in Exeter RI. The church and graveyard look like a scene out of the past. Walking down the dirt road into the cemetery, you’ll see the tombstone of William C. Johnson to your right. Cut through the stone, just above what looks like a book, you’ll see a square. From this square you can spy Mercy’s grave left of the road and to the right of a pine tree. Some locals have said that if you hide behind this grave on a moon lit night in October and watch her grave through this square; with silence and patient, you maybe lucky and witness Mercy taking a ghostly stroll through the graveyard. For the more adventurous, some version of the tale say that you have to knock 3 times on her grave and say “Mercy L. Brown are you a vampire?” and Mercy will speak or appear to you. I haven’t heard any stories from those who have tried this method yet. I’m sure there are some interesting tales yet to be uncovered.
The park is open to the public year round, dawn to dusk. If you do decide to visit Mercy’s grave, please keep these thing in mind. Don’t go alone. Always have a good flashlight and a second set of batteries. Keep your car keys easily available. Most of all though, please respect the property and the dead so others can continue to enjoy this bizarre bit of Rhode Island History.
Pawtuxet Valley Gleaner
Letter to the Editor
March 25, 1892
Mr. Editor, as considerable notoriety has resulted from the exhuming of three bodies in Exeter cemetery on the 17th inst., I will give the main facts as I have received them for the benefit of such of your readers as “have not taken the papers” containing the same. To begin, we will say that our neighbor, a good and respectable citizen, George T. Brown, has been bereft of his wife and two grown-up daughters by consumption, the wife and mother about eight years ago, and the eldest daughter, Olive, two years or so later, while the other daughter, Mercy Lena, died about two months since, after nearly one year’s illness from the same dread disease, and about two years ago Mr. Brown’s only son Edwin A., a young married man of good habits, began to give evidence of lung trouble, which increased, until in hopes of checking and curing the same, he was induced to visit the famous Colorado Springs, where his wife followed him later on and though for a time he seemed to improve, it soon became evident that there was no real benefit derived, and this coupled with a strong desire on the part of both husband and wife to see their Rhode Island friends decided them to return east after an absence of about 18 months and are staying with Mrs. Brown’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Willet Himes. We are sorry to say that Eddie’s health is not encouraging at this time. And now comes in the queer part, viz: The revival of a pagan or other superstitions regarding the feeling of the dead upon a living relative where consumption was the cause of death and so bringing the living person soon into a similar condition, etc, and to avoid this result, according to the same high authority, the “vampire” in question which is said to inhabit the heart of a dead consumptive while any blood remains in that organ, must be cremated and the ashes carefully preserved and administered in some form to the living victim, when a speedy cure may (un)reasonably be expected. I will here say that the husband and father of the deceased ones has, from the first, disclaimed any faith at all in the vampire theory but being urged, he allowed others if not wiser, counsel to prevail, and on the 17th inst., as before stated the three bodies alluded to were exhumed and then examined by Doctor Metcalf of Wickford, (under protest, as it were being an unbeliever.) The two bodies longest buried were found decayed and bloodless, while the last one who has been only about two months buried showed some blood in the heart as a matter of course, and as the doctor expected but to carry out what was a forgone conclusion the heart and lungs of the last named (M. Lena) were then and there duly cremated, but deponent saith not how the ashes were disposed of. Not many persons were present, Mr. Brown being among the absent ones. While we do not blame any one for there proceedings as they were intended without doubt to relive the anxiety of the living, still, it seems incredible that any one can attach the least importance to the subject, being so entirely incompatible with reason and conflicts also with scripture, which requires us “to give a reason for the hope that is in us,” or the why and wherefore which certainly cannot be done as applied to the foregoing.
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