Mercy Brown, Vampire

December 27, 2007 — Some people get nicknames. Some people get titles. But some people get far more than that. A lucky few on this planet get subtitles.

I’m talking about pithy descriptions of the most notable part of their lives tacked onto the end of their names. For instance, Lon Chaney is forever the “Man of a Thousand Faces”; Helen of Troy is the “Face that Launched a Thousand Ships;” Rene Descartes is the “Father of Modern Philosophy”; Jesus Christ is the “Son of God."  The subject of this article, Mercy Brown, well, her name is often followed by the phrase, “New England’s Last Vampire.” This is the part of the article where if it were a face-to-face conversation instead of a face-to-screen article, we’d both just sit there and stare awkwardly at each other.


Mercy Lena Brown, a 19-year-old resident of Exeter, Rhode Island, received her subtitle posthumously in 1892, the year of Lizzie Borden. The case of Mercy Brown was the last known instance in Rhode Island and probably the rest of the States of a large group of otherwise sensible folk exhuming, mutilating, immolating, and cannibalizing a corpse to cure the dreaded scourge of...vampirism.

Today we know the condition as tuberculosis...because we are on way friendlier terms with it.

Still, for a few centuries in our history, the U.S. and its previous evolutionary forms wanted to be medieval Europe. We ran ourselves frothy ferreting out witches, staking vampires, bustin’ ghosts, and pretty much setting the stage for the American horror genre. It’s oddities like this one that make me wish Halloween was a 12-month celebration.


In this story, George Brown, a farmer in the small town of Exeter, had a problem. His family was dropping like dead people around him. First his wife Mary, then his daughter Mary, and then his other daughter Mercy. Nothing worked to stop this deathly game of human dominos. Granted, I’m not exactly sure what they tried, since this was pre-vaccination, pre-antibiotics, and pre-Flintstone vitamins, but I’m sure they tried it. And, as usual, when the landish doesn't work, you turn to the outlandish.

Now you’d think that since this is New England, since it’s a story of vampirism, and since it involves an old cemetery, that we’re headed for a Hammer Studios set. Turns out we’re wrong. Mercy and her family are buried in Chestnut Hill Cemetery, a small, open cemetery behind an unassuming white wood-paneled Baptist church off Ten Rod Road just a couple of miles from I-95. You can see the Brown plot right from the road. Heck, you can see every headstone in the cemetery right from the road. It looks like your basic, infrequently used country cemetery that you always seem to pass whenever you take back roads home. Had it not been for the unique-to-New England bite in the air when I visited, the whole thing could have been set in North Carolina.

A path goes directly down the center of the cemetery, about halfway down which you’ll see the Brown family plot on your left, beside the path and directly beneath an evergreen tree. There’s only a handful of headstones in the plot, so it takes two seconds to see “Mercy L.” inscribed in large letters at the top of one. 

Mercy’s grave is unique in that cemetery in that it's reinforced by a metal band at its base that is connected to a post imbedded in the ground. It's to protect the headstone from being stolen. You don’t need McGruff the Crime Dog to tell you that people will steal vampire headstones.


Some say Mercy’s heart was burned on a stone near the grave. Some go even further and say the stone still protrudes from the ground near the plot. I took a picture of the likeliest candidate (and of every other stone within easy heart-burning range just in case), but I’m so doubtful about that little tidbit and chagrined that a good chunk of my digital camera memory is taken up by pictures of rocks, I’m not including it in the article.

That’s the grave. Next, if you’re at the Brown plot and are facing the front of the cemetery, then stand in the place where you are, then face left. Think about direction, wonder why you haven’t before, and you’ll see what looks like a small, triangular stone building. Everywhere I read calls this little building a crypt. This is where those who don’t say her body was buried right away say her body was stored until the ground stopped being unshovelable tundra.


The building doesn’t look over a hundred years old to me, but then again, nothing in the cemetery really does. The door is bolted shut, so ingress is impossible for the keyless. Behind the crypt is the outer edge of the cemetery, which is demarcated by a low stone wall that all those who don’t say Mercy’s heart was burned on a rock near the grave say is the place where the heart was burned. If I was a songwriter, “Mercy’s Heart was Burned” would be the title of my next hit single.

And that is the full Mercy Brown tour. If you ever make it to Salem, Massachusetts, you can see a tourist destination full of people accused of being witches. Exeter, Rhode Island, is one of the few places in the United States, though, with the grave of a person accused of being a vampire.






45 comments:

  1. Interesting!! Good shit dude!

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  2. Lol, I like your writing style. Aaaand I think that was a weird enough compliment to follow this article.

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  3. I really enjoyed reading that.

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  4. does anyone think this story is real???

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    1. This story is real,these people did do this ,you can read about it in many places.Is the part about her being a vampire real?No,now come on.The people believed she was but we all know T.B. is very contagious and they did not know these types of things back then.When they got scared,they panicked and did not so smart things.Why would anyone think by making her brother drink her ashes he would be cured?Lack of knowledge and desperation to end fear.He died anyhow,what's that say?They had no idea what was happening to the family and out of fear doing something was better than doing nothing.

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    2. She looked the same cause she was frozen. The body shifted from her being moved in and out of the tomb. And the blood in her heart was still the cause when she was "opened" during the thaw her blood thawed too.

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    3. It was in the papers at the time -- complete with exhumation, the burning of the heart, and the brother drinking the ashes in an effort to cure his "consumption." Check out the local papers for March of 1892.

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  5. i beleive it so shut up you brat

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  6. yes a good camp fire tale, but unfortunately true... the rock where burning took place, 3 feet away.. i was there and witnessed the whole event.

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    1. I am just wondering how you could have been alive to witness the whole event in 1892 and be alive to tell us now in 2012 that you were there?Are you a vampire too.LOL This is very interesting but sad.I did enjoy reading it myself.It more than likely is true,we humans have done some crazy things in history out of fear and still do today sometimes.These types of events might not happen if people would try to be more logical and wait for real evidence before taking action in situations like this.We should not act out of fear or by assumption.Get informed about the things that your afraid of before you take any action.Just wondering to the other person also,shut up you brat?I have 4 children and that something they would say.Are you 12?Name calling is uncalled for.We each have an opinion that does not mean anyone else has to like it or agree.Let's grow up,unless you are 12 or under.

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  7. Great article. You certainly have a commedic (is thata word, and did I spell it right?) way with words. You made me smile. Which I guess is kinda wierd since this is really not a happy story. Oh well, I guess I'm kinda wierd, but that's ok. Thanks!!

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  8. Hmmmmmm....wonder if they have any vampiric stories claimed true in my home state of louisiana.

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  9. "ingress is impossible for the keyless" love it!

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  10. I Love ur writing style, I never use the right word till all is said & done, It just goes 2 show far worse things r done because of Ignoance & Fear!!!! & last but, not least "U can not enter without the KEY"!!!!! OR can U???!!!!!!!! ; ) MAWHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! ; ) *HAVE MERCY*!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  11. Awesome story! I go and visit Mercy, I feel sorry for what happened to her.

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    1. Fortunately, she was dead when it happened.

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  12. I like how you write, funny, humorous, self deprecating at times but warm. Have you thought of ghost writing? No pun intended.

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  13. I'm from Exeter, RI! That Baptist Church has Johnnycake breakfasts every year haha Oh Mercy!

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  14. really interesting i wonder if she was really a vampire :s

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  15. I was born and raised in Exeter and went to Chestnut Hill until I moved away. I like the little church and as a child I would go to Mercy's headstone and often wondered about her and what her life must have been like. My mother's parents, three of her brothers and numerous other relatives are buried there and I also plan on being buried in the family plot when I die.

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  16. WOOOOW is a super cool story,but is not really!!! i love't you're story,but...sorry,I can not believe this story :(,I mean it's tough story, and I just try to think logically that some people do that just for the money,this story is cool,sorry for what I says adove ;),i love't horror story,because at school tell tales of horror, and my rich imagination that bothers me because even I can sometimes see things not too pleasant.

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  17. Ingress is impossible for the keyless. Love it

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  18. Greetings from Humboldt County, California, folks.

    A good day to you all standing on this side of the dirt. This appeared in our little paper this morning:

    "EXETER, R.I.— Rhode Island State Police say two girls who visited the grave of a 19th-century teen rumored to have been a vampire were killed after their car missed a turn on Purgatory Road and rolled over.

    "Capt. Darren Delaney says the Warwick teens were leaving Chestnut Hill Cemetery in Exeter on Wednesday night after visiting the 1892 grave of Mercy Brown. He says they decided to drive down the 'dark, windy road' because they thought it looked 'haunted.'

    "Lt. Kevin Hawkins says the driver tried to navigate a turn on the unfamiliar road, but swerved and rolled over. Two other girls survived the crash.

    "Brown's grave is a popular destination for teens, especially as Halloween approaches. Her story is considered by some to be the inspiration for Bram Stoker's 1897 "Dracula."


    ...be careful where you tread-- and who you tread on out there...

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  19. Strange unhealthy obsessions lead to ......

    This young generations fascination with death and the macabre is a sign post of this nations imminent collapse.

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    1. Ahhh. Thanks for the belly laugh.

      Lots of folks would like to believe that this nation, indeed the world, is going to collapse any moment now. It would certainly fit the dire prophecies that are the staple of religion.

      Talk about unhealthy obsession.

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  20. The door is bolted shut, so ingress is impossible for the keyless. Those last six words just instantly became my most favorite phrase in the English language.

    Thought you might like my band handle (I'm the bass player): "Keyless Chuck"

    Fast Bullitt Band

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  21. I love your writing style! Very funny. It reminds me (just slightly) of James Lileks.
    http://eddriscoll.com/archives/007849.php

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  22. I LOVE your writing style!!! I have never been so taken by an article or even a book, to take the time to let the author know how much I liked it. I literally 'got' what you meant about 'hexagon' when I read the very last one, and I laughed more than once. I hope you continue to write and I will keep a look out for your name on the Best Seller list!!

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  23. woundering if its true? i believe it! i know some of you may not but i do and its creepy,just to know that this is of r.i. is very interesting to me.

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  24. Mercy is not our only vampire. You should check out Sarah Tillinghast if you get a chance.

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  25. Ooops. Belay that. Just saw that you did. LOL :P

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  26. I now believe that whole story based on the fact that there were no tire tracks leading to where the girls flipped the car. If she supposedly just appears in front of your car and you turn hard enough, theres nothing leading to that. that must have been what happened.

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  27. IHaveSPAndISawThisOnTheHUBOctober 28, 2011 at 6:26 PM

    i just seen this story on the Hub Truth or Scare it caught my attention because i have sleep paralysis and it kinda sounded like they were mentioning that in this story about a entity sitting on your chest and being strangles WEIRd

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  28. This is a true story. I was chased by a huge black dog when I went there to check out the grave site. It was daylight, my friends stayed in the car because they did'nt have a good feeling about being there. I went in like a dope thinking what could happen during the day, right? It came out of nowhere, grunting like a fricken monster. I thought I was in for it, but when I got back to the car, the thing was gone. Just the scariest thing I ever had happen to me.

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  29. Follow the bloodline.

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  30. Nice to meet a fellow enthusiast for Mercy Brown! I came across her story a few years ago, and finally turned it into a YA novel (which you can check out at vampiremercy.com if you're so inclined.) I'll have to check out the Grimpendium for new inspiration!

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  31. I am guessing that this story is true, but there is no such thing as vampires.

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  32. Your apologetic writing style is cute, as are the asides. But every other sentence is overdoing it. Edit.

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  33. I do think the story is real. I just left her a flower. i think she got the sh*t end of the stick and I'm sorry for her. However the fact is her father did have her dug up and heart burned and its documented. that's just crazy. But is massachusetts wiccans dont like when people are accused of the batsh*t crazy..i dont desecrate graves I find it totally disrespectful. sick and childish. she was 19. she was my sons age.. sick sick sick people in this town in the 1800's you'd think they'd learn from the witch trails its not okay. blessed be Mercy Lena Brown.

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  34. "Who'd of" should be "who'd've" because it is a contraction for "who would have" and "had of been" probably should just be "had been." Tsk, tsk, more sucking in progress....

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  35. Did you see the article in last month's Smithsonian Magazine? It makes prominent mention of the Mercy Brown case. It really happened, no doubt.

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  36. As a native of Rhode Island, the story of Mercy Brown is well known to me. I first became aware while searching through family papers in 1955. Incidently, most of my family is interned in Exeter. The story is true, except for one thing. Mercy Brown was not the last vampire in Rhode Island.

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  37. The people involved never used the word "vampire" and her father did not believe in any supernatural happenings. It sounds as though he was persuaded by the neighbors to undertake the heart-burning ritual as a desperate last-ditch attempt to save the life of his son. There was never any talk of "fangs in the neck," and local doctors were present at the exhumation. While no doubt the ritual was a distant remnant of the European vampire tradition, the idea that people thought Mercy's corpse was rising from the grave to attack people is ludicrous. Most modern day retellings of the tale have been tainted by pop-culture ideas of "vampires" that were never present in the original story.

    This article tries too hard to be "funny" and makes for a rather annoying read. If anyone is interested in the real history of what happened, Michael Bell's book is a good place to start, or one can read any of the more factual folkloric accounts online.

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    1. Whatever you say, Michael. We will all get on that right away.

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  38. I love your writing style and would enjoy a book written in the same way. Hint, hint. I have never heard the story before, but did a little research and yes it is true. Thank you for sharing.

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