So we’ve all heard of the Salem With Trials of the 1600’s but there was another epidemic of supernatural paranoia in the local area that was almost as tumultuous as that one and it involved vampires. The New England vampire epidemic was a direct result of the reaction to the outbreak of tuberculosis in the area in the 19th century. Some believed that tuberculosis (or Consumption as it sometimes called) was caused by the deceased consuming the life of their surviving relatives.
Bodies were taken from the ground and the organs of the deceased were removed and ritually burned in order for the alleged vampire to not be able to attack the rest of the towns population. This hysteria was prevalent in Connecticut, Vermont, Rhode Island and other areas of New England.
Like the Salem Witch Trials, the main culprit of the spread of this hysteria was the prevalent ignorance of the day. We now know that tuberculosis is a bacterial disease, so it is reasonable to understand how quickly it could spread to other family members at the time. Ignorance of this basic understanding was supplemented by an explanation towards the supernatural. Specifically, vampires, due to their known love of flesh.
As mentioned, several bodies were exhumed from the ground and upon inspection of their corpses, if their flesh was declared to be fresher than expected, the label of vampire was bestowed. There were a number of ways locals would deal with this discovery. Sometimes they would simply turn the body over in its grave. Sometimes, unexpectedly fresh and blood filled organs would be burned in a ritualistic fashion. Sometimes, a decapitation of the corpse was called for. Family members would be encouraged to breathe in the fumes of their exhumed relatives in order to attempt to ward off the tuberculosis.
Two of the most famous cases worth looking more into are those of Mercy Brown and Frederick Ransom, the former of whom had her remains exhumed, mixed with water and drank by her brother in an attempt to ward off the disease.
We found out about this story on this great podcast and encourage you to give it a listen yourself: www.missedinhistory.com/podcasts/new-england-vampire-panic.htm