Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Mercy Brown: American Vampire?

Grave of Mercy Brown
Chestnut Hill Baptist Church Cemetery
Exeter, Rhode Island
A couple of years ago I made a trip to Rhode Island to attend a conference near the town of Exeter. While searching for interesting and unique places to visit in the immediate area, I came across a grave I knew I had to visit. On the second day of the conference I snuck away to visit the nearby cemetery and its infamous resident.

Chestnut Hill Baptist Church Cemetery (also known as Exeter Historical Cemetery #22) appears as a “typical” cemetery to the average person, but this cemetery is part of a bizarre saga of New England’s darker side. Within the boundaries of the cemetery are the remains of one of America's supposed vampires, a young lady by the name of Mercy Lena Brown.

George and Mary Brown had a small farm near Exeter and here Mary bore five children – the third child was named Mercy, though she was known by her family and friends as Lena.. In 1883, sickness descended upon the Brown Family. George first lost his wife on December 8, 1883 to consumption (we know it now as tuberculosis) and his eldest daughter, Mary (who is often referred to in some reports by her middle name, Olive) who died of the disease on June 6, 1884.

For several years, the family seemed to have escaped the black hand of death, however in 1891, Edwin, George's only son, took ill. He left the area for Colorado Springs in hope of escaping the figure of death that seemed to be stationed at his family's doorstep. Mercy, however, was not as lucky and death claimed her on January 18, 1892 at the tender age of nineteen. Due to it being winter, Mercy’s body was placed in a crypt until the ground thawed enough for a proper grave to be dug.

Shortly after Mercy’s death, Edwin returned home with his health fading quickly. Neighbors whispered that the Brown Family was cursed - one of his family had to be returning from the grave. It was obvious that one of his dead family members was feeding on Edwin and the attacks had to come to a halt or poor Edwin would die.

At some point George began to believe this too. Normally a sensible man, he allowed others to convince him that one of his deceased family members was a daemon. The word vampire would not be associated with Mercy Brown until later on. George became convinced that the vampire that was residing in the heart of one of his beloved dead. He contacted a doctor Harold Metcalf of Wickford – who according to newspapers wanted nothing to do with digging up the dead – and on March 17, 1892, and the doctor and a group of men set out to open the graves of the women in search of the daemon.
No surprise, George stayed at home as the bodies of his family were exhumed and investigated.

All three women removed from their graves. George’s wife and eldest daughter were both found to be in an advance state of decay (no surprise there – almost ten years in the ground would definitely do that).

After they checked the two Marys, they opened Mercy’s coffin and found that no decomposition had taken place. The body was still as fresh as the day it had been buried. They removed her heart and liver and finding blood still in her heart, declared she was the one responsible.

Early newspapers claim that they dug up all three bodies. However, they also mention that Mercy’s body was being kept in the cemetery’s crypt awaiting burial because the ground was too hard for proper burial. So with this in mind, I want to point out the obvious – or what seems obvious to me. Mercy’s body was still being stored in a crypt. That was January and it was now March, which means it was still cold out. In all honesty the ground was probably still frozen. There should have been no surprise that Mercy showed no signs of decomposition .

The crypt where Mercy's body was stored
And here's when things really get strange (as if they weren't strange enough). Local word of mouth claims that when the doctor cut open Mercy's body and removed her heart, it supposedly dripped fresh blood. Seeing this, the men took her heart and lover and burned them on a nearby rock. The ashes of Mercy’s heart and liver where then given to family members to mix with water and drink. Yes, they drank the heart of Mercy Brown as a means of stopping the "vampire attacks." The rest of her remains were buried beneath the stone that marks her final resting place.

It is recorded that Edwin returned to Colorado feeling better, but died two months later. Mercy’s other two sisters don’t seem to have suffered from tuberculosis, or if they did I cannot find any sources that claim they were affected by the disease.. One died in 1899 and the other in 1954.

I walked back the path in the cemetery, unsure of where her stone was, but quickly found it on the left side of the path. Mercy is buried next to her brother who drank her ashes and her father who allowed it to happen.

I stood there filled with mixed emotions. I don't believe in vampires and what happened to the remains of this young lady (who is often described as an upright citizen) is disturbing. Who could do that to a corpse, especially when it was the remains of your own flesh and blood? They burned her heart and liver, then drank the mixture in an attempt to cure themselves of the “curse” that was upon them.

I shuddered at the thought.

After paying my respects to her, I turned down a dirt road that led to the crypt where her body was stored at during the winter of 1892. It is falling down and in bad condition but here was her resting place until the butchery of her lifeless body.

I had read about ghosts and strange things happening to those who visit, but I had nothing exciting or strange happen while I was there. There is some creepiness about the area, but I figured it was more due to the information I already knew, rather than something unexplainable.

If you do decide to visit Mercy's grave I ask that you please use common sense and be respectful of the cemetery. Police do patrol the cemetery; I had one pull in while I was there – he told me they have had lots of complaints about people in the cemetery doing stupid things.

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