Things That Go Bump In The Night – Mercy Brown

Tomb Stone of Mercy Brown
Tomb Stone of Mercy Brown

A vampire was said to be roaming the night during the late 1800s. Members of the Brown family of Exeter, Rhode Island were falling victim to the drinker of blood. The mother Mary Eliza and two daughters were dead. The son Edwin appeared destined to die unless the vampire was identified and dealt with.

Was this Lucy Westenra? Count Dracula?

No, the vampire was believed to be one of the daughters, Mercy.

Mercy Brown is one of the most famous vampires of the New England Vampire Panic. She, like the other suspected vampires, was believed to have died from consumption, or as it is modernly known, tuberculosis. The disease caused the victim to waste away. Because the bacterial diseases were not well understood at that time, people believed the life was literally being drained by a monster. There were traditional ways to deal with that monster. 

First, they had to identify who the vampire was.  That meant disinterring the dead.  On March 17th, 1892, Mary Eliza, the mother, and Mary Olive, the daughter, were dug up and studied. Because their bodies were decomposing in the normal way, they were judged innocent. Their other daughter Mercy was another matter.

When they opened Mercy’s crypt, they found her with almost none of the expected decomposition. There was liquid blood in her heart, proof that she was the vampire killing her family.  Steps had to be taken to save Edwin’s life. As the superstition directed, Mercy’s heart and liver were burned.  The ashes were mixed with water and fed to Edwin in the hopes of breaking the vampire’s hold over him.  

It didn’t work.  Edwin died two months later.

If Mercy wasn’t a vampire, why was her body in such good condition? Because she died in January 1892, she wasn’t immediately buried.  Her body was placed in an above ground crypt until the ground thawed and digging her grave would be possible. Scientists believe that the crypt and the cold weather acted as a refrigerator, preserving her.

Mercy Brown’s remains were buried in the Baptist Church in Exeter, where her gravestone can be seen today. That is not her only monument.  She was the subject of the first episode of the Lore Podcast, “They Made A Tonic” as well as the first episode of Season One of the Lore Series on Amazon Video. She has appeared in short stories, films, music, and is believed to be the inspiration for the character of Lucy Westenra in the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker. Although she was not a vampire, she has gained the immortality of one.