Vampires in Early New England

I recently finished reading a book called The Vampire Hunter’s Guide to New England. Now with a name like that, you’d expect sort of a Fodor’s Guide, something that would tell you which churches in Massachusetts stock the strongest holy water, what New Hampshire farms grow the best garlic and which forests in Maine you should carve your wooden stakes from. However, the title’s a bit of a misnomer. Instead, the book is actually a collection of real-world Yankee undead encounters from the 17 & 1800’s.

Title aside (and I’m not one to talk, after all, I titled one of my stories Krampusnacht – just rolls of the tongue, doesn’t it?) the book is quite good. It recounts eight cases of “vampirism” in early New England. The interesting theme is that all these “vampires” were actually cases of tuberculosis. In almost all cases, a member of the family died of TB, and then when another member of the family took ill, the father figure of the family assumed the first family member had come back and was feeding off the living.

There were a couple of things about this that struck me as strange. For starters, there was never any mention of the trademark puncture wounds on a victim’s neck. I’m not sure when that made it into mainstream vampiric lore, but apparently in the 1700’s vampires drained your energy without leaving marks. No holes in your neck, no sensitivity to sunlight; you just wasted away. The way to tell if someone had become a vampire was to dig them up and check if there was still blood in the suspect’s heart. If there was, you were supposed to burn the heart, which would kill the vampire. If there wasn’t, well, I guess you’d have a bunch of relieved townspeople.

Unless you lived in Connecticut.

There was one account from 1850 in Connecticut where a man referred to as “J.B.” died of TB and then his brothers took sick 8 years later. Apparently there’s no statute of limitations on when a family member can come back as a vamp because folks starting saying J.B. had returned and was feeding on his family. They dug him up, and discovered (to everyone’s surprise but mine) he had decomposed completely into a skeleton. This didn’t convince the townsfolk. Not having a heart to burn, the townsfolk dealt with this “vampire” by rearranging his bones so they formed a skull and crossbones pattern, which was supposed to stop J.B. from rising again.

Maybe I missed it, but I’ve never seen or heard of a vampire story where the vamp starts out as a skeleton, spontaneously regenerates his flesh, leaves the grave, feeds off his family, and then returns to his coffin and promptly withers back to skeletal form. Never let it be said that people from Connecticut are weak in their convictions, but apparently this skele-vampire can only be stopped by jumbling his bones about because obviously he’s not smart enough to rearrange them.

At any rate, I’d suggest picking up this book if you’re interested in early New England vampire stories. You can find it on Amazon really cheapĀ here.

 

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