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 cheap here.

 

The Allure of Vampires

I’ve been thinking a lot about vampires lately. It seems that nearly every urban fantasy novel out there (including my own) has them. Why is that?

Glad you asked.

Well, for starters, I think it’s because vampires blend the best out of the paranormals. Sure, shifters like werewolves can look human, but in order for a shifter to really do anything kickass, they have to use special effects. Take a bar fight, for example. In a bar fight, a vampire can use all of his powers and he still looks human. A shifter might be stronger than a normal human and have keener senses while in human form, but to really rip things up in a bar fight they have to change forms.

The vast array of powers a vampire possesses is also appealing. Let’s do a quick laundry list of vampiric abilities:

  • Super strength
  • Super speed
  • Night vision
  • The ability to crawl on walls (which also gives them the opportunity to go as a badass Spider-Man on Halloween)
  • The ability to control/become  mist
  • The ability to hypnotize/dominate humans
  • Shapeshift into bats or wolves
  • Control swarms of rats or packs of wolves
  • Accelerated healing
  • And, they’re usually damned stylish with designer clothes and a propensity to be suave and correctly pronounce words in French

What does a shifter get?

  • Strength
  • Animal form
  • Slightly better senses while in human form
  • High clothing bills because they’re always ripping/losing their clothing
  • Doggy breath
  • Fleas

It’s kind of a win/lose for the shifter on this one. Sure, you’re a force of nature while in animal form, but you also can’t talk and you lose your opposable thumbs. Vamps can feign fancy foreign accents whenever they want and I’m willing to bet that if you looked closely at a vampire’s paws while in animal form, you’d see a tiny, spiteful thumb. Additionally, you never hear about Animal Control being called on a vampire.

There are other, more genuine reasons, though. Vampires were human once. They still remember what their hopes and dreams were, and  that makes them relatable. It’s really hard to do that for other paranormal creatures.  You could try to write a paranormal romance with Bigfoot or a hard boiled chupacabra detective, but it’d be tough because their minds are too foreign to readers. You can’t do it with other kinds of undead like zombies or liches, because let’s face it, they’re gross and they’ve lost their humanity. Sure, you can do it with a shifter, but see above reasons (FLEAS) on why a vamp might be a more appealing choice.

Even a vampire’s weaknesses are cooler. Vampire – “I can’t meet you for lunch tomorrow because I’d be immolated by the sun.” (Spontaneous combustion = cool). Shifter – “I can’t meet you for lunch tomorrow because I’m having a flea and tick bath.” (Awkward hygiene = not cool)

So until we come up with another paranormal humanoid that can hand out dish after dish of supernatural smackdown and look cool while doing it, I think we’ll be seeing vampires as main characters/antagonists for a long time.