New England Vampire Panic, A Tale We Can’t Pass Up

A poke through the internet looking up, say, best prices on a vampire killing kit for a safe vacation, lets one stumble upon the most curious information.  This time about  the great New England vampire panic of the 1800s.

Vampirish beliefs have been around since the dawn of time and New England did not escape. It wasn’t the Bram Stoker cloaked figures sucking blood from jugulars that manifested. A more amorphous belief took hold, a conviction that some of the dead were not quite dead. Somehow the dearly departed were sticking around to suck life out of the living. 

And they had to be stopped.

At the time, this was a perfectly logical response to the outbreaks of tuberculosis that laid waste to whole families and communities once it got going.

Tuberculosis was known as consumption, a particularly apt name for a mysterious ailment that literally consumed a victim. One member of a healthy, active family would suddenly begin to weaken and, over period of agonized, hope in assorted ineffective “cures”, the person would become emaciated and finally die.  After a while another member of the family would similarly sicken and fade away. Then another and another. No treatment, including sugar water, bites from rattlesnakes and lots of horseback riding, had any effect.

So what was causing folks to waste away so alarmingly.  Could it be that those who had gone before were in some mysterious way still lingering to leach life from those still alive?

It was as good an explanation as any other.

The idea took hold.  Panic arose to make sure those in the graveyard were really dead and not rising to mooch vigor from their above ground fellows. The accepted method was to exhume the body and employ various squelching methods ranging from flipping the corpse upside down,beheading, binding with thorns.  Poplar was ripping out the heart, if the corpse still had one, and burning it, sometimes as a public spectacle.  Inhaling the smoke of the burning heart was supposed to be a cure.

Often the people doing the exhuming and corpse scrambling would be the actual family and friends of the deceased. That could only mean true desperation to escape a dread disease. Though this was often done on the sly, there are thought to be hundreds of cases scattered about New England as folks did their best to protect health and safety just as we do today.

Sufferers had to wait for a real cure until the nineteen forties.

Read all the details in the terrific article in the Smithsonian magazine.

Then just check to make sure your own life essence isn’t being surreptitiously slurped up when you aren’t paying attention.









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