Food for the Dead: On the Trail of New England’s Vampires

by Michael E. Bell

Forget Bela Lugosi’s CountDracula.

  • Paperback
  • Pages: 352 pages
  • Average Rating: 3.6 out of 5
  • Published September 16th 2002 by Basic Books
  • Original Title: Food for the Dead: On the Trail of New England's Vampires
  • ISBN: 0786710497 (ISBN13: 9780786710492)
  • Edition Language: English

Forget Bela Lugosi’s Count Dracula. In nineteenth-century New England another sort of vampire was relentlessly ravishing the populace, or so it was believed by many rural communities suffering the plague of tuberculosis. Indeed, as this fascinating book shows, the vampire of folk superstition figures significantly in the attempt of early Americans to reasonably explain and vanquish the dreaded affliction then known as consumption. In gripping narrative detail, folklorist Michael E. Bell reconstructs a distant world, where on March 17, 1892, three corpses were exhumed from a Rhode Island cemetery. One of them, Mercy Brown, who had succumbed to consumption, appeared to have turned over in her grave. Mercy’s family cut out her heart, which still held clots of blood, burned it on a nearby rock, and fed the ashes to her ailing brother. To Mercy’s community she had become a vampire living a spectral existence and consuming the vitality of her siblings. From documents written as early as 1790 to a recent conversation with a descendant of Mercy Brown, Bell investigates twenty cases in which the vampiric dead were exhumed to save the ailing living. He also explores a widespread folk tradition that has survived generations, as ordinary people today strive to battle extraordinary diseases like Ebola or AIDS with a deeply rooted belief in their power to heal themselves. “Bell’s absorbing account is … a major contribution to the study of New England folk beliefs.”—Boston Globe “Filled with ghostly tales, glowing corpses, rearranged bones, visits to hidden graveyards…. This is a marvelous book.”—Providence Journal