Monthly Archives: October 2018

My Last Cemetery Lecture of the Season

1930 mission linen bells002This Saturday night, I’ll be using my collection of cemetery postcards to illustrate the changes to the oldest European-style cemetery in Northern California.
My talk will be part of the fabled Litcrawl in San Francisco’s Mission District. I’ll be joined by Odd Salon Fellows Laura Rubin and Casey Selden for tales from the surprising history of cities of the dead.

Odd Salon: Cemetery Stories

Saturday October 20, 2018 6:30pm – 7:30pm

Admission is FREE!


Loren Rhoads

Loren Rhoads is the author of 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die and Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel. She blogs about graveyards as travel destinations at She’ll be talking about San Francisco’s Mission Dolores.


Laura Rubin

Odd Salon Fellow. She’ll be talking about London’s Funeral Railway.


Casey Selden

Casey Selden is a Fellow of Odd Salon and a fermentation dabbler. She’s made beer, cider and wine for kicks in her kitchen. She’ll be talking about a grave in Chicago and the woman who goes along with it.

Expert talks on odd topics; odd talks on everything else.

Cemetery of the Week #172: Greyfriars Kirkyard


Greyfriars Kirkyard
Also known as Greyfriars Churchyard
Address: 26A Candlemaker Row, Edinburgh, Scotland
Founded: 1562
Size: 5 acres
Number interred: 250,000

In 1447, Franciscan monks (called the Gray Friars for the color of their robes) built their friary at the north end of the Grassmarket on a slope with a lovely view of Edinburgh Castle. The Franciscans, a medical order, served the poor there until they were chased out of Scotland by the Reformation in 1558.

Their friary yard was claimed by Queen Mary in 1562 for a public burial ground. Just in time, too. The graveyard was used “extensively” during the Black Plague of 1568.


Photo by my friend Jeff. Used by permission.

The first peer buried there was James Douglas, Earl of Morton, executed in 1581 after being accused of the murder of Queen Mary’s husband. The next year, he was followed to the graveyard by historian George Buchanan. Both graves went unmarked, common practice at the time. Painters George Jameson (died 1644) and Sir John Medina (died 1710), and poet Allan Ramsay (died 1758) also lie in unmarked graves.

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Photo of the Covenanters Monument by Kim Traynor, wikimedia commons.

At the foot of the cemetery’s east walk stands the Covenanters’ Monument — also called the Martyrs’ Monument — which remembers Scottish Presbyterians who died for their faith rather than convert to the Anglican Church founded by Henry VIII in England in 1534.

The scourge of the Covenanters was Sir George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh.  He was a highly educated member of the Scottish Parliament, a lawyer, and a member of the Privy Council of Scotland.  In 1677, he became Lord Advocate in the service of King Charles II of England, in charge of punishing anyone who refused to swear loyalty to King Charles or rejected the Church of England.

By Mackenzie’s command, 400 Covenanters were imprisoned in Greyfriar’s Kirkyard in 1679.  The guards abused them. They suffered from the weather, lack of shelter, and starvation. Many ended up buried anonymously in a mass grave in the Kirkyard. In all, Mackenzie is blamed for the deaths of nearly 18,000 people during the eight years dubbed “the Killing Time.”

Mackenzie himself died and was buried in the Kirkyard in 1691.  His tomb stood quietly until 1998, when a homeless man broke into it.  When the thief ransacked the coffins, the floor collapsed beneath him, spilling him into a plague pit full of bones beneath the mausoleum.  The man managed to haul himself out, then ran screaming into the night.

Something had been unleashed.

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By Jonathan Oldenbuck [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], from Wikimedia Commons

For the past twenty years, Greyfriars Kirkyard has been considered one of the most haunted graveyards in the world. Visitors have been scratched, bruised, and bitten near Mackenzie’s mausoleum.  Blasts of cold air chase some visitors away.  Others become nauseous and disoriented or are struck with splitting headaches. One woman was found unconscious near the mausoleum with bruises like finger-marks around her neck.

In 2000, spiritualist minister Colin Grant attempted to exorcise the mausoleum.  He felt the presence of hundreds of souls in torment and a presence of overwhelming evil.  He fled the Kirkyard, but it was too late. He died unexpectedly of a heart attack several weeks later.

YouTube is full of videos of people showing off bite marks and bruises received while touring Greyfriars Kirkyard. Enter at your own risk.

IMG_3073As a matter of fact, there is a history of grave robbing at Greyfriars Kirkyard, to supply dissection specimens for the medical students at the University of Edinburgh. The cemetery is overlooked by watchtowers built to protect the sanctity of the dead here. Wealthy families also had cages of iron bars built over their loved ones’ graves, to prevent their bodies from being disturbed. That’s grim enough, even without the poltergeist.

Useful links:

The cemetery’s homepage:

Welcome to The Most Haunted Graveyard:

Grave robbers at Greyfriars:

Greyfriars Kirkyard’s connection to the Harry Potter books:

Night tours of Greyfriars Kirkyard:

Greyfriars Kirkyard is one of the 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die. You can get a copy from your favorite bookstore or via Amazon:

More of Jeff’s Greyfriars photos are here:



Resting Places of Horror Film Icons, Part Two

Many of our literary forebears have monuments we can visit, where we can thank them for their inspiration. (Check my cemetery column here for details.) Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of many of our favorite horror movie actors and directors. Too many of them do not have grave sites, whether they were buried in unmarked graves or their ashes were scattered – or I couldn’t determine the disposition of their remains. I wish we could find some appropriate way to honor them.

What follows is a listing of actors gathered from the Horror Writers Association Facebook page and conversations with my local HWA chapter and others. I’ve included burial places, when known.

Part 1 of this list appeared yesterday. If I’ve missed anyone that should be included in this list, please drop a comment below and I’ll put together a Part 3.

William Marshall was a Shakespearean actor who starred in the Blaxploitation movies BLACKULA and its sequel, SCREAM, BLACKULA, SCREAM. After he died in 2003 from complications of Alzheimer’s Disease, Marshall was cremated.

Brooke McCarter played Paul in LOST BOYS and also appeared in an episode of the Twilight Zone reboot. He died in 2015 in Tampa, Florida of liver failure. His gravesite is unknown.

Mercedes McCambridge enjoyed a long career in character roles, but became a cult heroine after she provided the voice of Pazuzu in THE EXORCIST. She died in La Jolla, California in 2004 at the age of 87. Her ashes were scattered at sea.

Roddy McDowell was a child actor who worked into old age, starring in more genre movies than I can list, including THE HAUNTING OF HELL HOUSE and FRIGHT NIGHT. He died at home of cancer at the age of 70. His ashes were scattered at sea.

Darren McGavin will be remembered forever for playing journalist Carl Kolchak, THE NIGHT STALKER. After his death of natural causes at the age of 83, McGavin was buried at Hollywood Forever in Burbank, California in 2006.

Vic Morrow died during the filming of TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE in 1982. He was buried at Hillside Memorial Park in Culver City, California. His grave marker says, “I loved him as Dad.”

Paul Naschy was a Spanish actor who made his debut as a werewolf in FRANKENSTEIN’S BLOODY TERROR in 1968. He died in 2009 at the age of 75 and was buried in the Burgos Municipal Cemetery in Castille, Spain.

The original Horror Hostess Vampira set the bar for all who followed. Maila Nurmi may be best remembered as Bela Lugosi’s reanimated wife in PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. When she died in 2008 at the age of 85, friends arranged for her to be buried at Hollywood Forever in Burbank, California.

Heather ORourkeBlond child actress Heather O’Rourke starred in the POLTERGEIST movies as Carol Anne. She died at the age of 12 of a bowel obstruction before the final movie was released. She is buried at Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles.

Although Russian-born Maria Ouspenskaya is best remembered for playing the gypsy fortune teller opposite Lon Chaney Jr. in THE WOLF MAN, she was twice nominated for Academy Awards. She died after suffering a stroke in 1943 and was buried in Forest Lawn, Glendale.

After Bill Paxton climbed up on the bar in NEAR DARK, vampires would never be the same. He also featured in ALIENS and PREDATOR 2, among many others. He died unexpectedly at the age of 61 of complications following heart surgery. Paxton was buried in the Court of Liberty at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills.

Anthony Perkins created the career-defining role of Norman Bates in Hitchcock’s PSYCHO. He died of AIDS-related pneumonia at age 60 in 1992. Perkins was cremated and his ashes kept on an altar at his residence in the Hollywood Hills. His urn is inscribed, “Don’t Fence Me In.”

Born in Poland, Ingrid Pitt was interned in a Nazi concentration camp as a child. After the war, she moved to England. Her breakout role was THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, followed by COUNTESS DRACULA, and THE WICKER MAN. She is buried in the Richmond and East Sheen Cemeteries, in London, England.

From THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL to THE ABOMINABLE DR PHIBES to Roger Corman’s Poe movies, Vincent Price was always elegant and at least slightly mad. His ashes were scattered off Point Dume, California.

Claude Rains played the iconic INVISIBLE MAN twice. The 1966 remake was his final movie role. When he died of an abdominal hemorrhage at the age of 77, Rains was buried in Red Hill Cemetery, Mountonborough, New Hampshire. His monument says, “Soul, once living, lives forever.”

Basil Rathbone played Baron Wolf von Frankenstein in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN and returned to horror in Roger Corman’s TALES OF TERROR. Rathbone died of a heart attack in 1967 and was buried in the mausoleum at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.

Oliver Reed starred in CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF as a young man, played Bill Sikes in OLIVER!, but really outdid himself as Urbain Grandier in Ken Russell’s THE DEVILS. Reed died in Malta in 1999 while filming GLADIATOR at the age of 61. He was buried in Bruhenny Graveyard in County Cork, Ireland, where his headstone was placed with a view of his favorite pub.

Michael Ripper worked for Hammer Horror for 25 years, playing character parts opposite Christopher Lee (9 times) and Peter Cushing (7 times). In all, Ripper appeared in 35 Hammer movies. He died at the age of 87 in 2000 and received a non-cemetery burial. I couldn’t find any more information.

German Robles’ performance in EL VAMPIRO is said to have influenced Christopher Lee’s DRACULA. Robles died in Mexico City in November 2015, but his burial site is unknown.

Lina Romay starred in 150 low-budget films directed by her partner Jess Franco. She debuted in LA MALIDICION DE FRANKENSTEIN but her first major role was in FEMALE VAMPIRE. She died of cancer in 2012 at the age of 57. Her ashes were given to family or friends.

George Romero, father of the modern zombie movie, is buried at the Toronto Necropolis Cemetery in Ontario, Canada. Romero died in his sleep while battling lung cancer in 2017. He was 77.

Zelda Rubenstein came to acting in her 40s, but found fame playing the psychic Tangina Barrons in the POLTERGEIST franchise. Rubenstein was one of the first celebrity AIDS spokespeople. She died of cardiac and pulmonary failure in 2010 at the age of 76. Her ashes were given to her family.

Remembered for playing Count Orloff in F.W. Murnau’s NOSFERATU: EINE SYMPHONIE DES GRAUNES, Max Schreck is buried in Wilmersdorfer Waldfriedhof Stahndorf in Brandenburg, Germany. He was 56 when he died in 1936.

Angus Scrimm gained fame playing the Tall Man in the PHANTASM movies. In 2016, Scrimm died at the age of 89 from prostate cancer. The location of his grave is unknown.

Creator of THE TWILIGHT ZONE and NIGHT GALLERY, Rod Serling died of complications from heart surgery at the age of 50. He was buried at Lakeview Cemetery in Interlaken, New York.

During World War II, French actress Simone Simon made CAT PEOPLE and its sequel CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE. After the war, she returned to France, where she died in 2005 at the age of 94. She is buried in the Cemetery of Chateau-Gombert in Provence. Her grave is marked with lovely ceramic flowers called immortelles.

Mexican actress Lupita Tovar starred in the Spanish-language version of DRACULA, which was filmed on the same sets as the Lugosi version in the evenings after the English version wrapped for the day. She was 20 at the time. She died of heart disease in 2016 at the age of 106. She was buried in Hillside Memorial Park in Culver City, California. (Thanks to Lisa Neff for the information!)

Long before he appeared in CASABLANCA, Conrad Veidt appeared in THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI and THE MAN WHO LAUGHED (whose title character inspired Bob Kane’s Joker). After Veidt’s death from a heart attack while golfing, his ashes were originally kept in the columbarium at Ferncliffe Cemetery in New York. After his wife’s death, remains of the two were commingled and enshrined at Golders Green Columbarium in London, England.

David Warbeck starred in Fulci’s THE BEYOND. His last movie was the vampire film RAZOR BLADE SMILE. He died of cancer in 1997 at the age of 55. The location of his grave is unknown.

The director of Universal’s FRANKENSTEIN and BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, James Whale drowned himself in his swimming pool in 1957. His ashes reside in the Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn in Glendale, California.

As Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, Gene Wilder rewarded our love for the old Universal monsters with YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. Wilder died of complications of Alzheimer’s disease in 2016 and was cremated. The disposition of his remains is unknown.

Bob Wilkins, the host of Creature Features and other shows in Northern California, retired to Reno, Nevada, where he died of complications of Alzheimer’s Disease in 2009. His burial site in unknown.

After featuring in DAMNATION ALLEY, WRATH OF KHAN, and THE TERMINATOR, Paul Winfield died of a heart attack in 2004 at the age of 64. He was buried in the Court of Liberty in Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills with his husband, Chuck Gillan Jr.

Director of PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, the so-called worst movie ever made, Ed Wood died of a heart attack at the age of 54 in 1978. His ashes were scattered.


Natalie Wood’s monument

Natalie Wood drowned mysteriously during the filming of BRAINSTORM, which was finally released two years later in 1983. An investigation into her death has recently been reopened. She was buried in Westwood Memorial Park.

One of the first of the Hollywood Scream Queens, Fay Wray is best remembered for playing Ann Darrow in KING KONG. She died at the age of 96 in 2004 and is buried in Hollywood Forever under a very minimal black headstone.

Remember, if you catch an error or think of anyone I’ve missed, please let me know.

Resting Places of Horror Film Icons, Part One

In my other life, outside the cemetery, I write horror stories. Many of horror’s literary forebears have monuments we can visit, where we can thank them for their inspiration. I’ve written about them before:

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of many for our favorite horror movie actors and directors.  Too many of them do not have gravesites – or I couldn’t determine the disposition of their remains.  I wish we horror writers could find some appropriate way to honor them.

What follows is a listing of actors gathered from the Horror Writers Association Facebook page and conversations with both my local HWA chapter and others.  I’ve included all the burial places I could find.

Part 2 of my list will appear in tomorrow.  If I’ve missed anyone that should be included in this list, please drop me a note below and I’ll put together a Part 3.

One of the most important actors, directors and producers in Mexican film & TV, Ernesto Alonso starred in EL MALEFICO. He was buried at the Church of San Antonio de Padua in Mexico City.

British actor Lionel Atwill starred in 50 movies in the 1930s and 40s, including SON OF FRANKENSTEIN and MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM. His ashes were placed at the Chapel of the Pines in Pacific Palisades, California in 1946.

Director of BLACK SUNDAY, THE MASK OF SATAN and KILL, BABY, KILL, as well as 70-some other giallo films, Mario Bava was buried in the Monumental Cemetery of Verano. He died in 1980 of a heart attack.

Ingmar Bergman, the director who brought us a chess-playing Death in THE SEVENTH SEAL was buried beneath a boulder in Faro Churchyard in Gotlands län, Sweden.

A prolific Shakespearean actor who appeared in HOUSE OF DRACULA, VAMPIRE HOOKERS, and a host of other B movies, John Carradine died of natural causes at the age of 82 in Italy. He was given a naval burial at sea off the coast of Catalina, California.

Known best for playing Mina Seward in the Bela Lugosi version of DRACULA, Helen Chandler died in 1965 after surgery for a bleeding ulcer. She was cremated at the Chapel of the Pines in Los Angeles, California. Her ashes are shelved in a section of the columbarium not open to visitors.

The original Lawrence Talbot in THE WOLF MAN, Lon Chaney Jr. went on to play Frankenstein’s monster, the mummy Kharis, and Dracula, along with many other roles in horror and western films. He died of alcohol-related health problems at the age of 67 in Orange County, California. He donated his body to science. He doesn’t even have a star on Hollywood Boulevard.

Lon Chaney, the Man of 1000 Faces, played Quasimodo in THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME and the Phantom in PHANTOM OF THE OPERA before he died of throat cancer at the age of 47. He was buried in the Sanctuary of Meditation at the Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn in Glendale, California.

Arguably the most influential Dr. Victor Frankenstein, Colin Clive died of pneumonia at the age of 37.  His ashes were scattered at the Chapel of the Pines Crematory in Los Angeles, California. He is remembered on a cenotaph in the Garden of Memories.

After playing both Dr. Frankenstein and Dr. Van Helsing for Hammer Studios, Peter Cushing went on to play both Dr. Who and Grand Moff Tarkin.  Cushing died in Canterbury, England after a long battle with prostate cancer and was cremated. The disposition of his ashes is unknown.

Rhoads Bette DavisAlthough she had a long and illustrious career, I include Bette Davis here for WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE and HUSH, HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE. Davis died of cancer at the age of 81 and was buried in the Court of Remembrance at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills in Burbank, California.

Yvonne DeCarlo will be remembered for originating the role of Lily in THE MUNSTERS. She died in 2007 at the age of 84 in Woodland Hills, California. She was cremated and her ashes given to a friend.

Dominique Dunne was best known for playing Dana Freeling in POLTERGEIST. At the age of 22, she was murdered by a jealous ex-boyfriend. She was buried at Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles.

Chosen by Mel Brooks to play Igor (it’s pronounced Eye-gore) in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, Marty Feldman died of a massive heart attack at the age of 48.  He was buried at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills.

Jonathan Frid played the vampire Barnabas Collins on the soap opera DARK SHADOWS. He died at the age of 87 in Hamilton in Ontario, Canada. He was cremated. The location of his ashes is unknown.

Known for playing both Renfield in DRACULA and Fritz (the quintessential Igor) in FRANKENSTEIN in 1931, Dwight Frye was a devout Christian Scientist who hid his heart condition until it killed him on a bus at the age of 47. He was buried at Forest Lawn in Glendale, California.

A gentle giant who played Herman in THE MUNSTERS and the kindly neighbor in PET SEMETARY, Fred Gwynne died in 1993 of pancreatic cancer.  He was buried in an unmarked grave in Sandy Mount United Methodist Church Cemetery in Finksburg, Maryland.

Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch of the West in THE WIZARD OF OZ ranked #4 on the American Film Institute’s list of The Greatest Screen Villains. She died of a heart attack at the age of 82 and was cremated. Her ashes were scattered over her property in Dutchess County, New York.

The original Leatherface in THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, Gunnar Hansen died of pancreatic cancer in Northeast Harbor, Maine, at the age of 68. The location of his grave is unknown.

Julie Harris played the tormented wallflower in THE HAUNTING, based on Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. Harris died of congestive heart failure in West Chatham, Massachusetts at the age of 87. The disposition of her ashes is unknown.

Disfigured by a pituitary disorder possibly caused by his exposure to mustard gas in World War I, Rondo Hatton was called “the monster who needed no makeup.” He played villains in B movies in the 1930s and 40s. After his death in 1946, he was buried in the American Legion Cemetery in Tampa, Florida.

Alfred Hitchcock, director of PSYCHO and THE BIRDS, died of heart failure at the age of 80.  He requested that his ashes be scattered.

Irish actress Valerie Hobson played Elizabeth in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN and appeared in WEREWOLF OF LONDON, both in 1935. She died at the age of 81 and was buried in St. Peter’s Churchyard in Surrey, England. She shared the grave with her second husband, politician John Perfumo.

Tobe Hooper, director of THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE and POLTERGEIST, died in August 2017 of natural causes at the age of 74. I haven’t been able to determine what happened next.

In a career that spanned from ALIEN to 1984 to DR. WHO, John Hurt was nominated for Oscars for THE ELEPHANT MAN and MIDNIGHT EXPRESS.  He died in January 2017 of pancreatic cancer. He was 77. No burial site has been announced.

Michael Jackson, included here for the short movie THRILLER, died in 2009 of an overdose of anesthetic. He was 50.  He is buried in a locked chapel in Forest Lawn’s Great Mausoleum in Glendale, California.

Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson appeared in a number of films, but is best remembered for PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. He died at the age of 67 and was buried in Eternal Valley Memorial Park in Newhall, California.

Duane L. Jones made history when he appeared in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. He was the first African American actor to star in a horror movie. When he died of a heart attack at the young age of 51 in 1988, his ashes were given to his family.

When Bela Lugosi refused to take a role in which his face would be unrecognizable, Boris Karloff became a star even though he didn’t receive screen credit in the initial release of FRANKENSTEIN.  Karloff died at home in England from emphysema at the age of 81.  After his cremation at Guilford Crematorium in England, Karloff’s ashes were buried under a rosebush in the Garden of Remembrance at Mount Cemetery. He deserves a grander monument.

German actor Klaus Kinski was captured by the British on his second day of combat in World War II. He appeared in a spectrum of movies including NOSFERATU THE VAMPIRE before being diagnosed with psychopathy. He died of a heart attack in Lagunitas, California in 1991. His ashes were scattered over the ocean.

Director of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, THE SHINING, and 11 other films, Stanley Kubrick died of a heart attack shortly before the release of EYES WIDE SHUT. He was buried on his estate near St. Albans in England. The boulder marking his grave is inscribed, “Here lies our Stanley.”

Fondly remembered for playing both Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and the monster’s bride in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, Elsa Lanchester died at the age of 84 in Woodland Hills, California. She was cremated and her ashes scattered at sea.

Director of M, METROPOLIS, and DR. MABUSE, Fritz Lang fled Nazi Germany for the US. He died at age 85 in 1976 and was buried in Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills.

Rhoads Brandon LeeKilled by a mis-loaded prop gun on the set of THE CROW, Brandon Lee was buried beside his father Bruce near the crest of Lake View Cemetery in Seattle, Washington.

From Dracula to Saruman, Christopher Lee was a towering figure in horror films.  He died of heart failure in June 2015 at the age of 93. One report says he was buried in Karoro Cemetery in Greymouth, New Zealand, but I cannot confirm it. Findagrave reports that his ashes were scattered over the Surrey Hills in Englang.

Janet Leigh said she was never able to take a shower again after starring in PSYCHO. After her death at the age of 74 in 2004, she was buried in Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles.

Cast as the psychopathic child murderer in M by Fritz Lang, Peter Lorre started on a career of playing villains and outcasts. He died in 1964 from a stroke. His ashes were interred in the Cathedral Mausoleum at Hollywood Forever. Vincent Price read his eulogy.


Bela Lugosi’s gravestone in Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City. Photo by Loren Rhoads.

After a successful run of DRACULA on Broadway, Hungarian-born Bela Lugosi became a star in Hollywood. He died during the filming of PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. Frank Sinatra paid for Lugosi’s grave in Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.  Lugosi was buried in one of his black opera capes. I wrote about visiting his grave here:

If you find an error or think of anyone I’ve missed, please drop me a note. Part 2 will go up tomorrow!

Cemetery of the Week #171: Chestnut Hill Cemetery

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Mercy’s grave, as photographed by the Rhode Island Historical Society.

Chestnut Hill Cemetery
Also known as Chestnut Hill Baptist Church Cemetery, Rhode Island Historical Cemetery #22
467 Ten Rod Road (Route 102)
Exeter, Rhode Island 02822
Opened: 1838
Size: 10 acres
Number of interments: approximately 1000

Rather than Bram Stoker’s Dracula, rising from his grave to roam the night, New England vampires could prey upon the living while confined inside their coffins. There are almost 20 documented instances of vampires being exhumed in New England, beginning even before to the American Revolution.

One of the last recorded vampire tales in New England took place in the 1880s. George and Mary Brown farmed outside the town of Exeter, Rhode Island.  Mary Brown was struck by an illness, probably tuberculosis, that drained her vitality.  She withered and died in 1883.

The following year, Mary’s eldest daughter, Mary Olive, died at the age of 20.

Several years passed before George and Mary’s son Edwin began to fade.  The local physician suggested that Edwin and his wife move to Colorado Springs to recover.

The cold, dry air did seem to help Edwin, but while he was recuperating, his sister Mercy began to fail.  Edwin rushed home to say goodbye to her. She died in January 1892 at the age of 19.

Since winter had frozen the ground solid, Mercy’s body was placed in the receiving crypt at Chestnut Hill Cemetery. Receiving crypts were common, back before cemeteries developed heating blankets that could thaw the winter ground.  Old cemeteries often still have these crypts, although nowadays the sheds are used to store mowers and other equipment.

Back in the 1890s, Edwin’s health deteriorated.  George Brown’s neighbors decided Edwin was suffering from Vampire’s Grasp. The only way to save him would be to “perform the folk ritual.”

On March 17, 1892, the doctor and George Brown’s neighbors dug up the graves of Mary and Mary Olive. George stayed home. Both women’s corpses were badly decomposed, as one would expect after almost a decade in the ground.

Then the receiving crypt was opened.  Mercy’s coffin was still inside it. When the mob opened her coffin, Mercy had turned sideways inside it. Rather than considering if she had been buried alive — or merely jostled as she was carried to the crypt — onlookers took that as assurance she was the vampire.

Other than her strange position, Mercy’s body looked as expected. But when the doctor removed her heart and liver, they leaked blood.

The neighbors placed the organs on a rock in the cemetery and set them afire. The ashes were collected up and mixed with liquor to be fed to Edwin.  Unfortunately, the remedy didn’t save him.  He died six weeks later, in May.

When Bram Stoker died in 1897, newspaper clippings about Mercy’s exhumation were found in his possession. H. P. Lovecraft, who lived in nearby Providence, mentioned Mercy in his story, “The Shunned House.”

Whether she roamed from her tomb or not beforehand, Mercy now turns up as a ghost in this “nondescript little cemetery.” Apparently, blue lights hover close to her grave.

Mercy’s gravestone is anchored to the ground to prevent it from being stolen. There is reported to be a guest book in a tupperware box for you to sign. Remember that this cemetery is still in use, so if you visit, behave yourself.

Useful links:

Findagrave listing:

Odd Things I’ve Seen visitation report and photos:

Mercy’s story with the family obituaries:

The Atlas Obscura listing, with directions to another Rhode Island vampire’s grave as well:

The reference about Stoker & Lovecraft: