Cemetery of the Week #171: Chestnut Hill Cemetery

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Mercy’s grave, as photographed by the Rhode Island Historical Society. https://wp.me/p7ud3-184

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: https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/1451811/chestnut-hill-cemetery

Odd Things I’ve Seen visitation report and photos: http://www.oddthingsiveseen.com/2007/12/grave-of-mercy-brown-vampire.html

Mercy’s story with the family obituaries: https://rihs.wordpress.com/2016/10/31/have-mercy/

The Atlas Obscura listing, with directions to another Rhode Island vampire’s grave as well: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/grave-mercy-brown

The reference about Stoker & Lovecraft: https://www.hauntedplaces.org/item/chestnut-hill-cemetery/

 

About Loren Rhoads

I'm the author of 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die and Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel, as well as a space opera trilogy. In addition to blogging at CemeteryTravel.com, I blog about my morbid life at lorenrhoads.com.
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