Youth: supple and strong. Most of us would agree these are characteristics between childhood and maturity. But what happens when youth withers and dies? For some in pre-industrial society, the answer was vampirism.
Abraham Stoker, the famous Irish author of the 1897 classic Dracula, did not spawn the idea of the vampire. This gothic symbol and its characteristics have been around since the dawn of civilization. It was introduced into literature by German writers fascinated by the Serbian fear of the ghoul.
A vampire feasts on the life (usually the blood) of the living. They are therefore seen as the antithesis of life, youth and goodness.
Tuberculosis or consumption could also fit that profile. It is indiscriminate about age; young and old alike fall under the weight of this infectious disease. This affliction is centered on the lungs, and the victim wastes away. The perpetual cough associated with consumption will bring with it blood around the mouth from the damage to the lungs. Inevitably the victim will succumb. Because of the infectious nature of this disease, it is likely that family members get this disease- and the modern conception of vampirism is born.
Families believed that a recently deceased relative was the one responsible for the slow deterioration of the living; the vampire. To save the sick, family members would exhume the dead, cut out their hearts, and burn them- in serious cases the whole body would be burned.
Alleged cases of vampirism due to consumption have been found around the world- closest to date is in New England and Rhode Island. A family plot in Griswold, Connecticut was found to have at least one burial exhumed for the purpose of saving the living from the dead. It was the grave of a middle aged man with clear signs of tuberculosis. When archeologists opened the coffin they found the bones had been disturbed after death to make the skull and cross bone- an attempt to keep him in his coffin. The family of this particular man likely had an outbreak of tuberculosis many years after his death, because bones were the only thing left to disturb.
There is more far more historical evidence. In 1854 a Connecticut newspaper (Norwich Currier) claimed that two boys had followed their father, Horace Ray, eight years after his death due to consumption. It was only after the last son was afflicted did the family take action. It was reported that they exhumed the sons and burned their bodies so they couldn’t feed on the remaining brother.
While we snub our noses at the possibility of vampirism, and as this article claims: find natural causes for what some might fear is a spectral attack, there are those who still fear the vampire. Note the recent article in Daily Mail Online UK, on November 27 of this year that claims that the Zarozje village in the municipality of Bajina Basta in Serbia fears the attack of a vampire. There village councilors are advising residents to put garlic on their doors for fear of a local vampire’s reckoning , Sava Savanovic, since his mill has fallen to ruin. And you thought Twilight was just fiction!