She has the dubious distinction as one of the last known cases of vampirism in the United States. Born in Exeter, Rhode Island, Mercy Brown was the third victim in her family to die. George Brown, her father had buried his wife and first daughter in 1883. We now know that the Brown family was the victim of tuberculosis.
Tuberculosis also known as consumption was historically tied with vampirism based on the characteristics of the disease. A healthy individual would suffer a quick deterioration of condition- as if the energy was being sucked out of them. A disease that attacks the lungs, the victim would usually cough up blood –again linking the condition with its mythical counterpart.
At the age of 19 Mercy was to follow her mother and sister to the grave on a cold January of 1892. It wasn’t until Edwin, the son of the Brown’s fell victim to tuberculosis that the patriarch of the family was convinced to exhume his family. One account claims that Edwin woke up in the middle of the night claiming that Mercy was sitting on his chest. Other villagers claimed to have seen her. It was believed that the misfortune that befell George Brown’s family was the work of a vampire.
In March of the same year Mercy died, George went to the cemetery to save his son. Accompanying him was a Dr. Metcalf from a neighbouring town and an assistant. Having been dead for nine years, Brown’s wife and first daughter (both named Mary) did not show the tell-tale signs of vampirism: blood in the heart, and preserved body. If Brown and the good doctor followed the traditional custom of vampire hunters, they might have moved the bones of the two women to ensure that they didn’t stray from their resting place.
Only three months deceased, Mercy was a classic representation of a vampire. Having died in the winter, her body was well preserved in the above ground crypt for burial when the ground softened. One can only imagine what her father thought when he opened the coffin. We know that he believed he had found a vampire by what he did next. Her heart was removed and burned- hopefully ending the curse of the Brown family.
What follows defies understanding. The burned heart was mixed with water and fed to her ailing brother Edwin. It is clear that George and Dr. Metcalf believed that Mercy’s heart had restorative properties.
It must have been a shock to all when Edwin followed his family to the grave two months later.