Saturday, October 28, 2006

Bloodsucking Yankees

Belief in vampires was once prevalent in some parts of New England, where people went to great and disgusting lengths to ward them off.

Following the death of a family member from consumption (i.e., tuberculosis), other family members began to show the signs of tuberculosis infection. According to the New England folk belief, the "wasting away" of these family members was attributed to the recently deceased consumptive, who returned from the dead as a vampire to drain the life from the surviving relatives. The apotropaic remedy used to kill the vampire was to exhume the body of the supposed vampire and, if the body was un-decomposed, remove and burn the blood-filled heart or the entire body.
A corpse was exhumed in Griswold, Connecticut, in the early 1990s that showed evidence of both tuberculosis and postmortem tampering.
Upon opening the grave, the skull and femora were found in a "skull and crossbones" orientation on top of the ribs and vertebrae, which were also found in disarray. On the coffin lid, an arrangement of tacks spelled the initials "JB-55", presumably the initials and age at death of this individual. [Link] has more details on the Griswold discovery (including photographs of the gravesite and an artist's reconstruction of what "JB" might have looked like) and on vampire incidents elsewhere in New England. (Flash player is required; click on a town's name to view its gruesome history.)

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