The story of Mercy Brown is widely considered the last documented case of vampirism in North America. Although it has since been established that there was nothing supernatural about Mercy’s life or death, her story is still quite thrilling.
Mercy Lena Brown was born in Exeter, Rhode Island during the year 1873. Her father, George Brown, was a respected farmer. During the early 1880s, Mrs. Mary Brown became seriously ill with pulmonary tuberculosis. This type of tuberculosis is extremely contagious and nearly always brought death to a world that did not have antibiotics. Mrs. Brown died during December of 1883. In July of the following year, Mercy’s sister, Mary Olive, also died of tuberculosis.
Several years later, Edwin, Mercy’s brother, contracted the disease. Because he was the family’s only son, he was sent to the drier climate of Colorado. The disease was too far advanced, however, and, in 1891, Edwin came back to Exeter so he could die in his childhood home.
By this time, Mercy had also developed tuberculosis. After being ill for only a few months, Mercy Brown died on January 17, 1892. She was just nineteen years old. Mercy was buried in the cemetery of Exeter’s Baptist Church.
Shortly after Mary’s death, Edwin became ill to the point of death. George, understandably, started becoming rather unbalanced. Although he had been in contact with New England’s best doctors for nearly ten years, he had lost his wife and two of his children. If Edwin died, his line would very likely end. George began wondering if his family was cursed. After some locals suggested that one of his deceased family members had turned into a vampire and was attacking the living, he was willing to test the theory.
In March of 1892, George agreed to have the bodies of his three family members exhumed. If one of the Browns had actually turned into a vampire, logically, it should have been Mrs. Brown. She had become sick and died before Mary Olive, Mercy, or Edwin. However, the bodies of both Mrs. Brown and Mary Olive had decomposed properly. The body of Mercy, on the other hand, was reported to be in perfect condition. She had supposedly moved from the position she had been in when buried and, after close examination, it was decided that the blood in her heart and liver was not congealed. The hysterical villagers immediately assumed that Mercy Brown was their vampire. Before she was reburied, Mercy’s heart was burned and the ashes were given to Edwin to eat. This was supposed to release him from the vampire’s spell. Needless to say, this macabre procedure did not help: Edwin Brown died during April of 1892.
Modern science later solved the mystery of Mercy Brown’s preserved body: Mercy had died during the New England winter. Two months in the frigid temperatures would have had little effect on the body. Also, pulmonary tuberculosis typically makes the patient extremely pale. When Mercy’s body was exhumed, she probably did look quite a bit like a vampire.
Source: Belanger, Jeff “World’s Most Haunted Places”