From 1871 to 1892 vampire panics swept across rural communities in New England, roughly correlated with outbreaks of tuberculosis, a disease traditionally associated with vampirism. Whenever vampire activity was suspected, the usual remedy was to dig up the corpse of the responsible party and look for tale-tell signs, such as flowing blood or lack of decomposition. If the proper evidence was found, the corpse’s heart was cut out and burned.
In many cases, the ritual was performed in private with only the family present, but in some places, the heart burnings took on an almost festive air, with the entire town, clergy, and officials taking part.
Possibly the most famous incident was that of Mercy Brown. The Brown family lived in Exeter, Rhode Island. Mercy died of tuberculosis several years after her mother and her sister died. When Mercy’s brother became ill, too, neighbors encouraged her father to have her grave dug up to stop the obvious vampiric activity. At the time, it was believed that if multiple family members died within a short time, the influence of the undead was likely to blame.
Her father agreed after some prodding, and she was exhumed. They found her body barely decomposed and thick, liquid blood. It did not occur to anyone that because Mercy died in January, the cold New England winter was responsible for her state. The villagers burned her heart and liver. The ashes were put in water and given to her brother to drink. He died two months later.
The panics died out as soon as they began, and to this day, no one is really sure why they happened to begin with.
Some say Mercy still haunts the area. You can hear her moan and cry at night in the cemetery where she is buried, and sometimes she visits sick people who are going to die soon to tell them death isn’t so bad.