The Mercy Brown vampire incident occurred in Rhode Island, US, in 1892. It is one of the best documented cases of the exhumation of a corpse in order to perform rituals to banish an undead manifestation. The incident was part of the wider New England vampire panic.
Several cases of consumption (tuberculosis) occurred in the family of George and Mary Brown in Exeter, Rhode Island. Friends and neighbors believed that this was due to the influence of the undead. An attempt was made to remediate.
In Exeter, Rhode Island, several members of George and Mary Brown’s family suffered a sequence of tuberculosis infections in the final two decades of the 19th century. Tuberculosis was called “consumption” at the time and was a devastating and much-feared disease.
The mother, Mary Eliza, was the first to die of the disease, followed in 1883 by their eldest daughter, Mary Olive. In 1891, daughter Mercy and son Edwin also contracted the disease. Friends and neighbors of the family believed that one of the dead family members was a vampire (although they did not use that name) and had caused Edwin’s illness. This was in accordance with threads of contemporary folklore linking multiple deaths in one family to undead activity. Consumption was a poorly understood condition at the time and the subject of much superstition.
George Brown was persuaded to give permission to exhume several bodies of his family members. Villagers, the local doctor, and a newspaper reporter exhumed the bodies on March 17, 1892. The bodies of both Mary and Mary Olive exhibited the expected level of decomposition, so they were thought not to be the cause. However, the corpse of a daughter, Mercy, exhibited almost no decomposition. She still had blood in the heart. This was taken as a sign that the young woman was undead and the agent of young Edwin’s condition. Her lack of decomposition was more likely due to her body being stored in freezer-like conditions in an above-ground crypt during the two months following her death.
As superstition dictated, Mercy’s heart and liver were burned, and the ashes were mixed with water to create a tonic and was given to the sick Edwin to drink, as an effort to resolve his illness and stop the influence of the undead. The young man died two months later. What remained of Mercy’s body was buried in the cemetery of the Baptist Church in Exeter after being desecrated.
The Mercy Brown incident was the inspiration for Caitlín R. Kiernan’s short story “So Runs the World Away”, which makes explicit reference to the affair. It has also been suggested by scholars that Bram Stoker, the author of the novel Dracula, knew about the Mercy Brown case through newspaper articles and based the novel’s character Lucy Westenra upon her. It is also referred to in H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Shunned House”. Mercy Brown’s story was the inspiration for the young adult novel Mercy: The Last New England Vampire by Sarah L. Thomson. An account of the events as told by the remaining descendants of Mercy is available in Michael E. Bell’s Food for the Dead: On the Trail of New England’s Vampires.
The Mercy Brown incident is depicted in the 2015 film Almost Mercy, written by rapper B. Dolan and Tom DeNucci. Directed by DeNucci, the film stars Bill Moseley and Kane Hodder. The film’s main characters Emily (played by Danielle Guldin) and Jackson (Jesse Dufault) visit the grave of Mercy Brown and call themselves the “Friends of Mercy”. In a flashback sequence, the film’s characters from the present day appear as characters in the story of Mercy. B. Dolan also wrote a song from the perspective of a fictitious party involved in the case in his song “The Hunter” from his 2010 album Fallen House, Sunken City.
The Mercy Brown story was the main subject of the first episode of the Lore podcast in 2015, as well as the first episode of the television adaptation of the same name in 2017.