March 28, 2009

The REAL New England Vampires



From Michael Bell's Food for the Dead.

The Boston Globe ran several articles this week about a vampire rumor sweeping through the student body at Boston Latin, the oldest public school in the US. (It was founded in 1635!) It turns out the rumor was being spread about a Goth girl by a clique of bullies. Oh, the joys of high school. A related rumor was that the vampire girl's boyfriend, who was a werewolf, was going to wreak his vengeance on the school. Again, not true. However, I do find it interesting that Boston Latin's official seal features a wolf suckling Romulus and Remus.

There may not be any vampires at Boston Latin, but there were vampires in New England's past, according to Michael Bell's book Food for the Dead. On the Trail of New England's Vampires. Bell has a Ph.D. in folklore and is the official folklorist for the state of Rhode Island.

Unlike Hollywood vampires who have fangs, wear capes and suck blood, the New England vampires were much more understated. Usually the victims of tuberculosis, they were blamed after their deaths for spreading TB from their grave among family members. They were believed to be feeding off the life essence of their relatives.

Unlike Hollywood vampires who are dispatched with a stake through the hear, the proper way to stop a New England vampire from spreading disease and death was to unearth their body and burn their heart. Sometimes there variations on this theme. In Woodstock, Vermont, the blood of a young bull was sprinkled on the vampire's grave. In Connecticut, an alleged vampire's skull and thigh bones were arranged in a skull and crossbones position.

The New England vampire tradition ended in the 19th century, as tuberculosis became less of a problem. Michael Bell lists at least 20 cases of vampirism in his book, from Rhode Island to Maine. None of them happened at Boston Latin.

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