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What would Halloween be without a few ghost stories? I’m fortunate enough (or, to some, perhaps it would be considered unfortunate) to be from a state with a few pretty interesting ghosts. And these aren’t just any ghosts – they’re the ghosts of alleged vampires!
Rhode Island is the home of Mercy Brown and Sarah Tillinghast, two super-spooky characters who are well known in ghost and vampire lore. Both Mercy and Sarah were unfortunate young women suspected of vampirism in the 18th century. Sarah Tillinghast was one of nineteen children and the oldest daughter of a wealthy Exeter apple farmer named Pardon Tillinghast. One night, Pardon had a dream in which half of his beloved apple orchard died. Shortly afterwards, 19-year-old Sarah passed away unexpectedly after a short illness. After her death, her siblings reported seeing her in the night, with some saying she entered their rooms and perched on their chests. After seeing her, they fell sick and began to die one by one. After the death of his sixth child, Pardon Tillinghast exhumed Sarah’s body and discovered that Sarah still had flowing hair and appeared completely preserved, though it had been weeks since her death. Convinced that these were signs of a vampire, Pardon removed her heart and fed the ashes to his seventh sick child. It didn’t work, because the child died anyway, fulfilling Pardon’s prophecy that he would lose half his beloved “crop.”
Sarah is buried in a small cemetery east of Forest Hill Drive in Exeter. Her tombstone bears the ominous inscription “I am watching and waiting for you.” Visitors report strange and scary occurrences, including being chased by large black dogs that disappear, hearing whispering and footsteps though no one is there, capturing images of ghost orbs on camera, and I have even heard stories of people encountering a sad and old-fashioned girl on the cemetery grounds.
I visited there at night once in high school and, while we were too scared to venture far from the car, the batteries in our phones and camera went dead abruptly, and on the way home we heard strange knocking and scratching on the outside of the car door, though absolutely nothing was there!
The story of Mercy Brown is very similar, though better known. Again in Exeter, the Brown family suffered an outbreak of tuberculosis in the late 1800s and several of the family members died. One of the daughters, Mercy, contracted the disease and died in January 1892. Shortly after her death, her brother Edwin fell ill and claimed that Mercy was coming to him at night and causing his sickness.
George Brown, the family patriarch, was persuaded by concerned townspeople to exhume the bodies on March 17, 1892. While the bodies of most of the family showed expected decomposition, Mercy was still relatively unchanged and they found that her heart was full of blood. This was taken as a sign that the young woman was undead and the cause of poor Edwin's condition. Mercy's heart was removed from her body, burnt, and the remnants mixed with water and given to Edwin to drink. Unfortunately, he died two months later anyway.
Today Mercy’s burial site at the Chestnut Hill Cemetery in Exeter is a common visiting place for ghost hunters. People report feeling watched there, hearing strange noises, and seeing unexplained lights moving about the cemetery at night. I have been there several times and, while I didn’t experience much, did once see a light moving through the woods behind the cemetery.
And here’s an interesting fact – Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, was familiar with story of Mercy Brown and used the name Exeter in his famous novel!
Have you ever had any ghostly encounters?