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Michael Bell
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Posted By Michael Bell

Andrew Lang’s 1904 British take on New England’s vampires contintues:

“The ____ family is among its well-to-do and most intelligent inhabitants. One member of the family had some years since lost children by consumption, and by common report claimed to have saved those surviving by exhumation and cremation of the dead.” This looks like myth, perhaps the dead were not exhumed and burned at all, but the myth attests the local belief that hereditary disease is caused by the vampirism of the deceased. Something more like evidence, however,is given by Mr. ____, a Mason, who lost two brothers by consumption. He told Mr. Stetson that the head of the family already mentioned advised his father to dig up the first brother who died and burn his heart, but this was thought sacrilegious, and a second brother died. He was dug up, “and ‘living’ blood being found in the heart and in circulation, it was cremated,” in consequence of which the Mason, Mr. Stetson’s informant, retained his health. If this Mason was not “playing it low” on Mr. Stetson, we must accept the existence of the belief and practice. But nothing is more usual than to hoax archaeologists and anthropologists who are looked on as fair game by rural humorists.

At another village not far from Newport there have been six or eight cases of cases of vampirism and exhumation in the fast fifty years. One case occurred in 1894. The physician who examined the body found nothing unusual. The doctor said that the belief was common enough in Rhode Island, “which has had the ordinary New England educational advantages.” Mr. Stetson quotes Buckle to the effect that “superstition is the curse of Scotland,” like the nine of diamonds, usually known by that name. In point of fact, drink, not superstition, is the curse of Scotland. The mere belief in second sight (if that is to be called “superstition”) does no harm, and, if the vampire belief exists north of Tweed, I have never found a case of it in highlands or lowlands. If it reached New England, it probably came over from the eastern counties, with the Puritans, but I have never me a vampire in the folklore of the eastern counties, nor in the works of the Mathers, who knew what was to be known about New England beliefs in early colonial days. The red Indian tales of “Weendigoes” refer to cannibalism, not to vampirism, and the Puritans can hardly have picked up the vampire creed from their savage neighbors.

“One is rather inclined to think that the Yankee vampire was neither derived from modern neurotic novels and such tales as Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla,” nor from an old English superstition, brought from home by the Puritans, but is rather a thing spontaneously and independently evolved by the descendants of the Puritans. The problem before them was to account for hereditary diseases, such as consumption. Never having heard of bacilli and microbes, the populace conceived that there was an influence in the dead man calling his kinfolk toward him. We are told no tales by Mr. Stetson about the vampire being seen and run to earth as he goes his rounds, a story usual in Eastern Europe and in Greece and the Slavonic countries where vampires are most common.

 
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