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Michael Bell
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Posted By Michael Bell

If the lungs of a brother or sister who has died of consumption be burned, the ashes will cure the living members of the family affected with that disease. (Grafton County.)

That is the contribution of Dr. John McNab Currier to the vampire folklore of New England. For anyone who likes texts—and certainly that includes me—this is thin gruel, indeed. What I  really long for in my search for vampire incidents, of course, are descriptions of concrete events; the more detail, the better. But a generalized statement such as Currier provides is far better than nothing. Perhaps there is more here than a first glance suggests.

First, we now know that sometime prior to 1889—the date of Currier’s brief article in the Journal of American Folklore—someone in Grafton County, New Hampshire, was aware that there was a folk prescription for consumption that used the ashes from the burned lungs of a deceased sibling. I think we can make an educated guess that the ashes were to be ingested, a tentative conclusion that seems justified in that Currier himself was a physician who undoubtedly wrote many prescriptions. How else would the ashes be employed? If they were to be buried, worn as an amulet, scattered to the winds, or dealt with in any other manner, surely Currier would have included that in this entry.

Second, lacking an explicit narrative does not preclude building a context around the meager text. What might we reconstruct beginning with what Currier has given us?

Actually, Currier has served a generous portion of information in his three short notes to the Journal of American Folklore that were published in 1889, 1891 and 1893. He begins with some personal history that includes a wonderful description of evening story circles around the blazing hearth:

In the year 1800 my father purchased one hundred acres of  “wild land” in Grafton County, New Hampshire, lying upon the Connecticut River. For many years he struggled in the virgin forests, and paid for his farm; afterwards adding to it, by purchase, other lots of land partially cleared. He endured many hardships of pioneer life, without much of a chance for education; and it was not until the early settlers had paid for their farms, and had raised a surplus of produce, that any great interest was taken in educational matters. In such neighborhoods it was not strange that myths, beliefs in witchcraft, and reliance upon signs, should exist in a certain measure. Visiting among the neighbors was very common, particularly on autumn and winter evenings, without formality or invitation. Their “latch-strings were always out,” and when the rap was heard at the door the almost invariable reply was, the welcome words: “Walk in.” Conversation was on farming interests, politics, religion, neighborhood gossip, the “district school,” and now and then a bit of folklore received their attention, and that, too, without any reserve.

TO BE CONTINUED . . .

 
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