Vampires may be one of our favourite movie monsters, but it’s easy to forget that tales of the undead roaming the night were once taken very seriously indeed. We’ve discussed the fascinating Highgate Vampire fiasco and the case of Countess Báthory (who was framed by the patriarchy – and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise) so let’s look at a few more cases of alleged bloodsuckers throughout history.
The Alnwick Castle Vampire
Way back in the eleventh century, there lived a wicked servant, under the employment of the Lord of Alnwick Castle.
Quite what gave this man did to earn such an unwholesome reputation is unknown, as is his name, but he is said to have suspected that his wife had taken a lover. In an attempt to catch her in the act – or wishing to engage in some voyeuristic delights – he climbed upon the roof of his house to catch the lovers inn the act of making the beast with two backs.
Alas, this would not end well for the wicked man, as he is said to have fallen straight through the roof and mortally wounded himself.
As he lay dying, a priest was sent for, who asked him to repent for his vile ways. Instead, he refused and proceeded to cursed his wife instead. Whether or not the wife succumbed to such a curse is unknown, however, the wicked man did not rest in peace.
Soon after his death, the town of Alnwick was plagued with, well, the plague, I guess. But this was no unfortunate coincidence – so it’s said – as this scourge of illness and death was preceded by the spectre of the dead man, walking through the town at night, accompanied by the smell of his rotting corpse.
Fed up with the antics of this wicked revenant, the local priest round up a gang of brave villagers and took to the cemetery. Upon opening the man’s grave, they were aghast to find he’d dug his way to the surface and lay under only a few inches of soil. His body was grotesquely bloated, and instead of a complexion of death grey pallor, his face was red and all of life.
Obviously, this was all irrefutable evidence of vampirism, so the gang hacked at the man’s body, tearing it limb from limb – and found, to their horror, that fresh blood spilt from the wounds. They then took up the remains of the corpse and carried it outside the town to be burnt to ash.
Alnwick was never again plagued by the vampire’s nocturnal wonderings.
Mercy Brown and the New England Vampire Panic
In the 1880s, the Brown family, residence of Exeter, Rhode Island, were dropping like flies. Mother, Mary Eliza, was first to succumb to a fearsome disease, followed by the eldest daughter, Mary Olive in 1884, and later – in January, 1892 – the family’s youngest daughter, Mercy fell victim to the same strange illness.
However, according to the more superstitious members of New England society, it was no ordinary illness that afflicted the family.
You see, for the past one hundred years, residence of New England, from Rhode Island to Massachusetts were being ravaged by ‘consumption’ – which was, of course, caused by the freshly deceased consuming the life force of their living relatives.
Following Mercy’s death, the families youngest child, Edwin fell ill. His father, George, was desperate not to loose his one surviving family member and with nothing else to do, he finally took heed of the warning of his friends and neighbours – He gave permission to exhume his family’s bodies in the hopes of finding the vampire who was now feeding upon the life force of poor Edwin.
Along with the local doctor and a news reporter, villagers took to the cemetery in March of that year. They unearthed the family matriarch and found she had succumb to the normal process of decomposition.
Next, they dug up the body of poor Mary Olive, and much like her mother, found her corpse exhibited none of the tell-tale signs of vampirism.
However, when it came time to unearth recently departed Mercy, the villagers were shocked. Mercy, despite being dead since early January, was almost perfectly preserved. There was almost no evidence of normal of decay and – according to the doctor present – even her heart had not drained of blood.
This of course, could only mean one thing – Mercy Brown was a vampire.
In accordance to superstition, Mercy’s heart and liver were cut from her body and burnt and the ashes mixed with water. This concoction was fed to the ailing Edwin, in an attempt to cure the sickness this vampiric curse that afflicted upon him.
The now desecrated remains of Mercy Brown were reburied in the cemetery of Exeter’s Baptist Church.
Edwin died two months later.
Was Mercy Brown a vampire? Or did the local’s misunderstanding of the disease we now know as tuberculosis lead to the needless desecration of the young girls body, who’s corpse had been stored above the freezing ground during the Rhode Island winter?
Mercy’s story has gone one to inspire countless tales, and it is even claimed that Bram Stoker based the character of Lucy Westernra upon poor Mercy.
In some ways, she really has lived forever.
The Gorbals Vampire Hunt
Playground urban legends are, perhaps, the only fond memory I have from my school days, but in 1954 Gorbals, Glasgow, these rumours lead to a real life vampire hunt which predated the Highgate Vampire hysteria by almost twenty years.
In a tale that could come straight from the pages of a Goosebumps book, schoolyard across Glasgow were abuzz with the strange tale of a “seven-foot-tall vampire with iron teeth” who had was responsible for killing and eating of two children.
These chilled were unnamed, but the victims were likely a “friend of a friend”, which is all the evidence you need at that age.
With no parents or teachers appreciating the scale of this threat, there was only one thing for the children of Glasgow to do – hunt the vampire themselves.
September 23rd, 1954, children descended upon Glasgow’s Southern Necropolis Cemetery. This wasn’t just gaggle of vagabond kids, however. This was an army.
Hundreds of kids from every corner of the city arrived ready to do battle. They came prepared with knives, dogs and wooden stakes and bravely took to the foggy cemetery to hunt the beast that had taken two of their own.
At the time, the Southern Necropolis backed onto an active steelworks, which sent red lights glaring through smoke into the cemetery. At every flash, headstones threw shadows across the night and figures cold be seen walking amongst them.
The police were called to disperse the group, but they were outnumbered. In fact, the hunt only came to an end when it began to rain.
The hunt continued for the next two days, before finally fizzling out.
The extraordinary story wouldn’t end there, however, as newspapers from far and wide reported on the story, adding to the ongoing moral panic surrounding supposedly “violent” comic books and other children’s media, most of which was imported from America.
The same year as the vampire incident, the Comics Code Authority was formed and forced the self regulation of American comic books – which contained clauses that explicitly censored the words “crime”, “horror” and “terror”.