When it comes to vampires and the general act of blood-sucking, the origins usually trace back to our favourite Vlad – Count Dracula. We’ve never considered who the first female vampire might have been, or still might be (‘cos immortality and all that).
According to folklore, a US woman named Mercy Brown from Exeter, Rhode Island who died in the 1800s, is a strong contender for that title. This is the tale of the Mercy Brown Vampire Incident.
In 1884, a farmer named George Brown lost his wife, Mary Eliza to tuberculosis. 2 years later, he lost his eldest daughter to the same disease.Then, his son Edwin fell seriously ill. After that, 19-year-old daughter Mercy Lane Brown succumbed. At the time, little was known about tuberculosis, and most of it was based on superstition.
The panicked townsfolk theorised that one of the dead was a vampire, and was draining the lives of the rest of the family. It was decided that their bodies would be exhumed.
The bodies of the mother and the eldest daughter showed the expected level of decomposition, so they were dismissed from suspicion. However, Mercy’s corpse exhibited almost no decay, and still had blood in the heart. They saw this as a sure sign that Mercy was undead, and was draining the life from Edwin. The real reason was that the cold winter climate had preserved her in a freezer-like condition.
Mercy’s heart and liver were burned, and the ashes were mixed with a tonic and given to Edwin to drink in an effort to cure him. He died 2 months later, and Mercy’s body was buried again.
It would be many more years before tuberculosis was understood medically, and protected against. Before that, these superstitions were attributed to the illness, and led to all kinds of stories about the undead.
The story of Mercy Brown is said to have inspired Bram Stoker, who wrote Dracula, and is even referred to in books by H.P. Lovecraft. It certainly is a bloody tale, and one that will live on for generations.