By: Sara Dager ……
Rhode Island sure does have a creepy past. As one of the original 13 colonies, it’s fair to say that our tiny state has seen an awful lot of spirits. At times it feels like every corner of Little Rhody has its own special tale of haunting, and that might just be true! That being said, some stories certainly get more play than others, and this is one you might not be as privy to.
It’s hard to find someone in Rhode Island who can’t tell you the tale of the Mercy Brown vampire incident. In short, a poor woman’s body was dug up on suspicion of being a vampire and treated terribly, her grave can be easily found to this day and many will go visit and express sorrow for what happened to her.
The part of this story that often gets overlooked though, is that what happened to Mercy Brown was not a one off incident in any way. Rhode Island was deeply embroiled in what today is called a vampire panic, and many met a similar or worse fate than Mercy due to it.
Due to an outbreak of tuberculosis and what the disease did to bodies, many became convinced that the dead were actually vampires and would perform rituals on their bodies to prevent them from rising again. One lesser known victim of this panic was Sarah Tillinghast, the daughter of a farmer named Stukeley who happened to have 13 other children at the time Sarah grew ill.
Stukeley is said to have had a dream where all of the trees in his orchard started to wither and die, and shortly thereafter, Sarah became ill with tuberculosis and passed away. Not long after Sarah passed, one of her sisters grew ill as well, and started telling stories of seeing Sarah in her bedroom, sitting on various parts of her body in order to cause her pain.
This daughter unfortunately passed away as well, quickly followed by four more of Stukeleys children. At this point, with six of their children gone, Stukeley and his wife as well as one of their sons, all started having visions of Sarah.
Sharing this with their neighbors, they collectively decide to unearth the bodies of all six of Stukeley’s dead children, at which point they claim that Sarah, despite being the first dead, seems to have experienced the fewest symptoms of decomposition. Fresh blood is found in her heart and it appears as though her nails and hair have grown since she was interred. Upon this discovery, Sarah’s heart was removed and burned on a rock, and supposedly the visions stopped, but it is thought that Sarah is none to happy about what was done her body after she had passed away.