The Last New England Vampire

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Monumental Mysteries

By Mercy's gravestone.

By Mercy’s gravestone.

It is remarkably surreal to see yourself on television–I must report that. I mean, there I was, sitting in the living room, watching myself talk. When you think about it, it’s not supposed to work like that!

But it was actually quite exciting to see what the producers of Monumental Mysteries have done with the story of Mercy Brown. Shot partly at her gravesite in the Chestnut Hill Cemetery and partly at a nearby historical site, this premiere episode (nobody told me I was going to be on the premiere; I’m much relieved that they didn’t, or I would have been even more nervous) does an excellent job of reporting on Mercy’s life, her tragic and macabre death–and what came after.

(I do wish to state for the record that I never said Mercy had turned over in her grave! This tidbit later became part of the legend, but it’s not part of the contemporary accounts.)

MediaLife Magazine called stories covered by the series “briskly presented and usually interesting” and that Mercy’s stories, in particular, has “a satisfyingly gruesome ending, a plausible scientific explanation and a possible connection to the writing of the novel ‘Dracula.’”

Here’s the host, Don Wildman, chatting about his new show and Mercy.

Monumental Mysteries, May 9, 2013!

Graveyard HeadshotMercy and I will be featured on the Travel Channel’s Monumental Mysteries on May 9th. They say 9:00 pm Eastern Standard Time, but check your local listings!

The Kennebec Journal has taken note, and the Portland Press Herald as well.

Mercy (and Me) on Camera

By Mercy's gravestone.

By Mercy’s gravestone in the Chestnut Hill Cemetery, Rhode Island.

It was cold but not too cold, and the sun was shining. We were very lucky. January in Rhode Island, you never know what weather you’re going to get. Outside in the Chestnut Hill Cemetery, I got to kneel down by Mercy Brown’s grave and tell her story on camera, for the Travel Channel’s show, Monumental Mysteries. (When I arrived, along with my lovely and talented publicist, Kirsten Cappy from Curious City, the camera guy, Rob, and the producer, Sarah, were trying hard to set up the camera for a shot that would make Mercy’s plain and unadorned headstone look “monumental.”)

I must confess I was nervous, afraid that I would stumble and trip over my words, afraid that my incompetence with mascara would show, and mostly afraid that I would not know enough. I’m a novelist, after all, and not a historian or a folklorist. But it turned out that all I had to do was tell Mercy’s story, and okay–I do know that. Well enough to tell it over–and over–and over, which is apparently what you do to be on TV.

Thanks to producers Alice and Sarah, camera guy Rob, and sound man Steven, for putting me at ease–they must work with camera neophytes all the time, they were so patient. And thanks to Kirsten, too, for listening to stories of vampire folklore, human decomposition, and tuberculosis remedies all the way from Portland, Maine, to Exeter, Rhode Island.

They called this the "hero shot." All I had to do was stand there and look straight at the camera. Harder than it sounds!

They called this the “hero shot.” All I had to do was stand there and look straight at the camera. Harder than it sounds!

By the crypt where Mercy's body was kept before the removal of her heart. The ground was too cold to dig her grave.
By the crypt where Mercy’s body was kept before the removal of her heart. The ground was too cold to dig her grave.

A tad more attention than I, as your typical introverted writer type, was entirely comfortable with....

A tad more attention than I, as your typical introverted writer type, was entirely comfortable with….

Filming continued at Smith's Castle, a colonial homestead. Inside but not that much warmer.

Filming continued at Smith’s Castle, a colonial homestead. Inside but not that much warmer.

Monumental Mysteries

Monumental Mysteries! This Travel Channel show wanders the country, investigating the stories behind some of America’s oddest monuments. Is there really a secret vault hidden behind the carvings on Mount Rushmore? Are the letters of the HOLLYWOOD sign actually haunted? And what’s the story behind the grave of a nineteen year old girl named Mercy Brown?

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At a cemetery in balmier days…

In a week or so I’ll be standing in the snow of a Rhode Island cemetery, talking on camera about Mercy’s life, her death, and the events that came after! This will be the third time I’ve been on TV, and since the other two interviews both aired well before 5:00 am, I’m not quite sure they count. It’s exciting and unnerving and–seriously–which coat should I wear? The warm, bulky one or the jazzy, fashionable one that really wasn’t made for January?

All About Mercy

Mercy-Brown-GraveThe Literary Traveler swings by Exeter, Rhode Island, with a nice post about Mercy and the many literary explorations of New England’s vampire tradition.

Nope, I wasn’t the only one…

 

The Vampire’s Disease

If you’ve read Mercy, you’ll know that tuberculosis was tightly linked to the vampire tradition as it existed in New England. Understandable. In this age of antibiotics, it’s hard to understand how frightening this illness must have been to witness. Imagine watching somebody wasting away, sometimes lingering for years, but almost never recovering. Imagine doctors (if they were honest) telling you that nothing could be done. Wouldn’t you be tempted to look for some sort of explanation, even if it was–supernatural?

To the right is a photograph of a young woman named Charlotte Bronson. It was taken around 1850. She could have been about Mercy’s age.

And below is a photo of Charlotte six years later, a few months before her death. She probably had tuberculosis. Easy enough to see how someone desperate for an explanation could think of her as a vampire’s victim.

Mercy on YouTube

Fabulous book trailer for Mercy here, created by Aurora Dolman (Doesn’t that marvelous name sound like a character in a vampire novel? Hey, Aurora, do you mind if I name a character after you?). Shared by Melissa Orth of the Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick. Thanks to you both!

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