Mercy Lena Brown was born in the United States in 1872 and died in Exeter, Rhode Island on January 17, 1892. She was the daughter of George T. and Mary E. Brown and buried in Chestnut Hill Cemetery in Exeter. Mercy Brown’s tale grew nationwide when the theories of epidemiology were challenged after her death.
Tuberculosis overcame the northeastern United States in a fury and claimed hundreds of lives including the town of Exeter, Rhode Island and its surrounding areas. Mercy Brown’s mother and sister, Mary Olive, both died of the disease in 1888. Mercy also became ill and followed them in death in 1892.
After her death the townsfolk claimed to see her wandering in the Chestnut Hill Cemetery and the neighboring fields. Her brother, Edwin– who had also taken ill, had vivid dreams and insisted Mercy came to his bedside and was “sitting on his chest” trying to take the breath out of him. Soon the entire town began to whisper and gossip. Friends and neighbors believed that this was due to the influence of the undead. Hysteria arose all over Exeter!
There was only one way the townsfolk could prove Mercy Brown had met her demise. The town officials would open her coffin—still sitting in a holding vault (a place where coffins were stored before a burial when weather conditions or frozen ground was a problem for digging a grave. Mind you, Mercy Brown died in January in the harsh cold winter and the ground was surely frozen solid.
On or about March 17, 1892, the ‘Provindence Journal Newspaper’ wrote a story related that the town officials, medical doctor, and Mercy’s father and ailing brother were on hand to witness the gruesome task that unfolded. The bodies of Mercy’s mother and sister were also exhumed from their graves as an extra precaution. It was discovered that their bodies had experienced a normal rate of decomposition.
When they removed Mercy’s coffin from the vault they were horrified and shocked of what they discovered when it was opened. Her face was flush, her veins and organs still full of blood. Her body had moved in the coffin and her hair and nails had grown! They immediately proclaimed her one of the undead and knew what they had to do next. They proceeded to desecrate her body including removing her heart and burning it on a nearby rock. They fed a concoction containing the ashes and water to her brother Edwin in hopes for a cure—and to stop the influence of the undead. Despite their efforts, Edwin died of tuberculosis few months later.
It is difficult to believe this true story, but times were different in 1892. These days with the evolution of medical science, all the fears of these strange symptoms can be explained with basic pathology. Her story is just one of many that were desecrated postmortem in the 1800’s during New England’s noted “vampire hysteria” and it is no wonder Rhode Island was once nicknamed the “Transylvania of North America.
Folks still visit Mercy Brown’s grave on a regular basis. On a recent visit to Rhode Island, Cindy Lee (thank you Cindy for making the suggestion), Jenn Merry and Debe Branning pulled into the small countryside cemetery to snap a few pictures of the family plot. Some say that if you knock three times on her grave stone and ask for Mercy Brown she will speak or appear to you. Are you brave enough to try this experiment?
If you go: From Route 95 take exit 5 to Victory Highway (Route 102) south to Route 3 south (Nooseneck Hill Road); take a right on Route 3, then an immediate left onto Route 102 (Victory Highway); the cemetery is 5.1 miles on the left; enter the cemetery and drive straight back, past a rock wall; the Brown family plot is on the left next to a cedar tree; the crypt where Mercy’s body was briefly kept is to your right, at the edge of the cemetery. Mercy’s grave stone is reinforced by a metal band at its base that is connected to a post embedded in the ground to protect it from being damaged or stolen.
Please be respectful—this IS a cemetery.