At the dawn of the 20th Century, modern understanding of death, medicine, and infectious diseases effectively ended the Vampire Panic, but also vampires themselves changed. In 1897, five years after Mercy Brown was exhumed, Bram Stoker publish his seminal novel; Dracula. The book changed, almost instantly, everything about vampires. Vampires became noble, romantic, even sympathetic figures but also more ferocious, walking freely among the living searching for new victims. The suspected vampires and their ‘victims’ in the Vampire Panic bear little resemblance to the modern interpretations
In the late 1960’s, long after the Rhode Island Vampire Panic ended, a local high school teacher, most likely in nearby Coventry, told their students of the story of Mercy Brown, The teacher was said to have changed many details because either they themselves didn’t know the complete story or, most likely, because they didn’t want drunken teenagers scouring southern Rhode Island; defiling old graveyards in search of vampires. When pressed as to the location by the students the teacher simply said that Mercy Brown was buried somewhere off Rt. 102. Later on after learning of theses vampire legends, the group of students got drunk and began to scour southern Rhode Island; in an attempt to defile old graveyards in search of vampires. The students eventually came to West Greenwich Baptist Church, just off Rt. 102, and began to search the adjacent cemetery. In the darkness the students came across the grave of nineteen year old Nellie Vaughn. She was the same age as Mercy brown they thought. Then, shining their flashlights on her tombstone, they read the inscription…
Little is known of the life of Nellie Vaughn. What is known is that she died of pneumonia on March 31, 1889. Her body was originally buried on her family’s farm, but not long after her death her mother was permitted to move her remains to a public graveyard at Plain Meeting Cemetery at West Greenwich Baptist Church. All that is left of Nellie Vaughn life is her grave and the epitaph on her tombstone; “I Am Waiting And Watching For You”
… The students, in an inebriated state and already predisposed to supernatural tales, gasped at what they had read. They interpreted the saying not as a sweet epitaph from a young woman taken too soon, but rather as a threat; that she was restlessly waiting in her grave watching for unsuspecting victims to strike out at. In their minds they had, based simply on the inscription, found themselves a new vampire! Once again, gossip travels fast in small towns, and soon rumors spread that another, hereto unknown, vampire had been discovered. The accusations had only amplified when it was soon discovered her body had been exhumed, regardless of the reasons for said exhumation. New debates opened up as people looked back at the hysteria surrounding the Vampire Panic, now through the viewpoint of the modern portrayals of vampirism. The biggest argument was, however; How can you accuse Nellie Vaughn, dead nearly a century earlier, of being a vampire based solely on the inscription on her grave? It was, and still is, very common to write such sayings on tombstones and this in no way evidence enough to defile the memory of the the woman. As is turns out, the most outspoken voice arguing against Nellie Vaughn being a vampire is; Nellie Vaughn.
While taking grave rubbings at the West Greenwich Baptist Church cemetery, a woman found that despite the fact that the weather was dry, the rubbings were oddly wet and unusable. The woman was soon approached by a young woman in what appeared to be archaic dress. “I am happy” the figure said, despite looking as if she was trying not to cry. She then kneeled down over one the graves and started to sob. The first woman asked the young woman if she needed help and once again she only said “I am happy”. The woman started to her car but when she turned back towards the cemetery; the mysterious young woman was gone. A man visited the cemetery to pay respects to an ancestor. He noticed a young woman sitting on one of the tombstones. The man thought it was odd, but greeted woman with a nod. “ I’m perfectly pleasant” the young woman explained, and as he turned to her she was gone. A woman went to cemetery and saw a young woman in a gown dancing among the graves, when the woman went to greet the dancer she was gone. As she started to leave she saw the young figure dancing in another part of the graveyard; no vegetation grew where she danced. A visitor to the graveyard came across a sobbing young woman, her hands covering her face, and asked the woman if she needed help “ I’m perfectly pleasant” the woman told the visitor; never removing her hands from her face. “ Why don’t you see that I’m nice. I am happy” When the visitor asked the woman where she was from she pointed toward the gravestones, then she was gone. Another time, a couple went to the graveyard and found a young woman in a old dress seemingly standing guard at the gates. “I am happy” the woman told them as they tried to enter the graveyard “I am happy!” the woman again said, this time with a growl; the couple quickly left. It is said that on moonlit nights a solitary young woman can be seen in the sitting on a tomb in the middle of the graveyard; whispering in a distant voice that she is not a monster, but rather is pleasant and happy.
Nellie Vaughn is buried at Rhode Island Historical Cemetery West Greenwich #2 – Plain Meeting House at West Greenwich Baptist Church. Unfortunately, after irreparable damage was done to the cemetery and adjacent church due to vandalism, her infamous headstone was removed in the early 90s, and placed away from the sight. Her remains, however, are still interred at the graveyard. The cemetery itself is a smallish, picturesque, graveyard with graves dating back to the early 19th century. If you ever visit and happen to come across a young woman in a 19th century dress telling you that she is happy and pleasant; brighten her up by telling her you agree
Thanks for reading these. I hope you enjoyed them
Sources used for the series:
Barber, Paul; Vampires, Burial and Death: Folklore and Reality 1988
Bell, Michael E.; Food for the Dead: On the Trail of New England’s Vampires 2001
Dresser, Norine; American Vampires: Fans, Victims, and Practitioners 1989
Rondina, Christopher; Vampire Legends of Rhode Island 1997
All photos used are my own.