A couple of years ago I made a trip to Rhode Island to attend a conference near the town of Exeter. While searching for interesting and unique places to visit in the immediate area, I came across a grave I knew I had to visit. Only having a limited amount of time, I managed to find an open hour to sneak away to visit the nearby cemetery and its infamous resident.
Chestnut Hill Baptist Church Cemetery (also known as Exeter Historical Cemetery #22) appears to be a “typical” cemetery to the average person, but this piece of ground is linked to a bizarre saga connected with New England’s darker side. Within the boundaries of the cemetery are the remains of one of America’s supposed vampires – a young lady by the name of Mercy Lena Brown.
George and Mary Brown owned a small farm near Exeter and here Mary bore five children – the third child was named Mercy, though she was known by her family and friends as Lena. In 1883, sickness descended upon the Brown Family. George first lost his wife on December 8, 1883 to consumption (known presently as tuberculosis) and his eldest daughter, Mary (referred to in some reports by her middle name, Olive) died of the disease on June 6, 1884.
For several years, the family seemed to have escaped the black hand of death, however in 1891, Edwin, George’s only son, took ill. Edwin left the area, moving to Colorado Springs in hope of escaping the figure of death that seemed to be stationed at his family’s doorstep. Mercy, however, was not as lucky and death claimed her on January 18, 1892 at the tender age of nineteen. Due to it being winter, Mercy’s body was placed in a crypt – which still exists at the edge of the cemetery – until the ground thawed enough for a proper grave to be dug.
Shortly after Mercy’s death, Edwin returned home with his health quickly fading. Neighbors whispered that the Brown Family was cursed. The story whispered by locals was one of George’s family members was returning from the grave. The paranoid community was convinced something supernatural was feeding on Edwin – if the attacks did not cease, poor Edwin would die. At some point George began to believe this too. Normally a sensible man, he allowed others to convince him his family was being attacked by a daemon.
Note: At the time daemon was the word to describe the creature believed to have been terrorizing the Brown family. The word vampire would not be associated with Mercy Brown until years later.
Some retelling of the legend state that Mercy had been spotted by a number of people, but I have not discovered any mention of an actual monster being seen. The monster killing the family was merely word of mouth by a paranoid community.
George, thanks to the whispers of the community, became convinced the daemon was residing in the heart of one of his beloved dead. He contacted doctor Harold Metcalf of Wickford who, according to newspapers, wanted nothing to do with digging up the dead. He reluctantly agreed and on March 17, 1892, the doctor and a group of men set out to open the graves of the Brown Family in search of the daemon.
No surprise, George stayed at home as the bodies of his family were exhumed and investigated.
All three women were removed from their graves. George’s wife and eldest daughter were both found to be in an advance state of decay. This revelation should not have been a surprise, because the mother and daughter had been buried for nine and eight years respectively.
After they checked the two Marys, the group opened Mercy’s coffin and found that no decomposition had taken place. The body was still as fresh as the day it had been buried. They removed her heart and liver and finding blood still in her heart, declared she was the one responsible. Mercy was the daemon terrorizing the Brown Family.
Note: Early newspapers claim the group dug up all three coffins. However, these same newspapers state firmly that Mercy’s coffin was being kept in the cemetery’s crypt awaiting burial because the ground was too hard for a grave to be dug. With this in mind, I need to point out the obvious, or at least what seems obvious to me. Mercy’s body was still being stored in a crypt, in winter. The cold temperatures that prevented her from being buried were most likely responsible for her body showing no signs of decomposition.
And, as if things were not strange enough, the story takes a stranger turn towards the bizarre.
Local word of mouth claims that when the doctor cut open Mercy’s body and removed her heart, it supposedly dripped fresh blood. Seeing this, the men took her heart and liver and burned them on a nearby rock to kill the daemon. The ashes of Mercy’s heart and liver were then given to family members to mix with water and drink as a cure from the daemon attacks. George mixed the ashes with water and the family drank the mixture hoping to end the attacks.
Edwin returned to Colorado feeling better after drinking his sister’s ashes, but died two months later. Mercy’s other two sisters don’t seem to have suffered from tuberculosis, or if they did I cannot find any sources that claim they were affected by the disease. One died in 1899 and the other in 1954.
I walked back the dirt road that lead through the cemetery, and quickly discovered Mercy’s gravesite on the left side of the path. Mercy is buried next to her brother who drank her ashes and her father who allowed it to happen.
I stood at her grave filled with mixed emotions. What happened to the remains of this young lady, who is often described as an upright citizen, is disturbing. The mere thought of desecrating a corpse, especially when it was the remains of your own flesh and blood, caused me to shudder.
After paying my respects to her, I turned down a dirt road that led to the crypt where her body was stored at during the winter of 1892. It is falling down and in bad condition but here was her resting place until the butchery of her lifeless body.
I had read about ghosts and strange things happening to those who visit, but I had nothing exciting or strange happen while I was there. There is some creepiness about the area, but I figured it was more due to the information I already knew, rather than something unexplainable.
If you do decide to visit Mercy’s grave I ask that you please use common sense and be respectful of the cemetery. Police do patrol the cemetery; I had one pull in while I was there – he told me they have had lots of complaints about people in the cemetery doing stupid things. So if you visit, please be respectful.