Rain fell from the darkened sky. A cold wind blew. In the distance a dog barked.
It had all the elements of a horror movie, but this was no piece of fiction. I was on the outskirts of North Smithfield, Rhode Island, cursing the vague directions I had as I wandered among the trees and ancient stones known as the Union Cemetery Annex. Using the directions I was given, I moved carefully through the overgrown cemetery in search of one stone among the ancient stones hidden among the brush. I carefully checked and double-checked each step to make sure I did not accidentally step on a fallen stone or the broken remains of an ancient memorial.
Making the search with its vague directions even more difficult, the fact that not one, not two, but three different cemeteries all converged at this place made the search more of a challenge. Here the modern Union Cemetery, which is well maintained, borders the Union Cemetery Annex, which is comprised of two separate cemeteries: the Old Aldrich Burial Ground and the Old Town Burial Ground. It is impossible to determine where the border of the Old Town Burial Ground ended and the Old Aldrich Burial Ground began, so I wandered from stone to stone, carefully reading each one before continuing to the next. Note: Due to these old cemeteries not belonging to the Union Cemetery they are not regularly maintained, although the day of my visit, there were signs somebody had recently been cleaning up debris from many of the graves.
The rain began to fall harder. The only thing missing from this scene was thunder and lightning and maybe the howling of a wolf. I pulled my jacket tighter in a failed attempt to stay dry. Momentarily giving up, I quickly walked back to the vehicle to escape the rain which was beginning to fall even harder.
“No luck?” my father asked as I got back to the vehicle. I started to get in as the light, annoying shower had become a sudden downpour.
“No,” I muttered glad to be out of the rain. “I’m going to go get breakfast, then we’ll come back. I’m obviously making this harder than what it should be.” After a quick trip in town for breakfast, the rain had passed and I was ready to go again. Returning to the cemetery, I parked near the rear of Union Cemetery, as close to the Annex Cemetery as I could and reentered the burial grounds from a different location. The portion I entered, without a doubt, were the grounds that had once been sacred to the Aldrich Family. I had missed searching this portion the first time, and upon entering the woods, I immediately saw a small wooden cross resting against the tombstone. I wandered up the wooded hillside towards the grave and discovered the grave that was the subject of my search.
The grave belonged to Simon Whipple Aldrich, the youngest son of Colonel Dexter and Margery Aldrich. Simon died May 6, 1841 at the age of 27. Note: Almost every place I’ve read about the young man resting here identifies him as Simon Whipple, which were his first and middle names that boldly top the fragile stone. Reading the text on the stone, it revealed his full name is Simon Whipple Aldrich.
Simon’s grave brings countless visitors each year. It is not due to any important thing he did while he was alive. What brought me here was the same thing that causes many people each year to seek out Simon’s resting place. Chiseled into the base of his stone is a phrase that is hard to read due to the passing of time, but parts of it still can be made out: “Though consumption’s vampire grasp / Had seized thy mortal frame / mind” Although the rest of the lines were missing – the last line is missing altogether as the stone is now set in concrete – a search revealed the possible next two lines: “Thy ardent and inspiring mind, / untouched, remained the same.”
In recent years, the story of Simon Whipple has become a part of regional lore; is it because of the phrase “vampire’s grasp” which is carved into his stone. At the time of his death, no major stories were reported to make townsfolk and family members actually believe he was a vampire or the victim of one. No other attacks had been reported and no sources report his body dug up for being a vampire himself, unlike another of the supposed New England vampires, Mercy Brown. Note: I had the opportunity to visit Mercy’s grave many years ago. Her story can be found here: Mercy Brown
If Simon was not the victim of a vampire attack, then what happened? The answer is the same as many of the other vampire accounts in New England: Simon died of tuberculosis. Some of the symptoms of tuberculosis are: the coughing up of blood, constant fatigue (sleeping all the time), night chills, and unintentional weight loss. These are all signs and symptoms that would eventually become a part of vampire lore.
Interestingly his sister Marietta, who rests next to Simon, also died of tuberculosis, but her death is not compared to a vampire attack. But her stone also contains a part of a poem. The first three lines present a morbid thought to those who stop here: “O calm be the spot where her form now reposes / May the friends who so loved her revisit the grave / And feel – tho’ the cold clod her ashes encloses -“. The last line is somewhat uplifting, “She lives in the presence of HIM who can save,” but after telling people to feel the cold ground that holds her body, I’m not sure how uplifting that can be.
The rain began falling harder. Simon might not have been a vampire or a vampire’s victim, but it seemed supernatural forces were at hand during this visit. I left him and the rest of the Aldrich family resting under the canopy of green as I fled to the safety of the much drier and warmer vehicle.