Lord Have Mercy

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Tuberculosis, called consumption at the time, was one of the great scourges of the 19th century.  Caused by a vile little bacteria, it killed millions of people per year, and despite the invention of antibiotics, continues to do so in the developing world to this day.  It's basically the blue ribbon of diseases as far as symptoms go.  Chronic bloody coughing, fever, night sweats, and steady decline in weight and body condition, sometimes over years, until death finally occurs.  So you know, a fun time for anyone who got it.  Tuberculosis had been around since ancient times, but it wasn't until we all got crammed together in cities that it really started to take hold.  

The Brown family of Exeter, Rhode Island had especially bad luck when it came to tuberculosis.  George and Mary Brown were pretty average parents for the period in that they had a bunch of kids and lived on a farm.  Unfortunately, despite all this clean family living, one by one the family members contracted tuberculosis and died.  The first to go was the mother Mary.  She was followed by her daughter Mary Olive three years later and then her daughter Mercy four years after that.  Now this probably sounds pretty bad, but unfortunately for old George Brown the tragedy train was still chugging.  Soon after Mercy's death, another child, this one a boy named Edwin, also fell ill to the point that it was thought that he didn't have long to live.  Already grieving for three family members, and soon to lose a fourth, it undoubtedly came as a surprise for George with his friends and neighbors came over, led by the local doctor no less, with the news that they were going to need to dig up the dead bodies of his kin.   

Now one would assume that a group of concerned townspeople led by a doctor would have a pretty good reason for wanting to dig up some dead bodies.  They did, at least in their minds, because they were convinced that one of the dead Browns was probably a vampire.  You see, back during the 19th century nobody really knew what caused tuberculosis, so for whatever reason, a large number of people living in New England decided that it had to be caused by vampires.  It was widely believed at the time that if multiple people in a family died of tuberculosis then one of the dead was likely a vampire, magically feeding on the living to sustain itself.  

As one can imagine, old George was less than thrilled with this idea, but after his neighbors threatened to beat his sorry ass, he gave in and let them dig up his wife and children.  Now luckily for the villagers, it was winter time, so though the last to die, Mercy, was safely in a coffin, she had not been buried yet because the ground was frozen.  When Mercy's coffin was opened the body was found to be in pristine condition, which most definitely had nothing to do with the fact that it was the middle of the god damn winter.  Some witnesses also reported that the body had moved from its original position, which totally had nothing to do with a bunch of crazy villagers jostling the shit out of it.  Investigating further, fresh blood was discovered in Mercy's heart and liver, again totally not because of the freezing temperatures.  For the villagers, it was all the proof they needed that Mercy was a fucking vampire.  

Luckily the villagers knew exactly what to do.  There was a whole bunch of different treatments, ranging from turning the body over onto its stomach to the cutting off of the head.  In this case the villagers opted with the tried and true method of cutting out the vampire's heart and burning it.  George wasn't so hot on this idea, but several neighbors came forward and suddenly remembered seeing Mercy walking around the graveyard at night.  Again not wanting an ass beating, George acquiesced.  The villagers burned Mercy's heart to ashes and then mixed the ashes in a glass of water.  They then forced poor sick Edwin to drink the water and ashes, since obviously that's the only way to cure tuberculosis.  Edwin died two months later.  For his part, George stayed in Exeter until he died thirty years later, which had to be kind of awkward.  It's probably also worth mentioning that this all happened in 1892.