Vampires have long been a staple of fiction, movies, and TV. They are present in all sorts of media, and are largely considered to be a purely fictional construct. Yet, in earlier times these were specters that people were wary of, who believed they existed and cowered in the dark from their insidious wrath. On occasion, these creatures were killed, but it seems to have never been a simple matter to dispose of them, and even when they were truly dead they seem to have caused problems. One area of the paranormal that doesn’t get a lot of attention is that of all of the supposed haunted vampire graves, and whether these creatures ever existed or not, there are certainly plenty of tales of them.
Back in the 18th and 19th centuries vampire graves and remains were pretty serious business, in both the Old and New Worlds, and there was much effort put into making sure these graves were destroyed and that the remains of those accused of being vampires were dead. The graves of suspected vampires were routinely dug up in order to destroy the creatures and end their rampage. It was widely believed that those who had been fed off of by a vampire would grow weak, pale, and subsequently die, after which they would be buried and later rise again as vampires themselves to continue the cycle of evil. As such, graves that were targeted for exhumation and extermination were often not only those of the vampire in question, but also their alleged victims. The target of vampire attacks was said to be either the neck or the stomach, so any suspicious wounds in these areas were often seen as evidence of vampiric activities. Another sure sign of a vampire was believed to be corpses that were bloated or seeped blood from the mouth or eyes, which was seen as evidence that the creature had recently fed on the living. Any such remains exhumed from graves were surely dealt with through beheading or heart removal and the discovery of such corpses typically caused widespread panic in the surrounding areas. Yet even then a grave might retain some sort of dark energy, and here we get to the hauntings.
One prominent local tale from the Isle of Man revolves around a curious grave that is located on the outskirts of Castletown, at a place called Malew Churchyard. Here one can find a grave that is generously draped with heavy iron chains, with four imposing iron stakes at each corner and a massive slab covering it all. It looks almost like it was designed to keep something from getting out, and according to the story that’s exactly what it is. According to local lore, this is the grave of a man known as Matthew Hassal, who in the 1850s lived in the area with his wife, Margaret. He supposedly one day suddenly ended his life for no apparent reason. At the time it was a shocking development in the community, but things would soon get even stranger.
Hassal’s body was laid out and prepared for burial, and the story goes that as this was being done the very dead man suddenly bolted upright and let out an eerie moan, scaring most of the attendees half to death. Although the body went back down and became inert again, the superstitious populace saw this as a sure sign that he was one of the undead, a vampire revenant that would surely rise up at night to feed on the townspeople. To prevent this, his corpse was pierced through the heart by a wooden stake, and his grave was cornered by iron stakes driven deep into the ground. At the time, iron was considered one of the best ways to ward off a variety of supernatural beasts, vampires included, and so for good measure the coffin was tightly bound with iron chains as well.
At some point later the chains and iron stakes were removed by someone, and shortly after this people started to turn up dead and drained of blood. A mob of people then revisited the grave to put the chains and stakes back in place and the attacks stopped. Obviously, they had a vampire on their hands, so for good measure they staked the corpse again. After this the vampire bothered them no more. The grave to this day has the stakes and chains around it, and it is also said to be surrounded by ghostly phenomena such as anomalous noises, shadow figures, and the sound of thumping from within. It is all very spooky, but some have offered up some skepticism of the tale, such as one commenter on Isle of Man Geneology, who says of it:
I pointed out several years ago – this ridiculous notion was invented by an off-island journalist in a generally poorly researched book – no doubt it will keep on resurfacing in things like ‘curiosities of the Isle of Man’ – personally the only thing I find curious is people’s credulity. Many graves of that period had chains around the grave to keep dogs etc off the grave but most have rusted away. The Burial Reg gives Matthew Hassall Ballahick bur 13 Oct 1854 age 54 – Ballahick is a small farm near Ronaldsway – the name is not manx and he is the only one of that name in the malew burial reg – he does not appear in 1851 census nor in any directory I can find.
These legends of the Old World eventually found their way to the New World, and vampire superstitions grew in America just as they had done in Europe. The spread of these traditions across the sea was most likely a result of the settlers of the New World bringing their ancient folklore with them, including that of vampires. Perhaps the earliest physical evidence of belief in vampires in America was found in 1990 in Griswold, Connecticut, where a grave was found with a gruesome discovery within it. The grave contained the bodies of farmers from the 1700s that were mostly normal except for one exception. One of the corpses had apparently been decapitated and arranged in the position of a jolly roger 10 years after death. It was determined to not be the result of grave robbery since no valuables had been taken and the other corpses had remained untouched. A similar macabre find dating from the 1700s as well was found in Jewett City, Connecticut, where 29 bodies were found to have been posthumously dug up and burned. It is believed that both cases originated with an attempt to destroy suspected vampires.
Many of these supposed graves are also said to be haunted, cursed, or both. One of the most famous accounts of one of these is the story of a girl by the name of Mercy Brown. The girl had passed away in 1892 from a tuberculosis epidemic that was causing members of her family to die off one by one. Other locals suspected the dark work of a vampire, and many reported seeing Mercy wandering about at night among graves or out in farmland even after she had supposedly died. Mercy’s father decided to have her body dug up, as well as two other daughters who had died, in order to see if any of them had become creatures of the night. Although her two sisters had decomposed to skeletons, Mercy’s corpse was described as being in remarkably good condition considering how long it had been in the ground. In addition, Mercy’s body had changed positions in the grave and even displayed a slight rosiness to the cheeks. When the girl’s heart was examined, it was reported as having fresh blood within it. It was determined that she was surely a vampire and her heart was burned to ash. In a morbid addition to the story, the ashes of the heart were said to have been mixed with water and used as a kind of medication to stave off tuberculosis and death by Marcy’s own sick brother, who died anyway. The story of Mercy Brown was very widely publicized at the time. To this day, Mercy Brown’s grave is known for various strange phenomena such as ghost sightings, disembodied screaming or crying, and the overwhelming feeling of being watched.
In 1889, there is the tale of 19 year old Nellie Vaughn, of West Greenwich, Rhode Island, who died of an intense fever caused by pneumonia and was buried. The very same night that Nellie was buried, a man passing the grave reported hearing a woman screaming in anguish, but could not discern who it was or where exactly it came from. Shaken, he returned to the grave the next day with the constable in tow, where they found fresh footprints in the dirt surrounding the girl’s grave. Although nothing was done to exhume the suspicious body, many suspected Nellie of being a vampire, and her grave was subjected to vandalism over the years. One theory concerning this case is that perhaps Nellie had been accidentally buried alive. Oddly, it is said that grass will not grow on the girl’s grave even to this day.
From around the same time period, we have the tale of the rather aptly named Eerie Cemetery in northwestern Pennsylvania. Here one can find what is locally known as the Vampire’s Crypt, a forbidding gothic-looking structure that has drawn to it all manner of weird tales. Although the background is unclear, the mausoleum is supposedly the final resting place of a vampire killed sometime in the late 1800s, and it is supposedly guarded by supernatural forces. There are tales of a pack of spectral dogs roaming about the area, as well as a dark specter that will appear to chase visitors away, and of course the sounds of moaning or scratching within, as if something is trying to get out. There are also numerous claims of being hit with a sudden and inexplicable feeling of deep dread when in the crypt’s vicinity. While it is not known just who is supposed to be buried there, local lore says that it is a vampire, and so shunned was this place that the name of the crypt was long ago defaced and chiseled out.
From the area of Guadalajara, Mexico we have the Panteon de Belen Cemetery, which allegedly holds the grave of a vampire that held the area in a state of terror in the latter part of the 19th century. Supposedly at the time the area of Guadalajara was stalked by a vampire that seemed to begin with animals, then work on to feeding on infants, and then finally killing at least two grown women, each time the body having puncture marks to the neck. It got to the point that the locals formed a mob to hunt the revenant down, and when they finally found it, they drove a stake through its heart to put it down. It order to make sure it stayed out of trouble, they buried it under immense stone slabs. After some time, it was noticed that the concrete slabs had started to fracture for reasons unknown, and after this a tree began growing right out of the grave. According to local lore, if this tree is cut it will bleed human blood, and it is said that if the roots ever pullup the vampire’s grave it will be loosed upon the world again.
Another haunted vampire’s grave from the 19th century is one which resides in Toowong Cemetery, in Australia, in the Brisbane area. The place has all sorts of tales of supernatural strangeness orbiting it, but one of the more intriguing is that of a woman’s body that was exhumed from her grave at the foot of a place called Spook Hill long after death to find that it had not deteriorated at all. Not only that, it was said to have prominent fangs, and shortly after the body was dug up the apparition of a woman in 19th century clothing began lurking about the grave to chase people away.
Were any of these cases describing actual real vampires? The answer to that is likely no. Almost every case like these revolves around the ever-present specter of disease and almost always tuberculosis, which was a highly contagious and deadly disease in many areas at the time. In each alleged vampire account, a person dies of tuberculosis or some other sickness, after which more people, usually close to the original victim such as family members, grow weak and die too. This was a classic sign of being fed off of, so it was interpreted as the dark work of vampires and subsequently the suspected offender would be dug up and their heart burned or the body otherwise traditionally disposed of in order to protect the community from further attacks. It is most likely that the weakening and deaths were the result of the disease being passed on to people in close vicinity, not from the work of vampires. In the 19th century tuberculosis was a very mysterious illness that little was known about, so it makes sense that superstitious people who believed in the folklore of vampires might have used these creatures to explain the deadly spread of the disease and its deteriorating effects.
The condition of corpses said to exhibit vampirism could also have been the result of an incomplete knowledge of the forces of decomposition. The classic signs of vampirism, such as bloating or the leaking of blood from orifices, are all normal signs of decay, but the rural people seeing these were unlikely to have known this and thus would have seen it as signs of the corpse feeding on blood. Add in fear, panic, and hysteria, and you have a recipe for a vampire corpse. This still does not explain why so much paranormal weirdness seems to gravitate towards these graves. Is it just the spooky lore creating urban legends, or is there something more to this all? There is no way to ever really know for sure.