Saturday, December 30, 2006

A Modern Vampire: Eerily Similar to Mercy Brown

In The Shunned House, HPL thinly veils Mercy Dexter (i.e. Mercy Brown of Exeter, Rhode Island) as a parody of Mercy Lea Brown. Space does not permit the full telling of the tragic story of the Brown family - and the long tradition of attempting to prevent tuberculosis by exhuming bodies and burning hearts in Rhode Island and Connecticutt. Perhaps in a future blog - but one can easily google on the tradition.

However, we know that HPL made use of the 1892 newspaper article raging about the superstition - perhaps found in Sidney Rider's books.

The tradition has a modern outbreak of note. In 2004, a farmer named Petre Toma died. Upon burial, a child in the village became ill and a group of panicked villagers exhumed the body, pried the rib cage open with a pitchfork, burned the heart and made a brew of the ashes and made the sick child drink it.

The story is long, and to save space, I'm putting them in the comments section attached to this post.

The citations are: Massimo Pollidoro [1] & Seattle Times.

1 comment:

Chris Perridas said...

The stories ...

Stories of vampires are, in fact, very old in Romania; however, they prefer to call these creatures strigoi. They are seen as ghosts, undead, immaterial things; they are usually a recently buried member of the family, who returns to haunt his relatives and drain their life forces, sometimes in dreams. In order to bring peace to the family and to the undead itself, some "rituals" need to be performed.
These are very secret practices that, I was surprised to learn, still continue today. In January 2004, one such episode became public and created a scandal.
After Petre Toma of the village of Marotinu de Sus died in a field accident in December 2003, his relatives complained that a child's illness was to blame on Toma, since some neighbors claimed they had seen him posthumously walking in his yard. Something had to be done.
Six local men then volunteered to enact the ancient Romanian ritual for dealing with a strigoi. Just before midnight, they crept into the cemetery on the edge of the village and gathered around Toma's grave.
It seems that the destruction of a strigoi has some parallels with the methods used by Stoker's heroes to destroy Dracula. But rather than drive a stake through the creature's heart, the six men dug Toma up, split his ribcage with a pitchfork, removed his heart, put stakes through the rest of his body, and sprinkled it with garlic. Then they burned the heart, put the embers in water, and shared the grim cocktail with the sick child.
For a little while, it all seemed to have worked well. Eventually, the sick girl got better again, so the ritual must have worked, or so many in the village thought.
Local police appeared to be less understanding. After Toma's daughter complained, they arrested the men and charged them with illegally exhuming the corpse. They were sentenced to six months in jail, but did not serve the time.


Wednesday, March 31, 2004
MAROTINU DE SUS, Romania — Before Toma Petre's relatives pulled his body from the grave, ripped out his heart, burned it to ashes, mixed it with water and drank it, he hadn't been in the news much.
That's often the way here with vampires. Quiet lives, active deaths.
Villagers here aren't up in arms about the undead — they're pretty common — but they are outraged that the police are involved in a simple vampire slaying. After all, vampire slaying is an accepted, though hidden, bit of national heritage, even if illegal.
"What did we do?" pleaded Flora Marinescu, Petre's sister and the wife of the man accused of re-killing him. "If they're right, he was already dead. If we're right, we killed a vampire and saved three lives. ... Is that so wrong?"
Yes, according to the Romanian State Police. Its view, expressed by Constantin Ghindeano, the chief agent for the region, is that vampires aren't real, and dead bodies in graves aren't to be dug out and killed again, even by relatives.
He doesn't really have much more to say on this case, other than noting that Petre had been removed from his grave, his heart had been cut out and it was presumed to have been consumed by his relatives. Ghindeano added that police were expanding the investigation, which began in mid-January, to include the after-deaths of others in area.
"The investigation is ongoing, and we expect to file charges later," he said, referring to possible counts of disturbing the peace of the dead, which could carry a three-year jail term. "We are determining whether this was an isolated case or whether there is a pattern in the village."
Romania has been filled with news of the vampire-slaying inquiry, and villagers admit there's a pattern, but they argue that that's why these matters shouldn't make it to court. There's too much of it going on, and too few complain about the practice.
Vampire slaying is a custom that has been passed down from mother to daughter, father to son, for generations beyond memory, not just in this tiny village of 300 huts astride a dirt cart path about 100 miles southwest of Bucharest but in scores of villages throughout southern Romania.
Little has changed since the days that Turkish invaders rolled through 500 years ago, seeking the mineral riches of Transylvania just to the north. By day, the people are Roman Catholics. At night, they fear the strigoi, or vampires.
On a recent afternoon, the village's single store, which also serves as its lone bar, was filled with men drinking hard as they explained the vampire facts to a stranger. Most had at least one vampire in their family histories, and many were related to vampire victims. Most had learned to kill a vampire while still children.
Theirs is not a Hollywood tale, and they laugh at Hollywood conventions: that vampires can be warded off by crosses or cloves of garlic, or that they can't be seen in mirrors. Utter nonsense. Vampires were once Catholics, were they not? And if a vampire can be seen, the mirror can see him. And why would you wear garlic around your neck? Are you adding taste?
No, vampires are humans who have died, commonly babies before baptism or people unfortunate enough to have black cats jump over their coffins. Vampires occur everywhere, but in busy cities no one notices, the men said.
Vampires are obvious when dug up because while they will have been laid to rest on their backs, arms folded neatly across their chests, they will be found on their sides or even their stomachs. They will not have decomposed. Beards have continued to grow. Their arms will be at their sides, as if ready to claw out of their coffins. And they will have blood — sometimes dried, sometimes fresh — around their mouths.
But the biggest tip-off that a vampire is near is his or her family, for vampires always prey on their families. If family members fall ill after a death, odds are a vampire is draining their blood at night, looking for company.
"That's the problem with vampires," said Doru Morinescu, a 30-year-old shepherd who, like many in the village, has a family connection to the current case. "They'd be all right if you could set them after your enemies. But they only kill loved ones. I can understand why, but they have to be stopped."
Ion Balasa, 64, explained that there are two ways to stop a vampire, but only one after he or she has risen to feed.
"Before the burial, you can insert a long sewing needle, just into the bellybutton," he said. "That will stop them from becoming a vampire."
But once they've become vampires, all that's left is to dig them up, use a curved haying sickle to remove the heart, burn the heart to ashes on an iron plate, then have the ill relatives drink the ashes mixed with water.
"The heart of a vampire, while you burn it, will squeak like a mouse and try to escape," Balasa said. "It's best to take a wooden stake and pin it to the pan, so it won't get away."
Which is exactly what happened with Petre, according to Gheorghe Marinescu, a cheery, aging vampire slayer who was Petre's brother-in-law.
Marinescu's story goes like this: After Petre died, Marinescu's son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter fell ill. Marinescu knew the cause was his dead brother-in-law. So he went to the cemetery.
The first time, he was frightened, so he had a little graveside drink, for courage. He ended up with a little too much courage and couldn't use the shovel. So the next night he returned, and with a proper amount of courage, was successful.
Marinescu said he found Petre on his side, his mouth bloody. His heart squeaked and jumped as it was burned. When it was mixed with water and taken to those who were sick, it worked.
His wife, Petre's sister, interrupted his story with a broom, swinging it at him and a stranger. She was worried that he would incur the wrath of the police, who would jail him.
But then his son Costel called what happened next a miracle. After weeks in bed, Costel got up to walk. His head wasn't pounding. His chest wasn't aching. His stomach felt fine.
"We were all saved," he said. "We had been saved from a vampire."
But how could he be sure his illness came from a vampire?
"What other explanation is possible?" he asked.


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