Mercy Brown was a suspected vampire, famous for having her heart cut out of her corpse. Hers is perhaps one of the most famous cases of exhumation of a vampire, especially for being so recent. Mercy Lena Brown was born and died in Exeter, Rhode Island. In 1892, a little over a hundred years ago. Just months after Mercy had died, her corpse was dug up and her heart was cut out and burned.
Mercy Brown’s vampire case was still in a time when vampires were believed to exist in the traditional sense; as more demonic corpses who were blamed for everything from crop failures to plagues. Mercy Brown had been sick with tuberculosis, a condition which often was connected with vampire attacks. Mercy’s mother, Mary Brown, had died of tuberculosis a decade earlier. The eldest daughter, Mary Olive, also died from tuberculosis years before. When the only son of the Brown family, Edwin, became sick with tuberculosis, he as sent away to Colorado in hopes that his health would improve.
Mercy died of tuberculosis in January of 1892. She was 19 years old. When Edwin returned to Exeter from Colorado, his condition worsened. It was believed that one of the family members who had died was responsible for the disease. Edwin’s condition was worsening rapidly, and the father, George Brown, was desperate to keep his son alive. If one of the other dead children was a vampire, and they were causing Edwin’s illness, it would be a matter of digging her up and exhuming her to cure Edwin.
George Brown had Mercy’s body dug up in March of 1892. Mercy’s body had been “unnaturally preserved” according to eyewitness accounts. An article about the exhumation was printed in the Providence Journal that year. Some accounts say she had turned over in her grave. Some even claim there was blood on her mouth.
Then they cut open her chest cavity and found her heart with “fresh blood.” Mercy was deemed to be a vampire, responsible for the cases of tuberculosis across the village, not just for her brother, Edwin. They cut out her heart and burned it on a nearby rock.
Edwin consumed the ashes of her heart, in the belief that, by consuming the vampire’s heart, he would get well. Edwin died two months later. The story in the Providence Journal at the time even referred to the practice with shock at its “barbarism in such modern times.” So, no, it wasn’t too common in villages in the 1880s and 1890s to be digging up corpses and cutting out hearts of “vampires.”