New England was a hot bed for vampire activity in the 1800’s causing a ‘panic’ which overtook the whole area from Rhode Island to Connecticut. While the passage of time has blurred which vampire reports were real and which were hysterical reactions to the grief and fear caused by consumption [tuberculosis] the stories and events clearly reflect the people weren’t leaving anything to chance.
One such story comes from Woodstock, Vermont. It was 1834 and the Corwin family was devastated when their oldest son died from a mysterious illness. He was mourned and buried but no sooner had the dirt been thrown than another son took ill with the same symptoms. The townspeople began to suspect something unearthly was behind the sicknesses and rumors quickly spread – beware the vampire.
The town, gripped by fear and deciding not to take any chances, unearthed the oldest son’s corpse from Cushing Cemetery and burned it. The ashes were put into an iron container and buried beneath Woodstock Village Green, never to be disturbed again. However, never is a long time bceause, as misfortune would have it, a group of local boys decided to dig the ashes up one fateful night. According to legend, as soon as they broke ground the air filled with unearthly screams and they became surrounded by disembodied voices. Wisely deciding to discontinue the enterprise, the boys fled into the night.
The story of the Corwin vampire was not the first time the townspeople had dealt with a vampire, perhaps offering explanation to their choosing to cremate the corpse so quickly. In 1817, a man named Frederick Ransom fell ill and died on February 14th. He was a 20-year-old student at Dartmouth College and an account of the events was written by his brother, Daniel. Frederick was buried but his father become convinced he was rising from his grave and visiting the family at night.
Dear old dad had Frederick’s body exhumed and his heart cut out. The heart was burned on the forge of the local blacksmith, Captain Pearson, a common motif at the time connected to the belief in the power against supernatural of a blacksmith. The ashes were then scattered on the village green, under which the Corwin boy’s ashes were later buried. The account was published in the Vermont Standard as late as the 1890s while Daniel’s manuscript is in Williams Public Library on Woodstock Green.
Unfortunately, burning Frederick’s heart did little to save the family from their fate. Mrs. Ransom died in 1821, a daughter in 1828 and two sons in 1830 and 1832. Daniel survived the longest, living into his eighties with constant dread that one day the ‘family illness’ may come for him.
The passage of time often obscures the truth (especially if we want it to). Whether there was a vampire feeding on the people of Woodstock may remain nothing more than folklore attributed to the hysteria caused by the lack of understanding of tuberculosis and how it spreads. Then again, tuberculosis was neither uncommon nor a complete mystery and many other towns which suffered losses at the hands of the disease didn’t fear a vampire and resort to burning bodies. For sure, something did happen in Woodstock out of the ordinary.