Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A Tale of Vampires - Part 3

In November of 1990, near Griswold, Connecticut, an abandoned rural farm family cemetery was discovered. The Walton Cemetery dated from the 18th-19th centuries, and those buried there were of European descent.

The initial -- and accidental -- discovery was made made by a sand and gravel company working at the site of the forgotten cemetery. Because of the instability of the sand and gravel knoll in which they were discovered, the burials could not be preserved where they were, and an archeological team had to remove them from the site.

As Paul Sledzik and Nicholas Bellantoni reported in "Bioarcheological and Biocultural Evidence for the New England Vampire Folk Belief," which appeared in The American Journal of Physical Anthropology in 1994:

The skeletal remains of 29 individuals (15 subadults, 6 adult males, and 8 adult females) were excavated in the course of 1 year. Documentary evidence in land deeds indicated that the Walton family, who had emigrated to Griswold in 1690, had utilized the knoll as a family burial ground by the 1750s.

What no one could anticipate when the cemetery was discovered in 1990 was that a few years later, a spate of news stories about vampires in New England would result.

All most all of us get our ideas about vampires from an Irish author — Bram Stoker. Although Anne Rice, Charlaine Harris, and other writers have given us new ways to imagine vampires, Stoker's creation of Dracula has provided Hollywood with its model for the creatures, and almost everything that has followed bears at least an imprint of Stoker's creation.

But folk legends of vampires go back for centuries before the Count. And Stoker was not the first to write of them.

The first English language work of vampire fiction, "The Vampyre," was published in 1819. It was written by John William Polidori, a young man with a fascinating history of his own. He was 20 years old and traveling in Europe as Lord Byron's physician (he obtained his medical degree at 19) when he participated in the famous ghost-story-writing challenge that lead to the writing of Frankenstein by Mary Shelly. Polidori took a fragment of a story abandoned by Byron, and reworked it into The Vampyre.

But artistocratic biters were not the image of a vampire that came to mind everywhere throughout Europe before Polidori, Stoker and their successors picked up their pens. Nor were stakes through the heart, garlic, and the like the remedy.

Among the burials recovered from that abandoned, damaged graveyard in Griswold, scientists would discover three sets of remains that bore the signs of an older remedy. In a stone-lined grave, they found the first. Within it was a coffin, the lid of which bore tacks arranged to spelled out "JB-55" — presumably, the deceased's initials and age at death. But what drew special attention to JB-55 when that coffin was carefully opened was that his bones had been deliberately rearranged -- his skull and largest leg bones (his femurs) had been placed atop his ribs and spine in a classic "skull and cross-bones" orientation.

It seems someone had made sure a man believed to be a vampire would no longer trouble the living...

More about New England vampires in the next installment.

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ratmole said...
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