January 7, 2010

PART 2 -- Weird Vermont Stories

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Here is Part 2 of my First Night presentation. Another venerable Vermont Weird Tale. This continues from my January 4, 2010 post

2. THE WOODSTOCK VAMPIRE

In October 1890 the most famous - or at least the most long-lived and universally publicized - case of Vermont vampirism was reported in The Boston Transcript and later as a page-one story in Woodstock's own newspaper, The Vermont Standard.

Imagine sipping your morning coffee while reading the following headline:

“VAMPIRISM IN WOODSTOCK

The story told how, around 1830, a local man named Corwin died of consumption (what today we call tuberculosis). After his body was buried, his brother – also presumably named Corwin -- started wasting away. Common wisdom was that the first consumptive in a family to die was likely to come back as a vampire. His spirit would rise from the cold earth each night to feed upon the life-essence of still-living relatives.

To determine whether the dead Mr. Corwin had returned as a vampire, town fathers ordered his body disinterred. Dr. Joseph Gallup, then Woodstock’s leading physician and head of Vermont Medical College, observed that – and I quote -- "the vampire's heart contained its victim's blood" (though exactly how he was able to determine that with any degree of forensic certainty remains a bit of a medical mystery).

Anyway, there was only one way to stop the spread of evil: an exorcism!

Predictably, most of the town's population and many curiosity–seekers turned out for the event. Some accounts say crowds totaled in the thousands. No surprise there; Woodstock has always been a tourist town.

It is important to note that the stake-through-the-heart approach to dispatching vampires was a European tradition, not practiced by New Englanders.

Here, our methods were different.

Dr. Gallup and his associates built a fire on the village green, heated up an iron pot, and cooked the corpse’s undecayed heart, eventually reducing it to ashes.

Then they buried the pot and ashes in a hole fifteen feet deep. Then, taking no chances, they covered it with a seven-ton slab of granite. Before refilling the hole, they sprinkled everything with bull's blood, which they believed had purifying properties.

Finally, they forced the dying Mr. Corwin to swallow a ghastly homeopathic medicine concocted from some of the bull's blood mixed with some of his brother's ashes.

Unfortunately, we never learn if Brother Corwin survived the disease, let alone the medicine, but after that the town fathers were convinced they had rid Woodstock of vampirism forever.

Although, personally, I wouldn’t bet on it.

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I guess that’s not really a monster story either. It’s more of an anecdote about the history of medicine, I guess.

But our monster-hunt is not yet over . . .

Stay tuned for Part 3.