Last month I went home for the first time in a long while. It was the first time I’d been there since I started playing super tourist, pretty much the first time I’d ever played tourist there.
One of the things that I did was play “find the vampire grave” in Woodstock VT, a quaint town of quaintness about 45 minutes away from my sister’s house.
I grew up knowing, vaguely, that there was some sort of story about a vampire buried in their green. A New England note, all towns are centered around a green of some sort. The story I knew or thought I knew involved the “vampire” being dug up and buried in the crossroads with a stake in its heart and garlic in its mouth.
A couple years ago I was reminded about the vampire by this fantastic article in Smithsonian magazine about New England vampires. Seemingly vampires were a New England “thing” just like pineapple décor and apple-based products. It was a combination of the ravages of consumption, which was killing of a significant slice of the population, and economic problems as poor towns lost population to the easier-to-farm Midwest, cities and mill towns, and well, to consumption. Additionally, there was actually a time when New England was considered the superstitious and behind-the-times area of the country. Backstory recently re-ran their podcast on it for this Halloween; it’s definitely worth the listen if you have the hour for it. It’s worth noting that much of the proof of vampirism – such as an unexpectedly well-preserved corpse can be blamed on the cold climate and rocky soil of the area.
It turned out that Woodstock was the site of not one but two vampire incidents – although neither followed the story as I knew it.
The first was that of Frederick Ransom who died on Feb. 14, 1817. He wasn’t the only sick one in his family, and fearing particularly for the health of his younger brother, his father had Frederick’s body dug up, his heart burned on the anvil of the local blacksmith, and then fed to said brother. The Ransom case is particularly interesting as far as vampire stories go because unlike other incidents, the Ransoms were upper class and fiscally sound. Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, this didn’t save the Ransoms – Frederick was followed by his mother, sister, and two other brothers over the next 15 years, although his last brother lived into his 80s.
The second story is a bit less well documented. While we have Frederick Ransom’s younger brother’s recollections, the data on the second vampire comes from a newspaper story written 60 years after the fact. While various organizations including the Woodstock Historical society have verified certain facts, the simple fact remains that no one can place the family or the death. However, Sledzik and Bellantoni cite three additional sources for the story in their paper “Brief Communication: Bioarcheological and Biocultural Evidence for the New England Vampire Folk Belief” so perhaps there’s more to be found that isn’t available online.
The story is such: in June 1830 (or maybe 1829 or 1834) the Corwin family, also suffering from consumption, dug up a son who had died six months earlier to determine vampirism. After they and other local townspeople determined that there was “fresh blood” in his heart his body was also taken to the green and burned. In some versions his ashes were fed to his brother, in others they were buried in the crossroads of the green in an iron cask or caldron and potentially under a granite slab.
This is particularly interesting since the green was redesigned to look as it does now around the same time.
One factor that brings this story into question is that he was supposedly buried in Cushing cemetery but there are not any Corwin graves in Cushing. However, if you had just dug up your vampiric family member perhaps you would avoid using the same cemetery.
Sadly Woodstock, perhaps because the focus on high end fancy tourism, doesn’t have any marker or information about the vampires in the green. There’s nothing to see but scruffy grass, a closed info booth, and dirt paths.