Connecticut River Museum Presents

Myths and legends regularly serve as cautionary tales warning against the dangers posed by people, creatures, and behaviors considered villainous or evil. They also allow audiences to indulge in the delights of the macabre and the monster story. Lurid interest in murder, mayhem, and the suffering of others, while perhaps not the finest expression of human behavior, is nevertheless a key component to these stories.

The Connecticut River Valley has been home to its share of stories of evil done by human hands. In its long history, it has seen people of different times find scapegoats in others not like them, and see the workings of the diabolical or witchcraft afoot. Stories of malicious spirits, possessed animals, and monstrous creatures such as vampires also arise, bringing a sense of foreboding to otherwise pleasant waters.

The Dummerston Vampires

Dummerston_Vampires

The Connecticut River Valley has seen its share of “vampires.” The term is a slight misnomer in that the
diabolical creature is not the fanged monster we have come to imagine but rather pathogenic bacteria
bringing death.

Consumption, the common term for tuberculosis before the twentieth century, was a scourge for New
Englanders. Theories abounded about its cause and its cure. Among the many superstitions about consumption,
none was more gruesome than the belief that it could be stopped by exhuming the body and burning the
heart of the most recent family member to die.

Although the best known examples come from Rhode Island and eastern Connecticut, vampire stories dot the
River Valley, appearing in towns such as Springfield and Chicopee. The Spaulding family of Dummerston,
Vermont is an infamous case. One of the earliest incidents in New England, reportedly occurring in the
1790s, this story is also unusual because it involves a vine.

In 1884 David Lufkin Mansfield, a local teacher and school superintendent, wrote the following account in his History of Dummerston:

Although the children of Lt. Spaulding, especially the sons, became large, muscular persons, all but one or two, died under 40 years of age of consumption…[A]fter six or seven of the family had died of consumption, another daughter was taken… with the same disease. It was thought she would die, and much was said in regard to so many of the family’s dying of consumption when they all seemed to have the appearance of good health and long life. Among the superstitions of those days, we find it was said that a vine or root of some kind grew from coffin to coffin, of those of one family, who died of consumption, and were buried side by side; and when the growing vine had reached the coffin of the last one buried, another one of the family would die; the only way to destroy the influence or effect, was to break the vine; take up the body of the last one buried and burn the vitals, which would be an effectual remedy:

Accordingly, the body of the last one buried was dug up and the vitals taken out and burned, and the daughter…got well and lived many years.

Manfield’s entry was written a century after the events, and must be read with caution. (The actual graves of the
Spaulding family, for example, are not lined up perfectly next to one another.) His account is not evidence that
the Spaulding case occurred precisely as he records, but rather that people in Dummerston told this story for
many decades.

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