In the late 1800’s there was a girl born to a good family, who suffered through great pain in her short life. Her name was Mercy Lena Brown, but those who knew her called her Lena. Sometime in her childhood, she started making a quilt using whatever material she could find. It ended up being a very intricate and beautiful piece that still remains with descending family members. Some call the stitching she used, the Wandering Foot. Superstition states that anyone who slept under a blanket with this stitching, would be lost indefinitely and cursed to wander forever.
Lena and her family lived in Exeter, Rhode Island. A town that boasted a population of over 2,500 people in 1829. By Lena’s time the population had dropped down to around 960. The promise of better land out West had people abandoning their farms, leaving areas looking eerie and forgotten.
When Lena was 9, her mother became ill with Tuberculosis. Only, then it was known as consumption and there was no treatment at the time. It was an agonizing death that the afflicted suffered through. The disease seemed to visibly suck the life out of them, leaving them emaciated and pale. Their breathing was so ragged it sounded like the chains of death. It was in December of 1882 when Lena lost her mother, Mary Eliza.
The very next year her sister, Mary Olive, came down with the same thing that took their mother. She lost that battle as well. She was 20. In the span of just one year, Lena had lost her mother and a sister. Their family was shaken and the neighbors were worried that they might be next.
A few years later it was Edwin, Lena’s brother, who would be the next to fall ill. In a valiant effort to escape his fate, Edwin traveled to Colorado Springs in hopes that the mountain air would be helpful in improving his health. While he was away, Lena started showing symptoms. Once it started, it hit her like a freight train and it was done. She had what was known as “galloping” consumption. Meaning that she could have been the first one afflicted, but her symptoms were dormant. That’s why when she did start showing symptoms it took her very quickly, but very painfully. The year was 1892 and Mercy Lena Brown was only 19-years-old.
When Edwin returned from Colorado, his condition had worsened greatly. Organized religion wasn’t widely practiced in this area, at the time. With so few people, it just didn’t catch on. Instead, it’s likely they turned to superstition in place of religion. The neighbors and townsfolk were probably just trying to do everything they could to help this family, and maybe themselves too. What they suggested, however; was pretty far out there.
In March, of 1892, all three of the deceased Brown ladies were exhumed from their graves. The neighbors had talked George Brown, Lena’s father, into agreeing to it. He wasn’t present when it happened. He didn’t believe in their theories. They were under the impression that someone in his family wasn’t actually dead and that they were feasting on the lives of the others. They were sure that the guilty party would still have fresh blood in her heart. If they could identify who it was and take care of it properly, then no one else in the family would suffer and Edwin would be cured.
Having been in the ground for nearly 10 years, both Mary Eliza and Mary Olive were little more than skeletons. Lena had only been dead for a few months in cold weather, so when her body was uncovered it had been nicely preserved and gave the people what they needed. An autopsy was done and her heart and liver were removed. When the heart was cut open, “clotted and decomposed blood” was found. Significant signs of tuberculosis were also visible. But when the people heard the part about fresh blood, they stopped listening.
Lena’s heart and liver were burned to ash and fed to Edwin as a cure. Lena was labeled a vampire and became the famous Mercy Brown. Edwin still died, only two months later. The story circulated the news, and was doing so the very same year that Bram Stoker was touring America. Dracula was published in 1897. Two of his characters are Mina and Lucy, which sound awfully similar to Mercy and Lena. Perhaps the story of this girl is what inspired him to write his brilliant novel.
After Edwin died, no one else in the family became afflicted. George Brown lived until 1922, still denying the claims that his daughter was a vampire. Isn’t it odd though, that after they burned her heart nobody else got sick?
Lena’s spirit is said to linger in the smell of roses on a certain bridge and in the reassuring whispers to dying patients that death isn’t so bad. People have also claimed that if you leave a recorder out on her gravestone, you can hear her murmuring voice when it’s played back. That doesn’t sound like the spirit of a life-sucking vampire, only that of a girl who died too soon. Yet, the legend of Mercy Brown lives on.