Almost 200 years ago, warmth from the June sun consumed the dew from off the green in Woodstock, Vermont, just as it does today. The sun’s rays gradually chased the morning chill back into the shadows. Flames licked urgently along the sides of an iron pot, and the heart of a man recently dubbed “vampire” was placed inside and burnt to ash.

This sounds like the ending to a Green Mountain version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but, according to the Smithsonian Institution, it was a real occurrence in parts of New England from about 1784 to 1892. Frederick Ransom had become infected with tuberculosis – known at the time as “consumption” for its habit of consuming the bodies of the afflicted from the inside.

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Tuberculosis under a microscope.

Without the knowledge of modern medical intervention, people in the 18th and 19th centuries who contracted consumption had bleak outlooks. Some doctors recommended blood-letting, while others tried to treat the disease with alcohol or tannin. When medical cures failed to work, families became desperate and turned to folklore for answers.

Its easy to think of these long-ago people as clinging to talismans and placing their trust in any quack who proclaimed to have an answer for the highly infectious disease, but Frederick Ransom came from a wealthy family and attended Dartmouth College. His father, having already lost multiple family members to the White Plague, may have been determined to save his remaining kin or to at least show the townsfolk that he did all that could be done.

In those early days of our country’s history, not much was known about communicable diseases. Tuberculosis was thought to be hereditary since it held a tendency to wipe out families. Myths arose surrounding the first to die in a family – these depraved creatures would rise at night and feed on the blood of their relatives. A body exhumed months later was found to either contain liquid blood within the heart or have roots growing out of it – a sure sign of a vampire.

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If only Frederick had died a century later, his neighbors could have spared his body such blatant disrespect.

To cure the living family members, the heart was burned while the afflicted inhaled the fumes or sometimes ate the cooled ashes. As expected, this generally did not work. Those who survived a consumptive affliction were simply lucky enough that their immune systems could handle it.

Poor Freddy’s heart was buried fifteen feet deep after being burnt to ash. A seven-ton slab of granite from Knox Ledge lay atop the pot containing the heart, and the hole was filled back in. The ground, so desecrated, was purified with fresh blood from a bullock. This, the elders of the town felt, surely would rid the town of vampirism.

But some years later, inquisitive adventurers dug up the vampire sacrifice. Neither slab nor pot was anywhere to be found, yet sulphur and an otherworldly roaring deep within the earth emanated from the hole. They quickly abandoned their excavation, and nothing has been heard from Frederick Ransom since.

As for the stories, they live on in collections of the weird and mysterious (Mischief in the Mountains: Strange Tales of Vermont and Vermonters by Walter R. Hard & Janet C. Green and A History of Vampires in New England by Thomas D’Agostino). Some proclaim that Bram Stoker was influenced by the stories of New England vampires while writing Dracula. A plethora of vampire movies abound, from the classic From Dusk Till Dawn, The Lost Boys, and Interview With the Vampire to the more recent Twilight series. Maybe the true immortality of these legendary fiends is in the way their stories permeate our culture ad infinitum.

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