The New England Vampire Panic

Tony Walker
13 min readDec 27, 2022

Why Did They Burn The Heart of A Cadaver in New England?

We imagine that vampire hysteria was mainly located in Central and Eastern Europe, but that is not so. There were vampire epidemics in the United States of America too. In the 19th century, there was an outbreak of tuberculosis in Rhode Island, eastern Connecticut, southern Massachusetts, Vermont, and other parts of the New England states. This led to the New England vampire panic.

For context, “Dracula” by Bram Stoker was published in 1897 and “Carmilla” by J S Le Fanu in 1872 and “The Vampyre” by John Polidori in 1819, so the idea of the vampire was known to English speakers during the early to late 19 thcentury.

On September 26, 1859, Henry David Thoreau wrote in his journal:

“The savage in man is never quite eradicated. I have just read of a family in Vermont-who, several of its members having died of consumption, just burned the lungs & heart & liver of the last deceased, in order to prevent any more from having it”

When people from rural Rhode Island moved west into Connecticut, the people there thought they were “uneducated” and “vicious.” This was partly because the people from Rhode Island believed in vampires. However, as we shall see, it wasn’t just Rhode Island that believed in vampires.

The New Englanders belief in vampires seems solely to have been due to the superstitions about tuberculosis. There is an interesting belief about tuberculosis, called then mainly consumption. I had thought it was thus named because the disease consumed the…