If you're curious about some of the more famous Rhode Island ghost stories, you may be surprised by some of the myths and legends about this part of the country.
The Most Famous Rhode Island Ghost Stories
There are many tales from the past that recount sightings of ghosts in the state of Rhode Island. These stories are not unlike those that exist throughout most of the other New England states. One thing that does set Rhode Island apart is that it's best known as the state where entire communities reported seeing and experiencing vampires from 1790 to around 1890. In fact, the most famous vampire case led to ghost sightings.
Reports of Vampires and Exhuming Graves
The real tragedy of the time period between 1790 and 1890 wasn't so much the number of people who supposedly died from vampire attacks, but the number of deaths that resulted from tuberculosis, otherwise known as consumption.
Characteristics of Tuberculosis
When you compare both fictional and non-fictional accounts of vampires from this time period, it is shocking to see how perfectly the physical characteristics of vampires match the physical characteristics of those villagers that suffered and died from tuberculosis. Symptoms included the following.
- Breathing became short and ragged, with a cough that produced blood.
- Victims became very thin and frail, appearing almost ghost-like.
- The disease consumed from the inside-out and left victims pale with pronounced blue veins.
- Most victims died at night when breathing became impossible in the damp, frigid night air.
Villagers that saw the sick became terrified by their ghostly appearance shortly before death. The fear of contracting the disease combined with a lack of understanding left villagers to their own devices, and they came up with imaginative theories.
The Famous Ghost of Mercy Lena Brown
Throughout the 1700s and early 1800s, Rhode Island villagers concocted a belief system to explain the sudden deaths of their loved ones. The sight of loved ones as gaunt, wretched and decaying creatures led entire communities to believe that the sick were under attack from evil forces. Even worse, villagers began to believe that loved ones that died became the walking dead that would visit the living at night, "suck" the life out of them and give them consumption. This belief led villagers, including young Mercy Lena Brown's own father, to exhume her grave, burn her heart and add the ashes to water. The villagers drank the unholy elixir because they believed it would free them from the curse.
You may think this is the end of the story, but it isn't. Ever since the day the community desecrated her grave, many people have reported seeing and hearing the ghost of Mercy Brown. Her body (minus the heart) is buried in Chestnut Hill Cemetery in Exeter, Rhode Island. Residents and visitors report that:
- They see strange blue lights in the cemetery.
- They see Mercy's ghost walking around the community.
- Residents that inadvertently stand on graves feel themselves pushed off of them.
- After saying a prayer for Mercy, witnesses report smelling the scent of roses.
- Sometimes terminally-ill loved ones in Exeter are caught having conversations with Mercy just before their deaths.
From most accounts, the story of Mercy Lena Brown is no longer one of a terrifying and fearsome vampire, but instead it is about a local ghost who has deep compassion for those who are terminally ill, as well as a desire to prevent any and all desecration of the dead.
Other Rhode Island Ghost Stories
The state of Rhode Island is filled with too many ghost stories to list all of them. The following are a few of the more famous ones:
- In 1675, Native people living by the Kickemuit River in Warren, Rhode Island, killed eight English settlers and placed their heads on poles to warn off other settlers. Today, residents sometimes report seeing the eight floating heads by the river.
- Many people have seen the ghost of a Spanish woman crying in the halls of the Wedderburn House in Narragansett. The house was owned by Captain Japheth Wedderburn who killed his Spanish wife one day after returning from sea. He encased her body in a coffin inside the fireplace hearth, and he told everyone that his wife had gone back home to Spain. It wasn't until 1925 that her body was discovered during renovations.
- Residents of Rhode Island that live near Birch Swamp report seeing the ghost of an old lady trying to hide a dead body in the swamp.
- Many residents near Sweden's Swamp report seeing the ghost of a train engineer who died in the Pawtucket area.
- In 1810, Peleg Walker, a son-in-law of the local wealthy Potter family and night watchman at the family mill, hung himself inside the mill. Afterwards, the bell used to summon workers started ringing at midnight. The family removed the rope, but the bell still rang, so they removed the bell itself. As the local legend is told, the very next night the family woke up to the entire factory running, and the water wheel was running against the flow of the river. It wasn't long before the mill went out of business and closed down. The Ram Tail Factory still stands today.
- During the winter of 1751, the crew of a cargo ship called the Palatine, killed the Captain and held the passengers hostage for several days. Near starvation, the passengers awoke one morning to find that their captors had abandoned the ship. When the ship struck land off Block Island, residents living on the shore saved the passengers and then set the ship on fire so that other ships at sea wouldn't collide with it. Unfortunately, they didn't realize that one woman had been locked in a room inside the ship. Residents and passengers could hear her tortured screams as she burned alive. Local residents say that on the same day each year, they can see the burning ghost ship just off shore.
There are many other similar ghost stores about the colonial state of Rhode Island that are steeped in historical facts and real-life drama.