Silence Thayer: How and when did you become so interested in vampires? Why did you choose New England as your focus?
Michael Bell: I think both New England and vampires chose me, not the other way around. I came to Rhode Island in 1980 to direct a study of the state's folklore. What began as a one-year project has become a lifetime's work. Early in my field work, I interviewed a farmer in Exeter, Rhode Island, named Everett Peck. He told me a family story about Mercy Brown, whose body was exhumed in 1892 in a desperate attempt to stop an epidemic of consumption in the Brown family. I wanted to know if that event actually occured; as my research into old newspapers and local histories progressed, I found more and more examples of this practice. I just followed where the trail led. Except for single cases in Chicago, Upstate New York and Ontario, all of the others are in New England.ST: When did you first link vampirism with consumption?
MB: The newspaper article of March, 1892 that described Mercy Brown's exhumation labeled the disease that was decimating the Brown family as consumption--which was the term used for what we now know as pulmonary turberculosis (or tuberculosis that attacks the lungs). Every other vampire case I've found in this country also identifies consumption as the disease that was killing the people involved.