Oct 16, 2013
Vampires in Connecticut; Dracula author Bram Stoker's Descendant to Give Presentation
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The talk of vampires this month goes beyond the iconic count. Also coming up on Oct. 22 at noon at the Old State House in Hartford and Oct. 26 at 2 p.m. at the Danbury Museum and Historical Society in Danbury: "New England Vampire Folk Belief," presented by Dr. Nicholas Bellantoni, the Connecticut state archaeologist, during which he will discuss "the history of the Jewett City vampires, including origins of the beliefs in the undead seeking nourishment from family members and how the living were protected." Dr. Bellantoni was involved with excavation of the "vampire" graves.
Yes, that's right—Connecticut has its own vampire legend.
In this particular case, the family was the Rays of Jewett City, who over the course of nine years lost multiple family members to consumption, which is now known as tuberculosis. The first to die from the mysterious disease was 24-year-old son Lemuel in 1845; less than four years later, family patriarch Henry B. Ray was felled by the same disease. He was followed to the grave in the same manner by 26-year-old son Elisha, only two years afterward.
Three short years later, in 1854, when eldest son Henry became stricken with the now all-too-familiar symptoms, true panic set in. Now convinced that they were dealing with something well beyond normal death, the family somehow decided that the untimely demises were being caused by their dead relatives rising from the grave during the night and returning to feast on the blood of the living—perhaps the legacy of the Tillinghast incident in nearby Rhode Island? Nonetheless, something drastic needed to be done, and done quickly.
According to newspaper accounts, it was with the pure intent of protecting the living that the decomposing bodies of Lemuel and Elisha were dug up and burned immediately. Although it appears the body of Joseph Sr. was spared, it was believed the incendiary action did the trick—history does not record a specific date for Henry’s demise, so it’s thought that he survived his affliction.
Interestingly, evidence was discovered in the 1990s that there may have been other earlier suspected “vampires” outside the Ray family. In neighboring Hopeville, 29 graves were unearthed — an unmarked cemetery of the Walton family, who had lived only two miles from the Rays’ farm about 50 years earlier in the early 18th century. Upon archaeological exhumation, it was determined that one of the bodies, which had been decimated by consumption, apparently had been dug up after it was buried, had its head removed, what was left of the skeleton faced down and its femur bones crossed over the chest. Other Walton family members had also evidently died from consumption.
Another "victim" of Connecticut's "vampire" panic.