In 1725 in Kisolava, Serbia a peasant farmer named Petar Blagojevich knocked on the front door of his own house. His son answered, and was taken aback at the sight of his father.
“Father?” you can almost hear him say incredulously, out of breath. “What are you doing here?”
Petar Blagojevich stood as still as a statue on the doorstep. He had a grim expression on his dark face. He told his son he was hungry and asked for something to eat. Brow furrowed, hands still on the open door, his son retreated to get his father some food.
His father ate whatever food his son brought him ravenously. It might have been leftovers from that night's dinner or stale bread that had been in the kitchen for the past few days. Whatever it was, it brought Petar Blagojevich back the next night, asking for more. This time, however, his son shook his head and refused to serve his father.
He glared at his son, his fists like stones against his sides. His son closed the door in his father’s face, probably praying he wouldn’t come back. He went to bed that night more exhausted than usual, most likely because of his father's unexpected appearance. His heart beat slowly in his chest, pumping blood lazily throughout his body. When he went to bed that night, he never woke up.
Petar Blagojevich should not have been knocking on the door of his own house. Not because he was exiled from there, but because he was dead. Or at least that was what his family––as well as the entire community of Kisolava––thought four days ago.
Over the course of the next several days, nine others in Kisolava reported seeing Blagojevich either awake or in their sleep. Those nine who saw him also complained of extreme exhaustion, including losing large amounts of blood. How that blood was lost or where it went is lost to mystery. Each of those nine died just as Blagojevich's son did, never waking up, trapped in an eternal sleep.
In Serbian folklore or superstition (whatever you like to call it), when members of a community suddenly die around the same time, especially of an unclear cause, one of the first conclusions reached is a vampire must be the one responsible. Since it was Blagojevich everyone claimed to see before they died, he must have been the one draining everyone of blood and feeding on their energy.
The man in charge of the town at the time was Kameralprovisor Frombald. The people of the town demanded that he, along with the priest, give them permission to dig up Blagojevich's body. What they needed, however, was the Austrian authorities’ permission to disturb the dead.
The graveyard in Kisolava was located above the dam that was near the town. In case flooding occurred, the dead would not be disturbed. The location of the graveyard was intentional, perhaps even the best area to be in the town in an event of disaster. It was out of respect for the dead, so no one would come back to bother the living.
The people of Kisolava refused to wait for the authorities’ permission. They demanded Kameralprovisor Frombald and the priest exhume the body before anymore people died. Recognizing the rising panic in the people, Frombald had no other choice.
He and the local priest dug up Blagojevich's body. What they found was not only unexpected but hair-raising. Blagojevich's hair had visibly grown on his head, as well as his fingernails. Blood was present in his mouth and his body as a whole didn’t show any sign of decomposition. Rage bubbled inside the hearts where everyone’s fear resided. He had to be a vampire.
They removed the body from the casket and a stake was rammed through his heart. Blood spilled out of Blagojevich's nose and ears in thick, slow streams. Perhaps it was the blood of his victims, or simply his own blood not yet dried up.
The important part was that no one else dreamt of or saw Blagojevich in town. The important part was that no one else died of reported exhaustion or unusual blood loss in Kisolava after Blagojevich's body was burned. The important part was the panic was over.
When pandemics claim thousands of lives and families, several people tend to believe it’s more than simply a virus affecting them. Perhaps it’s something more spiritual, or more evil.
In Exeter, Rhode Island, Mercy Lena Brown was another person suffering from consumption––or what is most commonly known today as tuberculosis. The disease decimated a large part of North America in the 19th century. Mercy's mother and sister had already been lost to the disease and her brother Edwin had just been diagnosed. It seemed as though tuberculosis was about to claim another family.
Within the town of Exeter more than a few residents were suspicious of the disease’s rapid spread throughout the Browns. Soon Mercy’s struggles to breathe turned to suffocation, and eventually death, just like her mother and sister before her.
Suspicions of something evil brewing within the Brown family spiked at Mercy’s death. Regardless of this epidemic running wild throughout the nation, the community wondered if there was something more sinister killing off the Browns. Whoever first mentioned the word vampire must have turned heads and made eyes bulge.
A vampire? A soul-sucking, life-lusting vampire?
This theory startled New England during the tuberculosis epidemic. Efforts to dispel the infestation of vampires in a community weren’t as uncommon as it would be today. Since consumption was seen as something that did suck the life of whoever it inhabited, perhaps the notion of a vampire running loose wasn’t so outlandish.
Members of the Exeter community found themselves in the graveyard. They meandered around headstones and through family plots until they found the Brown burial ground. Of those who recently died, the mother and one of the daughters, Mary Olive, were exhumed. With strong hands and racing hearts, the caskets were ripped open. What they found inside were two corpses too far gone in death to ever come back to life. Skin stretched like rubber over shrinking bones. The dresses the women were buried in no longer resting gracefully on their withering bodies.
Mercy was kept in an above ground area of the graveyard awaiting burial. These areas are best described as giant freezers to slow down or even prevent decomposition before embalming or a proper burial was possible. Therefore, Mercy’s body wasn’t as decomposed as her mother and sister’s. In fact, blood was still present in her body.
To the people of Exeter, two principle signs of a vampire are traces of blood found in the body and slow decomposition. Shivers ran down the spines of those who witnessed the blood found in Mercy Brown’s heart.
Surely she was the one behind her family's deaths. Surely she was responsible for sucking the life out of her younger brother Edwin, who was closer and closer to death each day.
Her heart was brought to a fire and burned to ashes. The flames illuminated the blistering and burning organ, as well as illuminated the faces of those making sure it melted in the heat.
The ashes were mixed in a glass of water and then given to Edwin to drink. He brought the glass to his dry lips and swallowed the ashy water, forcing the bitter liquid down his throat in small gulps. One might assume he wasn’t told he was drinking the ashes of his late sister, but instead the water contained herbs encouraging good health. But if the theory of a vampire was common knowledge in New England, the boy might have wondered if what he drank was more cannibalistic than natural.
Whether or not he knew what (or who) he drank, Edwin died two months later. He was buried alongside his mother and two sisters, one of his sister’s turned over in her grave. While all of her body parts remained in the coffin (except her heart), her head had been decapitated and rested like a floating orb of bone above her shoulders.