By Joan Goodchild, Community Reporter
Shrewsbury – A young woman who died from tuberculosis but was later exhumed because locals were certain she was a vampire; haunted woods where satanic rituals take place and demonic creatures lurk because of a curse placed on the area by angry Native Americans; and, of course, the former home of a notorious daughter accused of murdering her parents by giving them “40 whacks” that is now a hotbed of paranormal activity. Those are legends that make up the colorful history of haunted New England and the focus of an Oct. 26 presentation at the Shrewsbury Historical Society by historian Christopher Daley.
Daley started with the story of Mercy Brown, an Exeter, R.I. woman whose family had suffered from a string of tuberculosis infections. Her mother and sister had both died from the disease before Mercy herself was stricken and killed by the condition in 1892. She was 19 when she died.
Soon after her death, many locals began to report sightings of Mercy wandering at night. They also convinced Mercy's father than she was responsible for her brother, Edwin's, sickness, as he was now suffering from tuberculosis himself. Mercy's body was exhumed and her heart burned and then mixed into a drink for Edwin, a beverage Daley described as a “cannibalistic cocktail” that was supposed to cure his disease.
“But it didn's work,” Daley said. “Two months later he was dead.”
Edwin didn's make it, but the Mercy Brown legend lives on, and is even thought to have inspired Bram Stoker. Some believe Mercy was the basis for the character Lucy Westenra in Stoker's novel “Dracula.”
Daley then talked about alleged hauntings at the Lizzie Borden house, the site of a now-infamous double murder. Borden was accused and tried for allegedly killing her father and stepmother with a hatchet Aug. 4, 1892, in Fall River. She was found not guilty of the charges.
The site of the murders has been turned into a bed and breakfast inn where curious ghost haunters often stay in the hope of having a “spiritual” encounter. Daley said he himself has visited the home and finds it spooky.
“There are few places I'se been where I actually get chills,” Daley said.
Guests have reported seeing apparitions, including the ghost of a woman in Victorian clothing who tucks guests in while they sleep. The sound of weeping is heard and the spirit of a black cat is also alleged to have been seen wandering the Borden home.
In Freetown State Forest, located near Fall River, the land is supposed to be cursed, Daley said. An angry tribe of Native Americans condemned the area after it was sold by Wamitta, son of Native America Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoeg tribe. Wamitta was attempting to settle a debt his father had incurred with local businessman John Barnes, and the sale angered his people.
As a result of the Native American curse, Daley said, the land is now an area where tragic things occur. Several murders have taken place in the forest. Motorists report becoming lost because their GPS navigation systems malfunction. One couple claims to have been assaulted by a terrifying-looking woman who emerged from the shadows when their car died. Police also say Freetown State Forest is the site of reported cult activity.
Daley also discussed the Mount Washington Hotel in New Hampshire, a sprawling place that is said to be the inspiration for the Overlook Hotel in Stephen King's psychological horror novel “The Shining.”
The hotel was built by railroad tycoon Joseph Stickney and opened in 1902. Stickney's wife, Caroline, is said to haunt room 314, a suite where she once resided. According to some ghost hunters, Caroline is still there today, turning off lights and making things go bump in the night.