Food For The Dead: On The Trail of New England's Vampires (Book Review)
Daughter of George B. & Ellen Vaughn
Died Mar. 31,1889,
in the 19 year of her age
I AM WAITING
AND WATCHING FOR YOU
Food For The Dead is a nonfiction book about the real life recorded cases of “vampirism” within the historical New England area. Let me be clear: this is not a book about the vampires we have come to sensationalize in pop culture. The term “vampire” is only used for the lack of a better term and is used loosely here.
Still, this book is an in depth look into real life horrors. The trajedy’s that fell upon these real people are not for the faint of heart. This book tugged at my heart strings and genuinely disturbed me more than a little bit, especially since I’ve called New England my home for eighteen years.
In nineteenth century New England, consumption(now known as pulmonary tuberculosis) was a very real threat; an every day killer that lurked among the quiet, rural New England villages.
Pulmonary tuberculosis is a contagious bacterial infection that attacks the lungs. Signs and symptoms include chest pain, chronic cough sometimes accompanied with blood, fever, severe weight loss, and muscular dystrophy. You litterally watch as your loved one wastes away to nothing. So what does this have to do with vampires?
Because of consumption’s infectious nature, when several family members were inflicted within a short time frame, some families suspected the infliction to be caused by supernatural forces. In their minds, the dead were coming back from the grave to prey on the living, to extend their own lives by draining them of their life force. These families would sometimes go to extreme measures, looking to folk traditions to provide answers and a cure.
Bodies were dug from their graves. Their hearts would be removed and examined. If fresh blood was found, the heart would be burned and subjected to exorcism. Sometimes, to cure the living, the ashes would be consumed by those inflicted. These beliefs were very real for New England families.Try to put yourself in their shoes…
Your brother has wasted away before your very eyes. He dies and after you bury him, now your mother is sick. You believe your own brother is feeding off her, you must disturb his body in order to confirm. You cut your brother’s heart from his chest, burn it, and feed your mother the ashes of her dead son in the hopes that she will be cured. She dies nine weeks later. This was their reality and its enough to make the vampires on the silver screen seem like a Pixar version of the truth.
The author, Michael E. Bell, is a folklorist, anthropologist, and orator. This book is ultimately his journey to find the truth about the real life cases recorded through New England’s storied past. Science, history, and folklore play an integral part of the books narrative.
Though Bell has a stylized florish to his writing, he does his best to seperate these New England vamps from the vamps that have woven their way into popular culture and even offers an intresting perspective on our common associations with vampires.
All in all, Food For The Dead is an informative and engaging read about the real life trajedies that befell desperate New Englanders. I highly recommend it, especially if you are into science, history, folklore, and oral traditions. The book can be found on Amazon, physical or digital.
Though Bell’s narrative is focused on New England, disintered bodies have been found through out the world with stakes through the chest, heads chopped off and placed between their legs AFTER death, and jaws or teeth broken by large stones placed in the mouth to presumably stop the dead from feeding. Real life vampire incidents are an internationally relevant subject and has historic relevance on a global scale.
P.S.Should you ever decide to make the sojourn to one of the graves of these “vampires”, please afford the dead the respect they deserve. Vandalism and sensationalist activities are entirely too common at these sights.