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The Stories

 

Devil's Foot Rock

Dracula Seeks Mercy

The Legend of Sarah Tillinghast

 

Devil's Foot Rock     Devil's Foot Road

Near Devil's Foot Road in North Kingstown is a rock with strange holes in it. There are many stories about this rock, despite the fact few Rhode Islander's have ever heard of it. This account of one legend comes from folklorist Michael Bell on Quahog.org:

A text of the legend published in 1850 links the South Kingstown site to a well-known geological wonder in Middletown. One of the three different versions of the Purgatory Chasm legend betrays its probable colonial origins, during a time when European Christians were converting, if not the Native Americans themselves, then at least their ancient spirits. Most of these mythological and legendary beings, such as Cheepie and Hobomoko, were transformed into the devil or at least demons.

 

In this legend, an Indian woman murdered a white man near Wickford. Just as she attempts to escape, a stern-looking English gentleman appears, asking if she will walk with him for a short distance. She balks, but cannot escape before he seizes her by the arm. As she cries out for Hobomoko to save her, her attacker reveals, "I'm Hobomoko." Then, dropping his disguise, the devil grabs her by the waist, stamps the ground fiercely once or twice, and flies with her to Purgatory Chasm, plunging her into its turbulent waters. The story concludes, "To this day may be seen near Wickford the footprints of Satan on the surface of a ledge near the road. One has the form of a cloven hoof, and the other has exactly the shape and size of a human foot, even to the mark of the great toe."

Brian Harnois tracking the location of Devil's Foot Rock

Devil's Foot Rock

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Devil's Foot Rock
Devil's Foot Rock

 
Dracula

Dracula Seeks Mercy

When Bram Stoker, who wrote Dracula in 1897, died, newspaper accounts of Mercy Brown's exhumation were found in his files. Mercy's tale is also mentioned in the short story, "The Shunned House" by H.P. Lovecraft, who lived in Providence.

From "Mercy Brown: A Real Rhode Island Vampire" by Richard Spiers:

The newspaper pages yellowed as the story [of Mercy Brown] faded into oblivion and rumors throughout Rhode Island. However, two great horror writers, Bram Stoker and H. P. Lovecraft preserved the incident in their writings.

Stoker sat struggling in his study working on a complicated novel about a modern day vampire. It was to be his homage to his hero J. S. LeFanu. What would a man of science do if he encountered a medieval myth? How would late Victorian London react? Could science or faith succeed in such an encounter? From out of the blue, a New York Times reprint of the Providence Journal article crossed his desk. Inspired by the clipping, he created the character of Lucy Westenra. Perhaps the name playfully alluded to western Rhode Island.

Bram Stoker
Bram Stoker

Yet it is H. P. Lovecraft we must thank most for preserving the legends of Mercy Brown in his satirical weird tale: The Shunned House. Written between October 16-19, 1924, he reflected the disgust that the modern elitist gentry of Rhode Island had on such a barbaric tradition. Lovecraft, having been born in 1890, had lived in Providence most of his life. He knew the details of the legends well, though he relied heavily upon the folklorist Sidney Rider for many of the details he used in the story.

As Lovecraft's Mercy Dexter character allows the plot to flow, he cagily reveals, "[don't] hire anyone from the Nooseneck Hill country - seat of uncomfortable superstitions. As lately as 1892, an Exeter community exhumed a dead body and ceremoniously burnt its heart in order to prevent certain alleged visitations."

Dramatization of Mercy Brown's exhumation
Dramatization of Mercy's Exhumation

Mercy Exhumed

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Providence Journal Article
   
 
The Legend of Sarah Tillinghast  

In Rhode Island in 1799, a 19-year-old girl named Sarah Tillinghast became the first of Exeter's "vampires." Sarah was a dreamy girl, spending her days wandering small graveyards where Revolutionary soldiers lay. She was known to bring a book of poetry to these places and seat herself on a grave slab and read for hours on end.

One night, Sarah's father, Stuckley “Snuffy” Tilinghast, had a disturbing dream in which half of his orchard died. Shortly thereafter, Sarah returned home from one of her visits and said she felt ill and took to her bed. She soon had a horrible fever and within weeks she was dead.

Consumption

The Tillinghast family was still grieving some weeks later when Sarah’s brother, James, came down to breakfast looking pale, shivering and complaining of a weight on his chest. He claimed that Sarah had come to him and sat on his bed. Sarah and James’ parents thought it was nothing but his grief playing tricks with his mind.

The next day James was even paler and could barely breathe. Soon after, James was also dead.

But Sarah and James were just the beginning – shortly after their deaths two more Tillinghast children died, both saying beforehand that Sarah had visited them. These claims were quite frightening for the Tillinghast parents, for it meant that Sarah was returning from the dead to draw the life from remaining family members.


Honor Tillinghast gravestone
Honor Tillinghast's Grave

Not before too long there were more deaths, and all of the victims claimed that it was Sarah that they saw right before the sickness took hold.  Then finally Honor Tillinghast, the mother of all the dead children, too became sick. Honor lay in her death bed swearing that her lost children were calling out to her.

This was when Snuffy Tillinghast, finally took a stand. With the help of his farmhand, Caleb, he went out early morning to the cemetery where Sarah was buried. He took with him a long hunting knife and a container of lamp oil. The two men reached Sarah’s grave and together dug up her casket. Even though she had been put to rest 18 months ago Sarah looked as if she were asleep - there was no decomposition. After seeing his daughter’s face flushed as if with blood he took his knife and cut out her bleeding heart. It is said her body gushed with blood. Snuffy Tillinghast then set his daughter’s heart on fire and burned it to ashes.

As the legend goes, after Sarah's heart was burned, the deathly ill Honor Tillinghast recovered fully and there were no more strange deaths or Sarah sightings in the Rhode Island town again.

Source: vampires.com

 

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Keith Johnson and Brian Harnois at Tillinghast family plot
Keith and Brian at Tillinghast plot
   

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