Unlike many people of his time believed, Harold already knew that clotted blood was a normal occurrence during that stage in Mercy’s decomposition.
So, what brought him to the Rhode Island cemetery that day was not a mission of proving vampirism. No, he actually intended to debunk the superstition altogether.
During the late nineteenth century, scientists discovered that tuberculosis had bacterial origins. However, for decades, popular folklore in Rhode Island had continued to spread the idea that tuberculosis– or consumption– was inherited.
Moreover, people believed that the disease could actually drain the life and blood out of relatives who came after tuberculosis sufferers– essentially leading to myths of vampires.
Interestingly, though, the myth was more so a product of “desperation” rather than ignorance, according to Meredith Sellers, who works at the Mutter Museum.
In 1892, Harold and countless other medical examiners were able to explain tuberculosis using medical science.
And during exhumations, they were able to use autopsy tools to point out exactly where the disease wreaked havoc on organs.
But, there was still no cure for tuberculosis at the time, and the spread of folklore– even if known to be false– provided a sense of solace in blame rather than facing fears of the disease.
“People were trying anything to save their loved ones, even though, rationally, most people probably understood it was tuberculosis,” Sellers said.
So, even Harold’s own medical declaration that Mercy was not truly a vampire could not satiate the public. Instead, her bloody heart was actually set on fire in a ritual that was intended to save her older brother, Edwin. Edwin was already terribly ill with tuberculosis, though, and went on the die six weeks later.
Rhode Island was not the only state to witness such a denial of tuberculosis, either. In fact, there were eighty-six documented vampire autopsies conducted throughout the United States since 1784. And it is believed that there were many other exhumations that went unrecorded.