The Bloody Mouth – Historical Notes

Ho, boy. There’s a lot here.

It’s fair to say I love vampires. It’s fair to say, once I started working on this, I knew there would be a chapter for vampires.

Modern vampires are fairly new, popularized by Bela Lugosi and the adaptions that came after. Even Nosferatu, a movie that came out while Dracula was still in copyright, featured a corpse of a man with long, claw like fingers and a rat-like face. The myth of vampires is thought of to have risen upon pulling bodies from their graves and finding them bloated with blood. Vampires would be fat and ruddy from fresh feeds, and they might return home, visit their wives and the people they knew.

The vampires here are linked to disease, specifically tuberculosis. It’s referred to as consumption, as what it does is consumes. People who contract tuberculosis are plagued with chronic coughs, fevers, and blood can get into the lungs. 80% of people who contracted the disease didn’t cure it, and until 1906 there was no vaccination for it. Cures for the disease ranged from whiskey to a walk in some fresh air. Sanatoriums sprung up, which were essentially spas for sick people. In a way, they did help, as people who were sick were given a chance to rest and allow their immune system to work. It’s a little late, but the residents of Bent Tree probably wouldn’t know consumption was contagious. This was confirmed in 1882. Before that, people thought it was a inherited disease, something in shared blood that turned you sick, or was the cause of bad character. In a way, this is also right. People who contracted consumption would often pass it onto family first, people they were in close contact with. (PBS offers a timeline of tuberculosis, which is also referred to as the white plague.)

This is where the vampire comes in.

Those who are attacked by vampires are drained slowly over time, where they grow weaker and paler, and their illness can’t be cured except by death of the vampire. So those who contract consumption become pale, weak, spit up blood, and after they die, their family begins to exhibit the same symptoms, as though the dead has come back to visit them.

This isn’t exceptionally common in vampire stories, but there is precedent in history. Through the 1840s and 1850s, the Ray family all contracted a disease and died. As the family wasted away, they became sure they were under attack by their undead family members. Graves of the families were dug up later and found that the bodies had been rearranged. Their bones had been rearranged in a skull-and-crossbones formation. These are referred to as the Jewett City Vampires.

Another incident is that of Mercy Brown. Her mother and sister died in 1888 of the disease, and then Mercy got sick two years later. After her death, her brother got sick, and they exhumed her body, believing she was coming back to drain him. They removed her heart and burned it, feeding him the ashes. It did not save her brother.

It seemed there was a rash of these kinds of exhuming and rearranging of the bodies. You can read more about it in “The Great New England Vampire Panic“.

The character of Carmilla works much the same way. She feeds on young girls and drains them slowly. She’s finally defeated when they find her grave and behead her, rearranging her bones so she can’t rise again. Carmilla was published in serial in 1871 and 1872. I’m not sure if Violetta could’ve gotten her hands on a copy, but it was too good to pass up.

I do allow Lucy to rise again after she’s been beheaded, but that’s more for drama’s sake. Let’s say they didn’t rearrange the bones well enough, and the burning of the body finally does the trick.

Gabe is right in that people are generally able to live and work for a long time after the contracting the disease. Famously Doc Holliday had tuberculosis, contracted at age 20, and lived for over a decade more. “Galloping” consumption was also a thing, likely latent tuberculosis, where the symptoms only showed up close to the death of the person contracted.

There is a bit of music in this episode. I spent more than a little time researching cowboy songs. In the beginning, Gabe is singing a few folk songs, the number one being “The Gal I Left Behind Me”. While none of them really capture what I think Gabe’s voice sounds like, I’d suggest checking out this version and this version. Briefly, he sings “Down in the Valley” as well. Violetta technically sings a version of it popular with the US army, but I couldn’t pass up the “fair and gay” line. Expect more music in the future.

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One thought on “The Bloody Mouth – Historical Notes

  1. Pingback: Modern Monsters – Dracula | Deadlands

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