It's funny how folklore and medicine impact the world around us

Emily D. Coppola

Though I love my job, and literature is my passion, I also have many dreams that I would have followed other than writing. The biggest of these is the world of medicine.

I’ve always been incredibly fascinated by anatomy and the inner workings of the body and would’ve loved to have been a surgeon, an orthopedic to be specific. To think that Jesus made us with all of our incredible complexities always blows my mind.

Other than being fascinated by the human body, I’m also intrigued by how doctor’s techniques have progressed through the years. While the medical field is so advanced that doctors are now able to treat a multitude of diseases that were thought to be fatal and even transplant organs, this wasn’t always the case. The world of medicine used to be quite dark.

I was blown away with just how dark the medical past is when I was listening to an episode of the popular podcast “Lore.”

This podcast follows true tales from history that can be terrifying in more ways than one. The information I mention in this column can be found in “Lore’s” episodes.

An example of this dark history, “Lore’s” narrator Aaron Mahnke discussed how people used to believe that consuming, or simply touching, the blood of a slain criminal could result in healing.

Is this ridiculous and disgusting? Yes. Is it also extremely interesting in a grotesque way? Yes. This is part of a belief entitled, corpse medicine, which involved humans harvesting parts of other humans in the thought that these parts would heal their ailments.

In this practice, people with issues such as tumors would attend public hangings to receive their “treatment.” Here they would await the death of the victim then approach the hangman where he would then brush the dead person’s hand on the ailment area. Sinister isn’t it? What’s even more baffling is that people did this and believed it would work.

Other stomach turning medical practices include thoughts similar to this. In a different Lore episode, Mahnke recounts the belief of treating vampirism, or more simply, eliminating a vampire.

Yes, in these days people truly believed in vampires, and more than that they were absolutely terrified.

In the year 1892, the first American vampire incident occurred. Before this, vampires were limited to Europe and other countries. If you research, you will see that every country has folklore about vampires throughout history. If you’re looking for a good book, I suggest Bram Stoker’s Dracula, it’s my absolute favorite book of all time.

The first American vampire, Mercy Brown, is an interesting case in how human’s view and handle medicine. Historical medicine and folklore are one and the same in many ways and this case is no different. While Brown’s family members suffered from an unknown illness the local residents of Exeter, Rhode Island, were searching for answers.

As they showed weakness, paleness, and seemingly lacked blood, there was only one logical answer — there was a vampire in the midst. Who was the vampire? Well, one of Brown’s recently deceased relatives, of course.

To smoke out the rat, residents encouraged Brown’s father, George Brown, to exhume his recently deceased wife Mary, and his daughter Olive’s bodies. When Mercy’s brother Edwin became ill with the consumption, and then Mercy, enough was enough. Mercy then died of her illness, or the vampire rather. Edwin was still living, though very ill.

After exhuming, it was found that Mary and Olive, having been dead for 10 years, were obviously decomposed. So they were not the vampire. The next suspect was Mercy, whose body had been stored in a cellar as she died in the middle of winter and the ground was too hard to bury her. To their surprise, Mercy hadn’t decomposed. Imagine! A body hadn’t begun to deteriorate after being stored in a freezing cellar. Obviously a vampire.

To cure Edwin, and stop Mercy from her vampiric ways, the townspeople created a tonic from some of Mercy’s organs and gave it to Edwin. He then died two months later. Imagine that.

Though this sounds ludicrous and horrific, it happened a lot. In order to preserve the living, many people exhumed the dead to kill off the vampire. Aren’t you glad medicine is different now?

I’ll leave you with one final fact, after Mercy’s story made it into a New York magazine, a clipping of this article was found amongst the belongings of Stoker after his death. It’s funny how folklore, and medicine, affect the world around us, isn’t it?

Emily D. Coppola is a reporter at the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at ecoppola@bdtonline.com Follow her at @BDTCoppola