web analytics


I was searching Google Images for a picture of a skull, and I found this. It’s a National
Geographic article from a year ago, so I’m late.

They are excavating on the island of Lazzaretto Nuovo, where plague victims were quarantined in the 15th Century (and so many, many of them buried). The same tombs were constantly opened to add fresh burials back in the day, and if they came upon a stiff whose shroud had tears around the mouth, that person was deemed a vampire.

Natural processes of decomposition actually account for the damage, but Medieval folks thought shroud-chewing vampires spread plague. Hence the brick in the mouth.

There’s a trick the Hammer films missed.

Reminds me of Mercy Brown, the last vampire in North America. She was a nice girl from Exeter, Rhode Island, who died of TB. Her mother and older sister had gone before her with the same disease and her brother Edwin had struggled with it for years.

When Edwin took a turn for the worse, his father — George Brown, a farmer — panicked. He’d lost his wife, both daughters and now his son was slipping away.

He had the lot of them dug up. And Mercy looked a leeeetle too fresh to those assembled. So they cut out her heart, burned it to ash on a nearby rock, reburied her and later fed the ashes to Edwin. Um, who died.

I visited her grave. And what I presume to be the burnin’ rock. It was just a plain stone in a pretty, modest country cemetery. Though there were the inevitable trinkets and offerings left around the site.

The drama around the exhumation of Mercy Brown caused quite a stir when it happened, as it all took place in 1892. A little late for that sort of thing, isn’t it?


Comment from S. Weasel
Time: April 22, 2010, 10:09 pm

Mercy Brown’s resting place:

View Larger Map

The arrow is pointing to the cemetery, not the actual grave. Though I think it’s close.

Comment from Scubafreak
Time: April 22, 2010, 10:45 pm

Kind of makes you wonder about some of the phrases that have crept into our culture. Exclaiming “Oh, Mercy!” when something startles you could very well be traced back to Ms Brown being known as the Last American Vampire, with all of the cultural signifigance that that entails.

Kind of like watching kids play ‘ring around the rosie’ or ‘London Bridge’ and remembering their relationships to the great plague….

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: April 22, 2010, 11:03 pm

I think “Oh,Mercy” has been around since well before the 1890s–I’m pretty sure it’s related to “Lord ha’ mercy!” and similar exclamations, which were more or less religious in origin.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: April 22, 2010, 11:07 pm

Oh, and I was looking to find a skull picture so I could make this:

I’ve got a bad feeling that’s not an original idea, but…oh, well. If I can’t remember if I’m stealing, it doesn’t count.

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: April 22, 2010, 11:36 pm

Oh, mercy! I want a t-shirt. . .and, actually, that would make a tremendously cool emoticon. . .

Comment from David Gillies
Time: April 22, 2010, 11:39 pm

What a horrible disease is tuberculosis. Probably carried off more people than any other in history. And now it’s making a comeback, thanks to poor Third World healthcare, over-prescription of antibiotics, and cheap airline travel.

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: April 22, 2010, 11:41 pm

And I see that you have it on the Zazzle site, only for some reason, when you click on it you get the inspirational sayings merchandise. . .and when you click on inspirational sayings, you get the hand. . .and you can’t click on the hand because it isn’t there. Hm.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: April 22, 2010, 11:42 pm

Oh. Huh. I didn’t think of that, Can’t hark. I just made it for an icon…it isn’t large enough for a shirt.


Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: April 22, 2010, 11:44 pm

Oh, well. It’s just, I own so MANY mugs, and I only use one. But can I steal it and use it as an emoticon on a chat forum I help manage? Pretty please?

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: April 22, 2010, 11:46 pm

And, interestingly enough, low levels of vitamin D, DG. Apparently, studies show that people with high vitamin D levels not only get benefits with regard to such apparently unrelated conditions as Type 1 diabetes and heart disease, but also resistance to TB.

So much for the ‘oh my GOD! Sunlight! I must cover myself in tinfoil!’ brigade (at least as applied to we Northern Europeans while remaining in Northern Europe).

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: April 22, 2010, 11:47 pm

Of course you can! All of my work is stealable.

Especially the stuff I steal from others.

(It’s not big enough for a mug, either. That’s the biggest size I’ve got, right there. Help yourself).

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: April 22, 2010, 11:54 pm

Well, I have trouble judging–on the SCREEN it looks big enough for a mug, or a refrigerator magnet or like that (of course, I have tons of those, as well). You could do a whole flock of them. . .remembering the humping sheep/humping elephants mugs from the late 70’s? But, anyway, thank you for the permission to steal it. Yes, I’ve read your sidebar post about that, but I’m just too elderly and sot in my ways not to check first.

Interesting about the Vitamin D, Uncle Badger. I’ve always wondered about that whole “slather yourself with sunscreen” thing, because, well, humanity has been around–without sunscreen–for millenia. . .

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: April 22, 2010, 11:58 pm

Therein lies much heartache, Can’t hark. Things can look fabulous on-screen and appalling in print, for reasons too boring to go into. I spent a whole career trying to explain to disappointed clients why their artwork wouldn’t fly.

The vitamin D thing has been buzzing around for a while. Apparently, the amount you can absorb by mouth is quite small; the amount you can get from sunlight on your skin is, like, a hundred times higher. And we’re all deficient in the Northern hemisphere, thanks to bad advice.

I often wonder how much harm has been done by well-meaning but wrong medical advice over the years.

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: April 23, 2010, 12:29 am

Well, in some ways that is the problem with any creative work–at some point, the execution doesn’t quite match the concept. Anyway, thanks. And, yeah about the medical advice. In fact, double yeah.

Comment from David Gillies
Time: April 23, 2010, 2:47 am

Uncle B, never mind ‘Oh my God! Sunlight! Must cover myself in tinfoil’. There’s also (or so I read) the ‘Oh my God! Ankles! Must cover myself in hessian’ contingent. Rickets is making a comeback in Northern Europe thanks to you know who. Rickets! That’s like hearing of a new epidemic of Chimney Sweep’s Scrotum.

And yeah, 15 minutes in bright sunshine a day is way below the danger level but gives you more vitamin D than you could take orally by big, big margins. I’ve been confined indoors with an ulcerated foot for two months and my tan lines are fading. Time to get me some rays! I’m getting a UV torch as that aids wound healing but there’s no substitute for good ol’ Sol.

Stoaty, I can’t believe I actually used to know how to bugger about with trap and fill in Quark XPress. And I had a Pantone book – those things are not cheap, still. I’ve never been a reprographics artist (I’m a software engineer that did a bunch of image processing stuff back in the day.) It just seemed that twenty years ago if I wanted stuff to come out like it should, I had to know the lingo. I’ve still got a defunct colour calibration puck knocking about somewhere – anyone (except the Weasel) remember those things?

Comment from EW1(SG)
Time: April 23, 2010, 3:59 am

S. Weasel sez:

I often wonder how much harm has been done by well-meaning but wrong medical advice over the years.

Dunno, but good or bad, the patient always dies, so what’s the difference?

Comment from Scubafreak
Time: April 23, 2010, 4:23 am

BLASPHEMY!!! EW1, You should be FULLY AWARE that if a doctor cuts off your beans and frank to cure your hemeroids, then a SERIOUS MALFUNCTION HAS OCCURRED!!!


Comment from EW1(SG)
Time: April 23, 2010, 5:11 am

Well, I never had a patient yet that I could look in the eye and honestly say, “You ain’t gonna die.”

Comment from JuliaM
Time: April 23, 2010, 7:39 am

“The drama around the exhumation of Mercy Brown caused quite a stir when it happened, as it all took place in 1892. A little late for that sort of thing, isn’t it?”

It’s certainly never too late for skull-related weirdness. Take, for instance, this odd story:


“Fausto Tellez is a colonel in FELCC (Fuerza Especial de Lucha Contra el Crimen, the national police agency), and the former commandant of the Homicide Division in the El Alto district. He freely explains that it is typical for police divisions to possess at least two ñatitas; it is even claimed they own the skull of former president Mariano Melgarejo, who died in 1871, which serves as a special advisor. In the case of the homicide division, the skulls are named Juanito and Juanita. Tellez calls Juanito “the longest serving officer” in homicide. “He has been there for so long that I don’t think anyone knows exactly when he arrived. I believe he has been there for at least 100 years.” Juanita, meanwhile, arrived in the 1950s. The pair are kept on an altar in the office of the current commandant, Jose Saavedra Cruz, where they wear knitted caps, and wideband sunglasses to protect them from being bothered by glare from the window on the other side of the room. Together, they have the ability to gather evidence that a human detective may not have access to. “

That’s right. It’s the Skull Police! In 2010!

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: April 23, 2010, 12:42 pm

A Fortean Times reader. Why does that not surprise me, JuliaM?

Yeah, Can’t hark, Zazzle is really hinky like that. I built that thing for a category icon and moved some stuff in there. But what happens is, some changes happen immediately and some can take 24 hours or more, so nothing makes any sense. I’m in the process of trying to shuffle things around and spruce them up a bit, which means everything is perpetually all screwed up.

I’m still contemplating a big version of mister boney-smiley.

And now, cats in wartime. Somebody dropped that link in a HotAir thread. Mostly ship’s cats.

Comment from David Gillies
Time: April 23, 2010, 1:47 pm

Happy St George’s Day, there in the Land of my birth that is doomed, doomed, I tell ye by Clegg/Brown/Cameron.

Comment from Bill (still the .00358% of your traffic that’s from Iraq) T
Time: April 23, 2010, 2:02 pm

I often wonder how much harm has been done by well-meaning but wrong medical advice over the years.

If I’d listened to the Army quacks who worked on me forty years ago, my left arm would terminate in a hook instead of a hand.

On the other hand, they did a great job of using kevlar™ instead of skin to keep my insides *inside*…

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: April 23, 2010, 6:14 pm

That’s just where I like my insides to be, Bill. And congratulations on the hook — I hear those things are hell for nosepicking.

I might’ve known, by the way: I did do a large skull smiley design, and then I checked the Zazzle marketplace. Ha! Five pages of stuff!

Well. Mine’s cooler. Just because.

Comment from bad cat robot
Time: April 23, 2010, 7:06 pm

I’m waiting for the story of Bill’s gluteal reconstruction (he claims he got his a$$ shot off, and last time I saw him he had one.)

Comment from jwpaine
Time: April 23, 2010, 9:18 pm

Make all the fun of bricks in the mouths of the buried all you want—the US was vampire-free for over a hundred years.

I say “was” because California’s 8th Congressional District obviously chose to ignore this time-tested tradition.

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: April 23, 2010, 10:14 pm

Well. Mine’s cooler. Just because.

Because it actually LOOKS like a smiley AND has a real skull beneath the skin (that being, for me, the quintessence of that image). And it ALSO looks like an M&M. Lots of connotations and associations and all that happy-critic horse-hockey stuff floating around there. Your closest rival has a lugubrious ovoid object–just not even in the ballpark. You go, um, weasel!

And–THANKS! I’ll order a t-shirt, and I’m seriously thinking about the stickers. I’m sure I could find a place to use them (eyeroll!). Never let it be said you aren’t responsive to your buying public.

And, um, well, I’d kinda like the story about the gluteal reconstruction as well, although I suppose it is possible that the insides he refers to would bulge out through the posterior rather than the abdomen. But the kevlar fascinates me, and to be honest I’d like to know what was done that resulted in keeping the hand rather than going with the hook.

But only if Bill feels like sharing, of course. No pressure or anything. I mean, gee, that’s real private stuff, mm?

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: April 23, 2010, 10:23 pm

Yeah, it’s not like I just launched a new thread about scars, calling him out by name.

Heh. Not to worry, Can’t hark. I did the big one just for the fun of it (I’m trying to work about better processes for taking teeny things and making them big enough to print).

Comment from Bill (still the .00358% of your traffic that’s from Iraq) T
Time: April 23, 2010, 10:38 pm

No gluteal reconstruction, despite BCR’s fascination with mine (she *did* check it out, BTW) — the kevlar was to keep my guts in because the surgeons couldn’t find enough non-shredded exterior to stitch me together without folding me in half, first. Keeping my left hand was the result of a rather heated discussion about how well the collection of bone chips and ligaments would morph into something resembling a wrist. I said it would, they said it wouldn’t. I won.


The perils of an “active lifestyle”…

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: April 24, 2010, 12:04 am

So, forgive the nosy inquiry, but do we conclude that the collection of bone chips and ligaments actually morphed into something resembling a wrist? With reasonable range of motion or whatever? I mean–who doesn’t love a heartwarming story of triumph against the odds, y’know? Sounds like you have more than your share, so, share?

Comment from Bill (still the .00358% of your traffic that’s from Iraq) T
Time: April 24, 2010, 8:14 am

It *did* morph into a wrist, albeit one the docs said wouldn’t be strong enough to “lift more than 35 pounds, or your hand will rip right off your arm.” They were wrong about *that*, too. I can now pick up 90 pounds with my left hand and walk away with it. Hurts like a vampire in a splinter factory, but I can do it.

Sadly, it’s more a “WTF?” story of putting myself in a dumbass position to demonstrate that a rope suspended forty feet over solid rock was secure, not expecting someone else to make an even bigger dumbass move by screwing with the other end of the rope, and then when I twisted around to land on my feet to do a PLF (“parachute landing fall”) to dissipate the force of slamming into the rock — I made another dumbass move and stuck out my arm to break the fall.

I was later told they heard the *thud-crack!* across the street in Battalion HQ.

Write a comment

(as if I cared)

(yeah. I'm going to write)

(oooo! you have a website?)

Beware: more than one link in a comment is apt to earn you a trip to the spam filter, where you will remain -- cold, frightened and alone -- until I remember to clean the trap. But, hey, without Akismet, we'd be up to our asses in...well, ass porn, mostly.

<< carry me back to ol' virginny