Gerry Goldstein: For Mercy’s sake, he stood guard all night
This is the time of year when young people traditionally envision new ways of being terrifying.
It is suspected that few could generate the excitement of Lewis E. Peck Jr. from Exeter, whose Halloween hi-jinks were second to none. Of course, he had a lot of experience refining his number, since he kept it up until his sixties.
Peck had reason to terrorize those who dared to make Halloween visits to a brooding graveyard cemetery near Ten Rod Road: some came to do nonsense at the grave of one of his much-maligned ancestors. Mercy Brown.
Many Rhode Islanders know the story of this 19-year-old girl who died of tuberculosis in 1892, but was only buried for a few weeks when some of her relatives suspected she was more undead than dead – a vampire.
Peck told me years ago that those close to Mercy whispered about several young family members who had inexplicably died “with a mark on their throat”, and after voting, the family dug it up. “To see if everything was going well”.
It wasn’t, they decided. Mercy seemed to have moved in her coffin, and they were able to draw blood from her body.
Peck told me that following an ancient superstition, “They took Mercy’s heart and started a fire, and burned it on a rock.”
Then they put her back, so Mercy Brown was buried twice. “That’s right, what my people did to Mercy,” Peck said, adding “They didn’t know any better.”
A longtime Exeter resident who has served multiple terms on city council, Peck decided long ago that Mercy had been insulted enough and began spending Halloween nights in the cemetery, chatting with those who came to visit her. tribute and scare people with basic patterns.
His suspicions were realistic. Deputy City Clerk Patricia Whitford said Mercy’s gravestone was actually stolen once, only to be found by the town sergeant a few weeks later, abandoned next to a nearby side road.
It has been restored and replaced with reinforced brackets which should ensure it never goes missing again, Whitford said.
The other day I met Peck, who, at 92, no longer holds his nightly vigils at the cemetery, but remembers with a chuckle how he guarded Mercy’s grave from night to dawn.
“I couldn’t stand what they were doing, messing around there. I used to hide my car across the road and lie behind the rock, ”he said.
When suspected troublemakers approached, “I jumped and made noise and moaned – scared them.”
Not everyone had bad intentions, Peck recalls, noting that when he returned to the grave after taking a short break at home, he found four yellow roses there. He once even let a trio of Spirit Seekers put a tape recorder on the grave, but Mercy provided no response.
According to Deputy Clerk Whitford, Mercy’s story has become so well known that visits to her grave in Chestnut Hill Cemetery are not limited to Halloween, but take place throughout the year.
Many visitors, some dressed in appropriate black, leave symbols of respect including flowers and coins, indicating that after such a long time, Mercy Brown may be heading to rest in peace.
Gerry Goldstein ([email protected]) is a retired Providence Journal editor and columnist.