In Episode 186, Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger lurk the streets of downtown Manchester, Vermont, searching for a demon vampire. In 1793, the body of Consumption victim Rachel Harris Burton was exhumed after three years in the ground. Her vital organs were cut from her chest and burned in a nearby forge. Those ashes were then fed to Isaac Burton’s second wife, Hulda, in an effort to break the vampire’s spell. When there’s a plague, monsters are never far behind.
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Produced and hosted by: Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger
Edited by: Ray Auger
Theme Music by: John Judd
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*A note on the text: Please forgive punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes. Like us, the transcripts ain’t perfect.
RAY: Woah… Jeff, no coughing when we’re out in public. Folks here in Manchester, Vermont, are starting to stare.
JEFF: (CATCHING BREATH) Sorry, I swear I only took a sip of water and it went down the wrong pipe.
RAY: It’s funny, you can’t cough or sneeze in public anymore. Everyone freaks out because of Covid.
JEFF: No, I get it! I didn’t mean to cough! Luckily this is a small town, and there’s not too many people around.
RAY: Manchester, VERMONT… I feel like we need to stress the Vermont part, because there’s a Manchester in five of the six New England states.
JEFF: Which state doesn’t have a Manchester?
RAY: Rhode Island. Rhode Island is the only New England state without a Manchester.
JEFF: Got it.
RAY: Anyway, Manchester, VERMONT, looks like a New England postcard. Here on the Main Street of Manchester you’ve got the white steepled church, the well-maintained Colonial houses, historic homes, town hall… it’s right out of a movie.
JEFF: It is pretty. But you know… a town this pretty does have its secrets.
RAY: Oooo what have you heard?
JEFF: There’s a haunt or two in Manchester, but we’ll save those for another trip… so get your garlic and wooden stakes out, Ray, because today, we’re search for the Demon Vampire of Manchester.
JEFF: I’m Jeff Belanger.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger, and welcome to Episode 186 of the New England Legends podcast. If you give us about ten minutes, we’ll give you something strange to talk about today.
JEFF: Manchester, Vermont, is the next stop on our mission to chronicle every legend in New England one story at a time. But if you’ll permit me one quick jump out of New England for just a second.
RAY: Okay, where?
JEFF: I want to take you guys to eastern Africa to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. I’m thrilled to announce that my brand-new book: The Call of Kilimanjaro: Finding Hope Above the Clouds, just went on sale this week wherever books are sold. It would mean a lot to me if you’d buy a copy of this deeply personal memoir I wrote about my 2017 climb to the top of Kilimanjaro. It was a life-changing experience. I’m thrilled to share the story and pictures with you.
RAY: And while you’re reading Jeff’s new book, be sure to grab yourself a hot cup of tea from our sponsor, Nuwati Herbals!
JEFF: That’s a great idea. Big stories require unique teas and blends. Ray and I have been enjoying Nuwati Herbals teas, oils, and balms, for months now. I love how these great-tasting tease have been incorporated into my life. In the afternoon, I love their sweater teas like their Lemon Sun and my daughter’s favorite: Strawberry Moon. At night before bed I may go with their Cloud Walking Tea to end my day and drift off to sleep.
RAY: And if you’ve got your own mountain to climb, I suggest Wind Dancer Tea from Nuwati Herbals. It’s got a bunch of natural ingredients to increase your energy and stamina. A great-tasting blend of: Green Tea Leaf, Peppermint Leaf, Lemon Balm Leaf, and so much more. These are Native American-inspired products. Herbal remedies from Mother Earth.
JEFF: Please check out their Web site to see all of the great products that we’ve been telling you about each week. AND you legendary listeners get 20% off your order when you use the promo code LEGENDS20 at checkout. Visit Nuwati Herbals dot com. That’s N-U-W-A-T-I Herbals with an S dot com.
RAY: Okay, Jeff. We’re looking for a vampire in Manchester, Vermont?
JEFF: A DEMON vampire, Ray. Yeah.
RAY: Right, a DEMON vampire. Now this is NOT going to be the first vampire we’ve chased in New England.
JEFF: No. Those legendary listeners who have been with us a while may remember we found two different vampires in Rhode Island, one in Connecticut, and this will make our second in Vermont.
RAY: That’s right! Way back in episode 8, we explored the story of a vampire in Woodstock, Vermont, which is about 40 miles northeast of us as the crow flies.
JEFF: It’s an epidemic for sure. What we know about Manchester’s demon vampire, we found in Judge John S. Pettibone’s, A History of the Town of Manchester, Vermont, that he published in the 1860s. It covers stories from the town’s history from its earliest European charter in 1761 through the Revolutionary War, and up to the mid-1800s.
RAY: Now we’ve seen many old books like these written about various towns we’ve explored. It seems like almost every town has a local history book like this. I love how they’re filled with a ton of pretty mundane information, like who bought which parcel of land, how many cows a farmer has, how many mills are in town, and things like that. AND THEN these books also have stories of witches and vampires.
JEFF: That’s where we come in, right? To weed out the boring stuff and find those nuggets. Okay, to meet the demon vampire of Manchester, Vermont, we’re going to head back to 1789 and set this up.
JEFF: It’s the winter of 1789 here in Manchester, and we’re at the home of Esquire Powel who lives here with his second wife who is the widow of Joseph Harris. That’s when Captain Isaac Burton comes calling.
[KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK]
JEFF: Captain Burton requests the widow Harris’s daughter’s hand in marriage. Esquire Powel consents, and Rachel Harris and Captain Burton are soon married.
RAY: Folks in town describe Rachel Harris as a fine, healthy, and beautiful girl! The couple seem mostly happy. But then.
RAY: Rachel suddenly gets ill just a few months after they get married. There’s hope it’s just a cold, or at worse, the flu, but as weeks go by…
RAY: The cough just isn’t going away. It becomes clear… this is consumption. The wasting disease.
JEFF: As the fall of 1789 turns to winter, and then a new year, Rachel’s health is getting worse and worse.
JEFF: Rachel succumbs to consumption February 1st, 1790.
RAY: She’s buried in the cemetery in the center of town.
RAY: Time goes on as it does, and by the following winter, Isaac Burton is looking to fill the empty void left by his wife, Rachel. So, he goes fishing back in a familiar pond.
JEFF: What do you mean?
RAY: Esquire Powel has a daughter named Hulda by his first wife. So Captain Burton comes calling at the Powel house once again.
[KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK]
RAY: And this time requests Hulda Powel’s hand in marriage. Esquire Powel shrugs, gives the okay, and soon Hulda and Isaac are married.
JEFF: I guess he’s sort of keeping it in the family. Folks in town point out that Hulda Powel is a healthy, good-looking girl, buuut, they’ll tell you, she’s not as beautiful as his first wife. Still, I guess she’ll do for the folks in Manchester.
RAY: The couple have only been married a year, when Hulda feels a little tickle in her throat.
JEFF: Oh no.
RAY: Wait now… maybe it’s just a cold… or maybe it’s the flu.
JEFF: But as weeks go by with no letting up with her cough… and with Hulda looking more frail by the day.
RAY: Yup… Hulda also has consumption. It’s not looking good. Hulda is wasting away.
JEFF: Folks in the Powel family and the Burton family, as well as some close friends start to whisper.
RAY: Pretty soon, they’re convinced that Hulda is the victim of a vampire. And clearly that vampire must be Rachel Harris, Captain Burton’s first wife.
JEFF: Locals have heard about how to deal with vampires. The vital organs of the vampire must be consumed by the victim. It’s the only way to break the spell.
RAY: At first, Captain Burton thinks the idea is preposterous! Come on, who could believe such a thing in this enlightened age? Buuut, as Hulda gets worse, and Isaac is faced with the prospect of burying his second wife, he becomes desperate. And desperate times call for desperate measures. Not only that, once Isaac makes up his mind that his first wife Rachel must indeed be a vampire who is attacking poor Hulda… he gets mad.
JEFF: That anger spreads to other family members. They’re working themselves up into a frenzy over this until it becomes clear… there’s a monster in town… her name is Rachel Harris, and this vampire must be dealt with.
RAY: It’s a cold February day in 1793, when a dark decision is made. With shovels in hand, members of the Powel and Burton family make their way to the boneyard where they start to dig through the snow first, and through the frozen ground.
[DIG DIG DIG]
JEFF: For three years – almost to the day– Rachel Harris Burton had been in the ground, and now with the dirt removed…
[CREAK OF COFFIN DOOR OPENING]
JEFF: Her casket is opened. And there’s her corpse. These folks must feel some remorse at their own actions, because they seem in a hurry to cut Rachel’s chest open and quickly remove what’s left of her heart, lungs, and liver. Or maybe they’re in a rush, because a crowd is starting to gather to watch the proceedings. They Powels look disgusted as they quickly close the coffin lid again.
JEFF: And push the whole affair back in the ground. Meanwhile, more people are flocking to the boneyard to watch. Dozens of on-lookers is turning into hundreds.
RAY: I can only imagine what’s going through the heads of the Burton and Powel families right now. Yeah, they look disgusted, but likely disgusted with themselves too. Still, they’re scared, and desperately trying to save Hulda. The family carries Rachel’s vital organs over to Jacob Mead’s blacksmith forge. And all the while the audience is gowing… hundreds of people have gathered to witness the event.
JEFF: The remains of Rachel’s vital organs are burned the forge until they’re ashes. Timothy Mead mixes the ashes into an oily elixir and hands it over to Captain Burton, who offers the concoction to his wife, Hulda, who drinks it down.
RAY: The hundreds of witnesses declare that Manchester’s demon vampire had officially been slayed. And that brings us back to today.
JEFF: Okay, here’s the million dollar question: Did it work? Did it save Hulda?
RAY: I guess it depends who you ask. Hulda died September 6th, 1793 – about seven months after she drank the elixir containing Rachel’s ashes.
JEFF: Got it. So if you’re a believer, then Hulda likely would have died within days or weeks without the elixir, and maybe she died seven months later because the vampire had already done too much damage.
RAY: Right, and if you’re not a believer, then the elixir had no effect. Or maybe a placebo effect at best, because ultimately Hulda died from consumption, or tuberculosis as we know it today.
JEFF: Tuberculosis is still a horrible plague that’s taken over one billion. That’s billion with a B – lives between the years 1800 and 2000. It’s contagious and often lethal. The way America and other first-world countries dealt with it was through a strategy called “Search, treat, and prevent.” Basically, contact tracing for people who have TB, testing thousands of others, then treating those identified as sick. Treatment included financial support for those who were sick so they could still support their families.
RAY: One of the biggest tragedies with TB, was sometimes sick people had to keep working because their families depended on them. So they go to work sick and infect others. By offering financial support, those folks could stay home and not spread it further. Finally, in the 1960s, preventative therapies became available to those who had been exposed.
JEFF: It took a real group effort and years of dedication to beat TB in the United States. And the toll was heavy.
RAY: We know when there’s a virus, people get scared. And in the absence of clear answers, they’ll resort to acts that seem irrational in hindsight.
JEFF: The crazy thing is, that cure of eating the ashes of an alleged vampire? It’s worked before. Someone tried it, ate the ashes, and got better. You could speculate that this person was going to get better anyway because some people did. But the remedy only has to work once for twice for the legend to spread, and for people to keep trying it. Because sometimes when dealing with a monster, the only remedy is a miracle.
RAY: And sometimes if a miracle isn’t offered, you’ve got try and force one. It takes a village to face a pandemic, we all know that, and it takes a village to keep the New England Legends podcast going and growing! Our patreon patrons are the backbone of everything we do. These folks kick in just $3 bucks per month to get early access to new episodes plus bonus episodes and content that no one else gets to hear. Please head over to patreon.com/newenglandlegends to sign up.
JEFF: And please do pick up a copy of my brand-new book: The Call of Kilimanjaro: Finding Hope Above the Clouds. I appreciate your support.
RAY: We’d like to thank our sponsor, Nuwati Herbals, and our theme music is by John Judd.
JEFF: Until next time remember… the bizarre is closer than you think.