In Episode 310 Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger take a cemetery safari to Dummerston, Vermont, looking for the graves of the Spauldings — a family plagued by vampires in the late 1700s. They say a sinister black root creeped and crawled from one Spaulding grave to the next. When it reaches the last casket, the next Spaulding would soon get sick and then die. Was it a curse, or just bad luck during a pandemic? Either way, the Spauldings dug up their family graves and did something drastic to break the vampire’s curse.
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[BIRDS / NATURE]
RAY: Another day, another cemetery safari, Jeff.
JEFF: Yup. We find ourselves in plenty of New England boneyards, don’t we?
RAY: We do. So today we’re in Dummerston Center Cemetery in Dummerston, Vermont. It’s a pretty good-sized cemetery. If I had to guess there’s about (MUMBLING WHILE COUNTING) 817 graves here.
JEFF: 871? That’s incredibly specific.
RAY: Yeah. I looked it up before we got here.
JEFF: That’s still a lot of burials to get through.
RAY: Who are we looking for?
JEFF: The good news is we’re looking for the Spaulding Family. So not just one grave but a bunch of graves in a row all from the same family.
RAY: The Spaulding Family. Got it. That should make them a little easier to find.
RAY: This is the older part of the cemetery. I’m seeing early 1800s graves here… oh, and some late 1700s graves….
JEFF: Hey, there they are!
RAY: Yup! I see it. There’s about a dozen of them in a row.
JEFF: This is the spot, Ray. Ground zero for a sinister story of a sinister vine that ran from one grave to the next as members of the Spaulding family were buried. As the vine reached the last grave, they say the next Spaulding turned into a vampire and then soon died. We’re in Vermont exploring the Curse of the Dummerston Cemetery vine…
JEFF: I’m Jeff Belanger and welcome to Episode 310 of the New England Legends podcast.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger. Thank you for joining us on our mission to chronicle every legend in New England one story at a time. We’re always looking for odd history, haunts, ghosts, monsters, UFOs, aliens, roadside oddities, and all of the other weirdness that makes New England like no other place. Most of our story leads come from you so please reach out to us anytime through our Web site. We love hearing from you and appreciate when you subscribe and post a review for us. It’s free. We don’t want you to miss a thing.
JEFF: We’ll go digging into the curse of the Dummerston Cemetery vine right after this quick word from this sponsor.
RAY: So we’re on the hunt for vampires and some evil underground cursed vine in Dummerston, Vermont?
JEFF: That we are.
RAY: This must be the fourth or fifth vampire story we’ve covered over the years.
JEFF: Vampires do keep coming up, but this one is a little different. This one hinges on a sinister subterranean root focusing on one family and hunting them down.
RAY: That’s so creepy!
JEFF: It is. Literally. Take a look at some of these Spaulding graves.
RAY: Mary Spaulding Laughton 1761 to 1792. Yikes. She was only 31 when she died. Leonard Spaulding, 1760 – 1792. He was only 32. Timothy Spaulding, 1765 to 1785 – he was only 20! Josiah Spaulding, 1770 to 1798 – 28 years old. Reuban Spaulding, 1756 to 1794 – he made it to 38 years old. They all died so young!
JEFF: You could say it was unlucky, that they were victims of a plague, but others suggest maybe they were being hunted by some preternatural underground force. An evil that was picking off the Spauldings one after the other. To find out what happened, let’s head back to 1798 and meet the Spaulding Family.
RAY: It’s late November of 1798 here in Dummerston, Vermont. There’s a chill to the air that makes it clear winter is coming. At the home of the Spaulding Family, the mood is greyer than the looming storm clouds outside. 27 year-old Josiah Spaulding is gravely ill.
[COUGH COUGH COUGH]
JEFF: The young father of two is very sick. For his mother, Margaret, who lives with Josiah and his wife, this is more than her heart can take. She believes maybe her family is cursed.
RAY: A little more about the Spaulding Family…. Josiah’s father, Leonard Spauling was a Lieutenant in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. He was born in Westford, Massachusetts, he married Margaret Love in 1756, and the couple moved to Vermont. The two had 11 children.
JEFF: The trouble began in 1782 when their daughter, Molly Spauling Laughton became ill…
[COUGH COUGH COUGH]
JEFF: …and died from consumption.
JEFF: She was 20 years and had only been married a year. She was buried in the family plot in the town cemetery.
RAY: Then the following year in 1783, 14-year-old Esther Spaulding got sick.
[COUGH COUGH COUGH]
RAY: …and died.
JEFF: Two years later in 1785, 20 year old Timothy Spaulding got sick.
[COUGH COUGH COUGH]
JEFF: And was buried in the family plot.
RAY: Three years later in 1788, the patriarch, Lt. Leonard Spaulding takes ill.
[COUGH COUGH COUGH]
RAY: And he too dies from consumption.
RAY: Because the cemetery where his children were buried was soaked with water, he was buried east of the hollow with no stone to mark his final resting place.
JEFF: In 1790, Betsey Spauling Stevens dies at age 30. In 1792, 32-year-old Leonard Spaulding Jr dies. In 1793, 27-year-old John Spaulding dies. In 1794, Reuben Spaulding dies. He was 37. So here in 1798, we’ve got poor Josiah who seems to be on his deathbed.
RAY: And his mother Margaret, having already buried her husband and eight of their children over the last 16 years, is beyond distraught. She feels her family is cursed. And pretty soon, friends and neighbors start to wonder if maybe they are.
JEFF: It’s now December 3rd. It’ clear that Josiah is near the end of his journey…
JEFF: As he takes his last breath, his mother sobs.
RAY: As funeral arrangements are being made, Martha visits the cemetery where Josiah will be buried.
JEFF: She’s sees the row of family headstones growing yet again with addition of Josiah. And that’s when someone whispers something to Margaret.
JEFF: Vampire. Just one word, but a word with weight. A word that dates back to the old country. A word that means maybe there’s a chance someone in her family is a vampire and preying on the living. There’s only one way to know for sure. They need to dig.
RAY: The family knows this idea is crazy, but they’re desperate. So they dig into the ground at Dummerston Cemetery.
[DIG DIG DIG]
RAY: And start digging up the bodies of their dead family members.
JEFF: They need to check for signs of a vampire.
RAY: How would they know?
JEFF: First, they’re looking for signs that the body isn’t decomposing. If the body still looks fresh, that’s a sure sign of a vampire.
RAY: This is awful work. Digging up loved ones who have been buried for years just to look at their corpse. It’s bad enough to bury your children, how will Margaret ever get the sight of their rotting corpses out of her head?
JEFF: When the grave-diggers get about six feet down they see something strange…
RAY: Look at that! There’s a black tree root that seems to be entangled around the coffin.
[DIG DIG DIG]
JEFF: The men continue digging, following the root to the next Spaulding grave…
[DIG DIG DIG]
RAY: This grave is covered in the black tree root too. I don’t even see a nearby tree. This is really unsettling.
[DIG DIG DIG]
JEFF: More digging… and more of this sinister black root following along the row of Spaulding graves. When the black root engulfs one grave, it means another Spaulding is going to die. Reuben was the last to perish four years ago, and his casket is now engulfed in the black root. With Josiah gone, Margaret believes their only hope to break this curse is to destroy the black root.
[CHOP CHOP CHOP]
RAY: The gravediggers and family chop and saw at the black roots pulling them away from each Spaulding casket. The work lasts most of the day until Margaret is satisfied this evil root is dead and removed.
JEFF: And just to be sure, the family cuts into Josiah’s the chest cavity, and removes the vital organs from his body…
JEFF: They burn the organs in a nearby fire.
RAY: The Spauldings are determined to break this vampire spell.
JEFF: With Josiah’s body committed to the ground and his organs burned, the family can only go home and wait and see if the curse is truly broken. And that brings us back to today.
RAY: The next Spaulding child to die occurred in 1841. Sarah Spaulding Wilder was 78 years old. Olive Spaulding Mixer died in 1842 at the age of 69. And Anna Spaulding Laughton died in 1849 at the age of 81.
JEFF: So it would seem that maybe the curse was lifted after Josiah?
JEFF: Margaret Spaulding died in 1827 at the age of 93. If anything, she may have been the most cursed. To live that long and to have to burry her husband and eight of her children.
RAY: That had to be rough.
JEFF: Most of what we know about this story comes from the 1884 book: The History of the Town of Dummerston by David Lufkin Mansfield. The book didn’t say much beyond the vine that grew from grave to grave and how the vine was destroyed and the vitals of the last to die were removed and burned.
RAY: A headstone for Lt. Leonard Spaulding was placed here later by the Daughters of the American Revolution. His headstone reads: L. Spaulding, Vermont Military. Revolutionary War.
JEFF: Headstones and graves don’t tell much of a story on their own, but when you look down the line of Spauldings and check those dates you realize something horrible happened to this family. In this case, they were struck by a pandemic called Consumption. Better known today as tuberculosis. A plague that wiped out sections of towns and decimated families. Some families were untouched, and with others, they all perished.
RAY: And when the world is crumbling around you, you can’t help but look for some kind of order in the chaos.
RAY: Instead of blaming the losses on a contagious bacteria, you look for a monster. Or a vampire.
JEFF: If you lost that many family members, it’s really not a stretch to suggest you’re being hunted by a monster. Though the remedy sounds barbaric to us, it worked. There was cause and effect. Destroy the tree root and burn the vital organs of the last to die, and no more family members died from consumption. Word spreads about the remedy, how the vampire was vanquished, and the next time a plague strikes out at a family they can’t help but turn to old methods out of fear of loss, and love for the sick they care about.
RAY: So true. When there’s a plague, we sometimes lose our ability to be rational. Sounds familiar. And that takes us to After the Legends where we dig a little deeper into this week’s story.
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