There are many stories that recount sightings of ghosts in the state of Rhode Island. These ghost stories are not unlike those that exist throughout most of the other New England states, which are rich in history.
Ghost of Mercy Lena Brown
Throughout the 1800s, New England suffered what the Smithsonian dubbed as, The Great New England Vampire Panic. Rhode Island's vampire past was discovered when a skeleton was exhumed from a forgotten burial site. The discovery revealed a ritualistic exhuming of bodies that were beheaded and the corpse's limbs crossed over the body. The heart was removed, burned, and the ashes mixed with water and drunk by the villagers. All of this was done to ensure the vampire was dead. From here, the stories of Rhode Island vampires became ones of the ghosts of the desecrated graves.
Throughout the 1700s and early 1800s, Rhode Island villagers concocted a belief system to explain the sudden deaths of their loved ones. The sight of loved ones as gaunt, wretched, and decaying creatures led entire communities to believe that the sick were under attack from evil forces. Even worse, villagers began to believe that loved ones that died became the walking dead that would visit the living at night, "suck" the life out of them, and give them consumption (tuberculosis). This vampiric belief led Exeter villagers, including young Mercy Lena Brown's own father, to exhume her grave, burn her heart, and add the ashes to water. The villagers drank the unholy elixir because they believed it would free them from the curse.
You may think this is the end of the story, but it isn't. Ever since the day the community desecrated her grave, many people have reported seeing and hearing the ghost of Mercy Brown. Her body (minus the heart) is buried in Chestnut Hill Cemetery in Exeter, Rhode Island. Residents and visitors report the following:
- They see strange blue lights in the cemetery.
- They see Mercy's ghost walking around the community.
- Residents that inadvertently stand on graves feel themselves pushed off of them.
- After saying a prayer for Mercy, witnesses report smelling the scent of roses.
- Sometimes terminally ill loved ones in Exeter are caught having conversations with Mercy just before their deaths.
From most accounts, the story of Mercy Lena Brown is no longer one of a terrifying and fearsome vampire. Instead it is about a local ghost who has deep compassion for those who are terminally ill, as well as a desire to prevent any and all desecration of the dead.
Floating Severed Ghost Heads
In 1675, Native people living by the Kickemuit River in Warren, Rhode Island, killed eight English settlers. To get their point across to the settlers, the Native Americans mounted the severed heads on poles and set them along the Kickemuit riverbank. Today, the citizens of Warren report seeing eight floating heads that have a spooky glow about them. The heads appear to be searching for their bodies and float along the riverbanks. Some people claim to see the glowing heads floating among the trees along the river banks, while others see the heads mounted on the pikes along the riverbank.
Crying Spanish Woman
Many people have seen the ghost of a Spanish-speaking woman crying in the halls of the Wedderburn House in Narragansett. The house was owned by Captain Japheth Wedderburn, who killed his wife, Mercedes. Mercedes was from Barbados and spoke Spanish. One day after returning from sea, the captain killed her when he found her weeping because she missed her home. He encased her body in a coffin inside the fireplace hearth and told everyone that his wife had gone back home to Barbados.
Families that purchased the house reported seeing the apparition of a woman in black lace with a Spanish style comb in her hair. The weeping woman would stand by the window looking out to sea. However, it wasn't until 1925 that Mercedes's body was found under the hearthstone of the fireplace, still buried in the coffin. When the coffin was opened, she was discovered to be wearing a black lace dress and a comb in her hair, just as the homeowners had seen her ghost.
Real Life Ghost Story of The Conjuring
If you've seen The Conjuring, then you're already familiar with the haunting of what was once the home of the Perron family in Harrisville, Rhode Island. In her book series, House of Darkness, House of Light, Andrea Perron chronicles the horrors of the haunting that her family endured. There were multiple hauntings, some benign and friendly, and some terrifying. The Perron girls were often visited at night by the spirit of a previous resident who tucked them into bed. A child who died in the house often played with their toys.
Other spirits were less friendly, such as those that smelled of rotten flesh, spirits who tossed the family out of their beds in the night, a malevolent male spirit, the ghost of an old hag that often frightened the Perron girls, and the angry spirit of Bathsheba Sherma, an accused witch who was hanged from a tree on the property.
When the Perrons bought the farm, they had no idea what had occurred there, from murders and violence, to rape and suicide, to death by natural causes. Upon purchasing the home, the previous owner told Perron's father to keep the lights on at night. The Perron family lived in the house for a decade before finally fleeing. Today, the house remains a private residence.
Ghosts of Maimed Children Killed in Cotton Mill
The Slater Mill located on the banks of the Blackstone River in Pawtucket is a hotbed for paranormal ghostly activity. The mill is said to be the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution. Samuel Slater built the mill during the late 1700s, modeling it after British cotton spinning mills. The mill employed mostly children between the ages of 7 and 16 since they could climb and crawl between the dangerous machinery. Many of these children were killed or badly maimed by the dangerous equipment. These children lost limbs, had hair ripped out, fingers severed, skulls crushed, and some were even decapitated.
Today, the mill is a museum complex, but is hunted by the ghosts of children killed while working to untangle yarn spools, fetch excess yarn or cotton, or caught between locked up equipment. Museum employees report hearing the screams of children and notice cold spots near the dangerous pieces of old machinery. It's also believed the ghost of Samuel Slater haunts the halls, with his phantom footfalls echoing through the building.
Suicide and the Tolling Bell
In 1810, Peleg Walker hanged himself inside the family mill. Peleg was the son-in-law of the local wealthy Potter family that owned the mill located in Foster. Peleg had been taken into the family business as a partner, but he soon racked up a huge debt to the company. No longer trustworthy, Peleg was given the demeaning job of night watchman, which he sorely resented. It was believed that he couldn't suffer the humiliation of his new position within the company and took his life.
It wasn't long after Peleg's suicide that strange things began to happen around the mill. The bell used to start and end the work day began ringing at midnight. The family removed the rope, but the bell still rang, so they removed the bell itself. As the local legend is told, the very next night the family woke up to the entire factory running in full operation with the water wheel turning against the river flow.
Residents reported seeing a glowing figure carrying a lantern moving from one building to another, the way Peleg had done on his night watch. The haunting was so intense, it wasn't long before the mill went out of business and closed its door. The abandoned Ram Tail Factory still stands today.
Phantom Burning Ghost Ship
There are many versions of the ghost story of the phantom ship. One tells of a deviant crew, while the other places the blame on the captain of the vessel. It was during the winter of 1751, and the crew of a cargo ship killed the Captain and held the passengers hostage for several days.
Near starvation, the passengers awoke one morning to find that their captors had abandoned the ship. When the ship struck land off Block Island, residents living on the shore saved the passengers and then set the ship on fire so that the other ships at sea wouldn't collide with it. Unfortunately, they didn't realize that one woman had been locked in a room inside the ship. Residents and passengers could hear her tortured screams as she burned alive.
In the other version based on records found in the 1920s, it was 1738 when the ship was blown off course by several winter storms, leaving it damaged and at sea for three months. With depleting supplies and a contaminated water supply the passengers became sick and over 200 died, as did half the crew. The crippled ship wrecked off Block Island during a severe snowstorm, and the captain along with his remaining crew rowed ashore, abandoning the passengers.
The townspeople rescued the passengers, but when the ship was scuttled, a woman who'd gone insane during the voyage was forgotten to be onboard and died in the fire. Regardless which version you believe, local residents say that every year on the anniversary of that horrible day, they can see the burning ghost ship just off shore and hear the woman screaming.
Haunting Rhode Island Ghost Stories
There are many similar ghost stories about the colonial state of Rhode Island. The stories of ghosts, ships, seamen, and vampires are steeped in historical facts and real-life drama.