Feb 26, 2014
08:55 AM
History

Vampires in Connecticut, and Our Link to Hitler's Skull, in Talks by State Archeologist

Vampires in Connecticut, and Our Link to Hitler's Skull, in Talks by State Archeologist

Shoreline Times

Note the thigh bones crossed beneath the skull - an old superstition to prevent the body of the "undead" from getting up out of the grave.

Vampires in old Connecticut?

Not exactly, says the state archaeologist, Dr. Nicholas Bellantoni (below). But, that didn’t stop folks in the 19th century from burying their dead in a bizarre practice to prevent “undead” family members from leaving their graves and walking back to the homestead.

You can learn more on this grisly topic when Bellantoni gives a talk entitled "A Belief in Vampires in Historic New England" at the Friends of Hammonasset annual meeting at 7 p.m. March 11 at Old Memorial Town Hall in Madison.

Bellantoni “will shed light on one of the Nutmeg State’s most intriguing historical mysteries, the Jewett City Vampires,” says the event listing, and will “describe the history of the Jewett City vampires, including origins of the beliefs in the undead seeking nourishment from family members and how the living were protected.”

See our story 'Vampires in Connecticut; Dracula author Bram Stoker's Descendant to Give Presentation'

And our 'Final Say' interview with Dr. Nicholas Bellantoni

Bellantoni's March 9 talk in Washington will cover his investigation of Hilter's remains; see video at bottom

“There was evidence of vampire belief,” Bellantoni notes of the Eastern Connecticut phenomenon. Sometimes family members “would conduct an experiment, and if they found blood in their (deceased relative’s) heart” they would rearrange the body.

“The belief was the dead could remain undead.”

And, instead of laying the body out “all nice and anatomical,” they would disturb the grave by taking the thigh bones and cross them on the corpse’s chest, in a skull and crossbones fashion, he describes.

This odd custom was, he says, “primarily an Eastern Connecticut phenomenon.”

While old graveyards abound in the state, this is little-known historical trivia. Bellantoni says the strange custom was driven by fear of disease. At the time, tuberculosis was at epidemic levels and entire families would be stricken.

“It was the biggest killer before the Civil War,” he says, adding, “It ran in families.”

It was a belief that dead family members would come back from the grave to spread the disease to healthy survivors. At that time there was much ignorance about tuberculosis and this was long before medical science had embraced germ theory, he says.

The gravesite Bellantoni will talk about is in Griswold, the town that’s home to Jewett City, where in the 1990s, two boys playing on a gravel bank unearthed two human skulls. Bellantoni was called in to investigate and he determined that the gravel pit had once been a Colonial-era cemetery.

For more information on the Madison event, call 203-245-9192 or see the Friends of Hammonasset's "Calendar" website page.

If the getting the “live” scoop on Connecticut’s “vampires” sounds tempting, another talk by Bellantoni March 9 will be equally interesting.

In a Litchfield Hills Archaeology Club event at the Institute for American Indian Studies in Washington at 3 p.m., Bellantoni will present a talk entitled "Looking Back: The Greatest Hits of the State Archaeologist.”

“Dr. Bellantoni will present some of the fascinating projects he has worked on, including modern forensic investigations, early Native American sites, Colonial farmsteads, historic cemeteries and industrial mills,” says the listing on the Friends of the Office of State Archeology website. “He will include "vampires," Adolf Hitler, Lieutenant Eugene Bradley (after whom Bradley Airport is named), Samuel Huntington, Venture Smith, Henry Opukaha’ia, Albert Afraid of Hawk, Squire Elisha Pitkin, Gershom Bulkeley, and a host of others."

There’s a $5 admission fee for those who are not members of the Litchfield Hills Archaeological Society members. For more information, call 860-868-0518, or see the institute’s website. (Right, Adolf Hitler. Image from the Thomas J. Dodd Papers, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries. Photo by Presse-Hoffmann-Berlin.)
 

The Shoreline Times and Douglas P. Clement contributed to this story.
 

 

Vampires in Connecticut, and Our Link to Hitler's Skull, in Talks by State Archeologist

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