'I AM WAITING AND WATCHING FOR YOU.' Ooh, scary.
Photo by Michael Bell.

The vampire who wasn't—not even a little bit.

Historical Cemetery #2, Plain Meeting House Road, West Greenwich

While the facts surrounding Mercy Brown's death and exhumation are pretty much undisputed, this is not the case with poor Nellie Vaughn of West Greenwich. If you hear her story at all there's a good chance it will sound suspiciously like Mercy's, perhaps with good reason.

Nellie Louise Vaughn died March 31, 1889, at the age of nineteen. Beyond the details that mirror Mercy's case (large family dying one by one, corpse of young girl exhumed and her heart removed, etc.), accounts generally quote an unnamed "local university professor" who claims that "no vegetation or lichen will grow on Nellie's grave." Additionally, it's usually said that Nellie's restless spirit is still occasionally seen, heard, or felt in Historical Cemetery #2.

According to Charles T. Robinson in his book, The New England Ghost Files, a Coventry resident he called Marlene Chatfield had several run-ins with Nellie during the summer of 1993. She went to the cemetery to do some grave rubbings. When she attempted to make an impression of Nellie's stone, her paper was ruined by mysterious moisture spots even though the stone was "completely dry." Then her charcoal disappeared. Photographs she took of the tombstone came out reversed, even though every other picture on the roll came out correctly.

When Marlene returned to the cemetery in August 1993 with her husband, Nellie really acted up. As he stood near Nellie's grave, the husband heard a female voice say distinctly, "I am perfectly pleasant," which must be some kind of ghost code for "I am pure evil," because red scratches then appeared on the husband's face, prompting him to leave the cemetery. Whether he did so calmly or screaming like a woman in a bad horror movie, Robinson doesn't say.

Still, the intrepid Marlene was not dissuaded from continuing to hang out in the spooky boneyard. During a September 1993 visit, she struck up a conversation with a young woman who said she was a member of a local historical society. Talk inevitably turned to the topic of Nellie and her vampire legend, at which the young woman became increasingly agitated, saying over and over, "Nelly [sic] is not a vampire." Feeling somewhat unnerved, Marlene excused herself from the woman's company and headed back to her car. When she looked back, of course, the woman had vanished.

Other accounts related by Robinson tell of a woman in Victorian clothing who disappeared as witnesses approached, or of a woman who was seen hovering in the air over Nellie's grave, "nervously pulling her hair." Like Marlene's husband, several other people have apparently heard a disembodied female voice stating that she is "perfectly pleasant," but without the attending physical violence.

Going to the cemetery on October 2, 1999, we had the good luck to run into Evelyn Arnold, caretaker of the adjacent West Greenwich Baptist Church. She was very vocal on the subject of Nellie. "It's a case of mistaken identity," she told us. "No one ever thought Nellie was a vampire until recently." She said that the story which equated Nellie Vaughn with vampirism went back only to the late 1960s, when a Coventry High School teacher had told her students about a vampire buried in a cemetery off Route 102. She meant Mercy Brown, but she didn't supply any details other than her age. So obviously the students, being young and curious, had to go looking for her. When they found Nellie's stone, noted her age and read the ominous inscription there, "I Am Waiting and Watching for You," they concluded they had found the vampire. The story spread and became local legend.

Rhode Island folklorist Michael Bell, in his book Food for the Dead, on the Trail of New England's Vampires, uncovered much additional information and reached several conclusions about Nellie's legend. Bell notes that he was unable to find Nellie's story in print prior to 1977, when it turned up in an article in the Westerly Sun. A man that Evelyn Arnold was acquainted with, who was alive at the time of Nellie's death, told her "there was no talk of her being a vampire while she was living or after her death." In contrast, Mercy's story was well-documented from the time it occurred.

Nellie died of pneumonia, not tuberculosis, a disease that Bell demonstrates is commonly linked with New England vampire cases. While Nellie's body was exhumed several months after her death, it was in order to move her from the family farm (located on Robin Hollow Road) to the new cemetery at Plain Meeting House Road, not to prevent her from inflicting illness upon her living relatives. In fact, Nellie's death was apparently an isolated event—none of her immediate family died within a decade of her passing.

Nellie's seemingly ominous epitaph—"I Am Waiting and Watching For You"—is nothing more than a fairly common sentiment for the time, probably chosen by her parents to eulogize a beloved child who died too young, and who was waiting for her family in Heaven. It's highly probable that the lack of vegetation on Nellie's grave was attributable, not to supernatural forces, but to the number of souvenir hunters who trooped through and took away a bit of earth.

Bell concludes that Nellie's story is not just one legend, but three:

Legend 1: Nellie is a vampire;
Legend 2: Nellie is not now, nor has she ever been, a vampire;
Legend 3: Nellie is a ghost on a mission to let people know she was never a vampire.

And so a farmgirl from West Greenwich attains a sort of immortality, even if not as one of the living dead.

Despite efforts by Evelyn Arnold and the congregation of the Plain Meeting House Baptist Church to tell the true story of Nellie Vaughn, people still make their way out to Historical Cemetery #2 hoping to meet up with Nellie's restless spirit. Unfortunately, along with the mildly curious have come the thoughtlessly destructive. Gravestones have been toppled and defaced, the nearby historic church building has been vandalized, a crypt has been broken into, and on Halloween 1993 a coffin was even dug up. Ultimately the object that most had come to see, Nellie's stone, was removed for safekeeping by members of the community.

Today Nellie's unmarked grave displays a full growth of healthy green grass. No one walking by would be able to pick it out if they didn't know where it was.

Musical Tribute

Local metal band Witch Meadow, on their 1995 debut CD When Midnight Calls, included a track titled "Waiting for You," a tribute to the legend of Nellie.

Note

As with any private or public property, please leave Historical Cemetery #2 as you found it. It has suffered a lot of vandalism over the years, much of it attributable to souvenir hunters looking for Nellie's grave. Please be respectful.

Our October 16, 1999, Visit

Dan: So you brought us out to see a grave without a stone?

Rory: The grave of a vampire who isn't a vampire?

Dan: A grave that looks like any other patch of grass?

Christopher: Well... yeah.

Dan & Rory: Couldn't we have done that at home?

Information

Cost: free

Time required: allow five minutes

Hours: open year round, dawn to dusk

Remember, this is a cemetery. Please be respectful.

Finding it: from Route 95 take exit 5 to Victory Highway west (Route 102); turn right onto Plain Meeting House Road; drive 3.9 miles; the cemetery is on your right at the junction of Plain Meeting House Road, Liberty Hill Road and Plain Road; enter the cemetery on foot and make your way toward the large, square, concrete crypt in the center; Nellie's grave is about fifteen feet southwest of the crypt.

What’s nearby

Distances between points are actual distances, without regard to ponds or plundering zombies. Your travel distance will be longer.

This article last edited July 2, 2010

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