Ocean State Horror Lot: Famous Rhode Island Legends and Lore

Looking to flirt with reintroducing something spooky into your life? I present to you creepy Rhode Island stories – reader beware! 

The Legend of Mercy Brown

We begin with the New England Vampire Panic, and possibly the most infamous story that came from it. Featured on such podcasts as Lore, and in the film, Almost Mercy,  Mercy Lena Brown was a young woman who died of consumption in 1892. Her mother and elder sister died of the same illness some years before. 

Mercy passed at age 19, and her brother, Edwin, was dying of the illness mere months later. Having seen half of the Brown family nearly die due to tuberculosis, the townspeople of Exeter convinced the family patriarch, George, that one of the women was possibly not dead, but undead, and bringing the suffering upon their family—making Edwin sick. 

The townspeople persuaded George to allow them to exhume the bodies of the women. When they opened the crypt, they found that Mercy (having only died a few months earlier) was still relatively preserved, and still had blood in her heart. 

The logical conclusion was to jump to vampirism (though this term was used by The Providence Journal, and not locals). They burned her heart and liver, and then fed the ashes to Edwin in an effort to cure him. Edwin died less than two months later, and though it’s said to be of tuberculosis, I can’t imagine drinking ashes helped. 

Fiendish Footprints

Next we come to Satan himself, who has two potential hangouts here in Rhody. 

Devil’s Foot Rock in North Kingstown, features in multiple stories about a young woman fleeing from a pursuer – the devil himself. 

It is said that Satan himself decided to wed a Rhode Islander. After she resisted, he grabbed her by the wrist, and—with his hounds from hell—ran to a rock, jumped upon, and leapt into the air turning into a serpent in mid leap.  The rock is still there, though it was lost for some time until construction uncovered it. Maybe it was Satan himself trying to hide his footprint… 

Another story is that a woman kills a man in Wickford, and, while fleeing, comes upon a man who is entirely too calm about the situation. He reveals himself to be the devil, grabs the woman, flies into the air, and then drowns her. You can find his hoof print, and that of a woman’s in Wickford. 

A Rogue’s Island Ghost Ship

A ship named The Countess Augusta suffered terrible luck as it made its way to Block Island, with many dying before it reached New Shoreham.  There are many accounts of what happened, with some suggesting foul play, but the ship ran aground in 1738 on the northern point of the island during a snowstorm. 

One legend says that the residents of Block Island confused the ship, attempting to crash it so they could murder the passengers. Then they set the ship on fire to hide their crimes. You know, like you do. 

Since then, it is said that in wintertime on Block Island  you can see a burning ship, or a light that looks like a burning ship. Some believe that legend arose when John Greenleaf Whittier took the story and turned it into a poem, “The Palatine”. But  there are accounts of individuals seeing this light in the early 1800s, and Whittier’s poem was published in 1867.

Paranormal in Providence

Another legend, which is only going to be spooky depending on how much you love the state, focuses on the Providence Athenaeum. It’s said that the water fountain, which is inscribed with “come hither every one that thirsteth in front of the building,” is cursed. If you drink from it, you are destined to return to it. Many are unsure where the legend came from, with some suggesting that the OG spooky bitch, Edgar Allan Poe, cursed the fountain after his failed romance with Sarah Helen Whitman. That’s one we can debunk; the fountain was built two decades after his death. Still, no one knows where this curse came from, since the fountain itself was a donation from Athenaeum supporters. Though, after this pandemic, the fountain might need to find a new way to curse people that doesn’t involve a shared drinking space.

When it comes to legend and lore, the Providence Biltmore, now known as The Graduate, takes the cake. It is rumored to be one of the most haunted hotels in America.The Biltmore was built in 1922 and was financially backed by Johan Leisse Weisskopf, who legend now says was a satanist. There were whispers that he kept chickens on the roof, for slaughter of course, and that rooms were held for rituals.

If you want to go on a deep dive, try checking YouTube for videos of the paranormal happenings while guests have stayed in the hotel. Or, you know, you could stay there yourself – if you’re not too scared. 

Disclaimer: As with most legends and lore, while based on history, very little of the mystical can be verified. While you may see a ghost, ghost ship, or get stuck living in Providence the rest of your life, we cannot guarantee it, and ask that you not come for us. 

Caitlin Howle (she/they) is a writer, professor, and small business owner in Rhode Island. Her hobbies include researching obscure history, arguing the need for the Oxford Comma, and bothering her pug, Winston. Find her on Instagram @caitlinmoments.