Fortune tellers and psychics sometimes comment that they have a tough time in Keene. A few have reported they have better readings outside of Keene, and that they sometimes have nightmares after attending a psychic fair in Keene. Things go wrong, batteries run out of power, lights flicker, things they were sure they packed go missing. Some claim their dreams are of 2 young men, that are angry at all those that cast fortunes. Others though dream of what we would now call a zombie, a dead young man, looking for his eternal rest and also very unhappy with those that would cast fortunes in Keene. Perhaps they have good reason to be angry, if those young men are Seth, Adam, Issac and Samuel who lived in Keene in the early 1800’s.
Seth and Adam’s brother Issac was dying. They knew this because they had recently lost another brother, Samuel, and the symptoms were the same. Consumption, or what we would now call TB, was a leading killer before the introduction of antibiotic treatment in the 1940’s.
The endless coughing, that would bring up blood, was a sure sign that death was near. Since the cause was unknown, except that it would often decimate families, attempts to cure varied widely and were almost always ineffective. Still, Seth and Adam, having lost one brother already, were willing to try anything. Desperate for a cure, they went to a fortune teller in Keene and asked for advice.
When traditional medicine fails, even today people will seek the help of alternative medicine. This however was the early 1800’s and your local doctor could often do as much harm as good. The fortune teller the young men turned to was more than willing to take their money for her bad advice. When the local doctor said there was nothing to do, the fortune teller gave the boys something to do. Hope was bought at a high price for this working class family.
The fortune teller gave the young men a cure that was gruesome, but she swore it would work. Seth and Adam were to dig up the body of their recently deseased brother Samuel. They were then to take out his heart, and feed it to their ill brother Issac. The brother Samuel the fortune teller claimed was not at rest. His spirit was still alive. If they family could feed that spirit, via the heart, to Issac, he would regain his strength.
The fortune teller claimed that Samuel had cursed the family for not curing him, and that only by destroying his heart would his spirit rest and leave not claim the life of his brother. If this was not done, each brother would die off one by one, and the spirit of Samuel would haunt Keene forever.
The brothers followed the fortune tellers directions, digging up their brother from his grave in the middle of the night, to try to hide it from watching eyes. They were shocked to find their brother’s body looking as if they had just buried him. Some versions of the story even claim that Samuel looked even better than when he had been buried an emaciated corpse, Samuel looked like the fit and strong young man he was before his illness.
The brothers worked quickly, cutting into the body and retrieving the heart. The heart itself was not withered and dry, but was plump and wet. The brothers then reburied the body, and went home to make a meal for their sick brother of the heart. When the brothers cut into the heart, fresh liquid, perhaps blood, spurted out.
Sadly, the cure did not work, for Issac soon died. The brothers were angry, the fortune teller had not only taken their money but she had caused them to desecrate the grave of Samuel. They went to demand their money back from the crooked seer, but could find no sign of the fortune teller. The small hut where the fortune teller lived was empty, but it looked as if it had been ransacked with the small bits of furniture smashed and broken and the plates broken and smashed. The brothers were accused of having attacked the fortune teller, as she was never seen again, but they always claimed someone else with a grievance had cheated them of their revenge.
The brothers prepared Issac for his burial much as they had done for Samuel not long before. The night Issac had died, a frost had come and the ground had frozen. As is traditional even today in parts of New Hampshire, Issac’s body was put in a grave vault to await a thaw when the ground could be opened to receive his body.
It was then that that the problems started for Keene. Young men walking late at night would feel a sudden chill, and turn around to find another young man following them. The young man appeared to be normal, except there was a hole in the middle of his body. Since streetlights were not around, the descriptions are based on what could be seen from a carried lantern or just the moonlight. Also since many of these young men were returning from taverns, the stories were treated as a joke.
There was one young man, tipsy enough, to challenge the man with the hole in his chest. The brave ,but drunk, man claimed he was then attacked by a demon, that tried to “tear out my heart!” The sightings stopped soon after this, and people wondered were the stories just imaginings or had something else happened?
Spring and a thaw came and Seth and Adam were preparing to oversee the internment of their brother Issac. When the body was brought out from the grave vault, to the surprise of everyone, Issac’s body was found to have been mutilated. Where his heart should have been, was a gaping hole. The brothers quickly buried their brother, and the story remained buried in family legend until now.
Did Keene have a zombie? Looking to replace his own stolen heart? Also why was the body of Samuel so fresh? It could be the cold chill of Fall weather, preserving his body, or was Samuel one of the New England vampires of legend?
Fortune tellers of the time were known to recommend such remedies for curing illnesses. There are many written accounts of this happening all over New England, but this family story of what happened next is especially chilling. Let’s hope Samuel continues to rest in peace. Even if fortune tellers and psychics of today may still be haunted by the brothers!
- Psychic Detectives, Scamming Desperate Parents Since 1874 (yankeeskeptic.com)
- Caravaggio’s The Fortune Teller (sjd702.wordpress.com)
- The Great New England Vampire Panic (eogn.com)
- The New England undead (infocult.typepad.com)