2014-10-23 / Calendar

Haunted Tales of Ocean State Vampires

By Olga Enger


Author Christopher will share his Rondina ghost stories on Oct. 25 at St. John’s Church. Author Christopher will share his Rondina ghost stories on Oct. 25 at St. John’s Church. This October has brought the first cool winds of the fall, but there is something much more chilling around the corner – the unsettling stories of the local undead. Christopher Rondina, author and expert in local haunted history will share his ghost stories to the backdrop of a newly restored 19th century pipe organ at St. John’s Church in Newport this season.

According to Rondina, some of the world’s most frightening tales, including Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula,” were inspired by events that occurred a bit too close for comfort.

The 48-year-old Newport native and author of “Ghost Ships of New England” and “Vampires of New England,” said Stoker used a real Rhode Island family for his storyline.

In 1891, the family of George and Mary Brown, of Exeter, suffered from what is now believed to be tuberculosis infections.

“It was called consumption because their bodies were being eaten away. They thought it was caused by evil spirits,” said Rondina.

Unable to explain the deaths, the Browns believed their deceased daughter, Mercy, was a vampire and was killing off her siblings. According to the legend, her family dug up her body and found it fully intact, evidence to them that she was among the undead. Mercy’s heart was removed and burned.

“It was scandalous; the Providence Journal ran an exposé of the story,” Rondina said. “Eventually, the story came to the attention of Stoker. Like most good authors, he did a lot of research and the article was found in his notes.”

Dracula directly parallels the story of Mercy Brown, explained the local vampire expert, including the name of the town.

“At the time he wrote Dracula, gothic fiction had gone out of style. He was fascinated by the idea that modern Americans were still practicing this barbaric, almost medieval tradition,” said Rondina.

How did Rondina become an expert on local vampires? He has enthusiastically studied the subject throughout his life.

“I have loved ghost stories since I was a little boy,” he said. “When I was a kid, I’d go to Norman Bird Sanctuary Halloween parties and they would show the 8mm black and white movies of Dracula. When I was growing up, I often heard stories of local vampire legends, but it was very hard to find information.”

The young Rondina began to save newspaper clippings of vampire and ghost stories. As his collection grew over the years, he decided to compile a scrapbook that he hoped to sell for spending money.

A former used bookstore on Broadway, Scribe’s Perch, published local poets; he sought out the owner for guidance.

“He told me I would need to fill it with context. I had no aspirations to be a writer. But I thought, I could handle that,” recalled Rondina. “He nudged me into writing more and more.”

What began as a small booklet evolved into a 100-page manuscript and was now out of range for the bookstore owner. They tracked down a publisher and his first book, “Vampire Legends of Rhode Island,“ was printed five years after he first approached the bookstore.

“By my own standards of today, I would call it a terrible book,” the now seasoned author admitted. “Very amateurish.” He spent the next 10 years revising the book, which is in its third and final edition.

After his book was published, he was approached to tell his stories to audiences, which is a tradition he still maintains every Halloween.

This year, Rondina will tell his haunted tales at St. John’s Church, 61 Poplar St., on Oct. 25 at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $5 for individuals, $15 for families. Costumes are encouraged.

Signed copies of his books are available at Spring Street Books and the Museum of Newport History. Copies are also available on amazon.com and at Barnes and Noble.

TO GO:

WHAT: Haunted Tales

WHERE: St. John’s Church
61 Poplar St., Newport

WHEN: Oct. 25 at 6:30 p.m.

Tickets : $5 for individuals
$15 for families

Costumes are encouraged.

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