Friday, March 13, 2009

The President's Vampire Part One


The 17th President of the United States of America, Andrew Johnson, pictured above didn't exactly look like a man with a softer side to him. However, on 3 January 1867 he saved a man named James Brown from the hangman's noose by commuting his sentence to life imprisonment. It is this man's story I want to tell in this and the next post. I doubt this series will go to three posts. First a little more about President Johnson. He seems to have taken a singular pride in using the power of executive clemency. He told a St. Louis audience, "I reckon I have pardoned more men, turned more men loose, and set them at liberty than any other man on God's habitable globe." Abraham Lincoln's assassination made Johnson the 17th president. Johnson was also supposed to have died the same night as Lincoln, but his presumed assassin George Atzerodt spent the day "guzzling like a falstaff " and either the booze didn't give him enough false courage to go through with the plan or he simply drank so much he forgot about it. Atzerodt was one of three men who could have told authorities about the plot against Lincoln, but chose not to. President Johnson enjoyed liquor himself, believed in slavery, had a temper and spent most of his term (1865-1869) fighting with Congress. In 1868 he became the first president to be impeached. He was acquitted in the Senate by one vote. No other president would be impeached for another 130 years, until William Jefferson Clinton who was also acquitted. Freeing men or saving them from the noose wasn't the only evidence of Johnson's softer side. He also used to leave flour out at night for the White House mice.

In Charles Fort's book, Wild Talents, published in 1932, he gives a shocking account of an incident that happened in 1866. "Sometime in the year 1866, a fishing smack sailed from Boston. One of the sailors was a Portuguese who called himself 'James Brown.' Two of the crew were missing, and were searched for. The captain went into the hold. He held up his lantern, and saw the body of one of these men, in the clutches of 'Brown' who was sucking blood from it. Nearby was the body of the other sailor. It was bloodless. 'Brown' was tried, convicted and sentenced to be hanged, but President Johnson commuted the sentence to life imprisonment. In October 1892, the vampire was transferred from the Ohio Penitentiary to the National Asylum, Washington DC, and his story was re-told in the newspapers." The article that Fort used for his book was even more graphic and bloody. From the 1892 Brooklyn Daily Eagle: A HUMAN VAMPIRE AND A MURDERER-The Terrible Record of a Maniac Convict-Removed to an asylum Columbus Ohio, November 4. Deputy United States Marshall Williams of Cincinnati has removed James Brown, a deranged United States prisoner, from the Ohio Penitentiary to the National Asylum at Washington D.C.... He was a Portuguese sailor and shipped on a fishing smack from Boston up the coast in 1866. During the trip two of the crew were missing and an investigation made. Brown was found one day in the hold sucking the blood from the body of one of the sailors. The other body was found at the same place and had been served in a similar manner. Brown was returned to Boston and convicted of murder and sentenced to be hanged. President Johnson commuted his sentence to imprisonment for life. After serving 15 years in Massachusetts he was transferred to the Ohio prison. He has committed two murders since his confinement. When being taken from the prison he believed that he was on his way to execution and resisted accordingly."

If 'James Brown' were alive today he would no doubt be described as a serial killer of the disorganized variety. Of course, he is not around to be given any psychological tests, but depending on other 'issues' he might also be described as mentally ill, sexually sadistic and sociopathic. Serial killing was a scourge that was almost unheard of before the twentieth century. However, the history of vampirism went back for centuries. In the US, New England was the center of belief in vampirism as a supernatural phenomena. Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and Rhode Island all had tales of vampirism from the late 1700s to the late 1800s. Dr. Richard Von Krafft-Ebing published a book in Latin called Psychopathic Sexualis which included contemporary European examples of some people excited by blood fetishism. From page 157 of his book, case number 48: he first had to make a cut in his arm; she would suck the wound and during the act become violently excited sexually." We can wonder-was James Brown a blood fetishist? Could he have been a genuine vampire? Brown's story has been told time and again in magazines, books and websites. However the picture they give is often inaccurate, and they provide little information beyond the accounts in Wild Talents and The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. In addition, these accounts were given 65 and 25 years after the events they describe. Can we learn anything new after 142 years? By going back through historical documents maybe we can get a more accurate description of what really happened so long ago. To be continued......

8 comments:

Aggie said...

I've heard, and I do not know if it is true or not, that there is a medical condition that certain people suffer from that requires them to drink blood to alleviate it. Something to do with the metallic content or compound in the blood. It is very rare, but it is thought that this condition gave rise to the myth of vampirism in the first place. I heard this story a long time ago, so I am relying on a vague memory and not at all sure it is true?

Devin said...

That is very interesting Aggie! I had heard of one condition that could have started the vampire legend -but it wasnt that one-my memory is also a little foggy on what i heard-I really enjoy your comments and all others too-your comment and my vague memory would be perfect for me to check up on for this very short series -I am probably one of the worst internet searchers in the world-but just maybe:-) best to you as always!

Anadæ Effro said...

Hello Aggie, our host Devin, and all other readers. That species-if-I-see medical condition is Porphyria. Just leave it to an elf who studies the many branches of the human species to come up with the answer to the riddle of vampirism.

Happy Friday the 13th,
Anadæ Effro ( :-)}

Devin said...

Hey Happy Friday the 13th to you also Anadae!! You need to go on Jeopardy-seriously -thanks so much for the info!BTW the older I get the more I totally agree with you about the many branches-as in a huge lot of the human species-we are so controlled and dumbed down to a certain extent we just dont realize how unique each of us really is-all the best!

Mike and Julie said...

Thanks for the bit of history you provided. I was just wondering how many killings and drained bodies would have taken for him to be put to death? Not enough apparently. Since his name was James Brown I can't resist saying that after he sucked his victims blood he yelled out, "I Fell Good". Sorry, I just couldn't help it. Hope you are feeling better Devin......Juie (thanks for dropping by our blog)

Devin said...

I am feeling better -thanks so much for stopping by -hehe I was wondering if anyone would mention the James Brown connection -I almost couldnt resist as I did this post either -I am so glad you couldnt resist! there is a twist to this story as far as the amount of dead bodies go -i hope to finish this series very shortly possibly by Sunday and dont wanna give too much away -of course if people want to cheat :-) that is fine! thanks so much for commenting and I really enjoy your blog also!

X. Dell said...

Although Brown isn' around for psychological interviews, historians and shrinks sometimes collaborate on psychodynamic biographies.

Devin said...

I think those are fascinating -some of them anyway-X-I have seen many done on what the supossed personality of Jack the Ripper may have been like -I guess the worst of humanity will never cease to interest and fascinate-I am very guilty of the society of the spectacle type stuff sometimes also-best as always!!