Dartmouth’s ‘Dark Shadows’ Cemetery: Real or Urban Legend?
On the outskirts of Dartmouth is a cemetery that, unless you’re looking for it, you’d drive right past it. I know, because I did.
It’s called the John Collins Cemetery, and it is basically just a family plot from the mid-1800s, when all of Dartmouth was as rural as the current spot still is where the tiny cemetery is located, enveloped by a stone wall next to the road that bisects a farm.
It may be named for John Collins, but the legend persists that it’s also the burial site for one Barnabas Collins, and that it was a visit to that cemetery that inspired the writers of Dark Shadows to name its most famous character after one of the names etched on a tombstone there.
The Alleged Dark Shadows-Dartmouth Connection
We know that Dark Shadows was a hugely popular show on the SouthCoast in the late 1960s and into the 1970s. The gothic soap opera set in the fictional Collinsport, Maine followed the Collins family throughout its strange and supernatural history, and no character was bigger than the vampire Barnabas Collins.
For decades, the rumor has persisted that the character of Barnabas Collins was inspired by the real Barnabas Collins, and that rumor has never died down. As the rumor goes, a writer for the show – or perhaps even Dark Shadows creator Dan Curtis himself – was familiar with the cemetery and stopped by on a visit to Newport's Seaview Terrace, which served as the exterior of the fictional Collinwood Mansion on the show, in order to get some inspiration for character names.
Consulting Wikipedia, we find Curtis was originally from Bridgeport, Connecticut. One of the show's writers, Gordon Russell, was originally from Salem, Massachusetts, which was probably helpful in getting hired on a show like Dark Shadows. The writer credited with creating Barnabas Collins, however, was Ron Sproat, who was born in Manhattan. It's hard to imagine any of them would have known about or even happened upon the tiny Collins Cemetery.
Of course, there were have also been multiple people named Barnabas Collins, particularly during that same time period, all across the country. There was even another Rev. Barnabas Collins in Ringwood, New Jersey.
Those who believe it was the SouthCoast’s Barnabas that inspired the name point to other names on Dark Shadows, such as Quentin Collins, claiming there was also a Quentin Collins buried in Dartmouth’s Collins Cemetery – but I found no record of that. Most of the other Collins family members had rather common names such as David, Laura and Elizabeth, so it’s hard to see any direct connections there.
Mark Dawidziak is a pop culture expert who has written extensively on Dark Shadows and knew Curtis. When reached via email, he said he was unaware of the legend of Collins Cemetery inspiring characters on the show.
"To convincingly make the case beyond coincidence, one would need to establish some kind of direct connection. There certainly may be one, but if there is, I am unaware of it," Dawidziak said. "Geographically, Dartmouth is only 30 miles way from Newport, Rhode Island, where the Collinwood exteriors were filmed at Seaview Terrace. That proves nothing, of course, but it is intriguing to wonder if the production team learned of a Collins cemetery relatively nearby."
So Who Was the Real Barnabas Collins?
Actually, he was a man of God, not a vampire. The Rev. Barnabas Collins was born in Dartmouth in 1805 and died in Acushnet on September 6, 1888. It is known that in 1841, he built the church at the Braley Four Corners in Acushnet. There is no record of where he was actually buried, though, because there is no headstone for him anywhere to be found.
Judith Lund of the Dartmouth Historical Commission literally wrote the book on Dartmouth cemeteries, publishing Burials and Burial Places in the Town of Dartmouth, Massachusetts back in 1997. However, by the time she wrote the book, the Barnabas Collins headstone was already gone (if it ever was in the Collins Cemetery). She has heard a rumor as to why.
“I’m told the stone is in a bar in Boston,” she said in a phone interview. “It’s an interesting tale for sure.”
Who Is Buried in Dartmouth's Collins Cemetery?
Those who were closest to Rev. Barnabas Collins do rest eternally in the Collins Cemetery, however.
We know that Barnabas’ first wife Olive Millard Collins and his second wife Hannah Chase Collins are buried there, with no grave markers present. His third wife, Thankful Leonard Collins, is buried in Providence.
Barnabas also lost a number of children at a very young age. Buried there, without markers, are Leonard Collins, who lived for less than four years from 1830-1834; James Collins, who likely lived for less than a year in 1834; Mary T. Collins, who lived for about five years from 1835-1840; Mariah Collins, who lived for less than a year in 1839; and Hannah Collins, who lived just under five months in 1846.
The only of Barnabas’ six children to reach adulthood was Frederick Collins, and he died at around age 33 and is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery in Fall River.
We also know that the cemetery’s namesake, John H. Collins, is buried there because his headstone is still intact. He lived from 1868-1936, and his son John F. Collins, who only lived for one year, is buried there with him. Also marked on the same headstone is Gilbert M. Collins, who lived from 1861-1941, and there is no indication what relation he was to the two Johns.
What Is Dartmouth's Collins Cemetery Like Today?
The Collins Cemetery has only a couple of headstones remaining, and only two of them are still standing. Thick overgrowth covers the entire cemetery, matted down so it covers up the animal burrows that can be found in a few spots – and which honestly look just as much as if something was crawling out rather than crawling in. Litter and dozens of rusted cans are gathered up behind the stone wall.
It’s sacred land, but there’s no real way of knowing who is buried there and where they lay.
“That’s typical of a lot of cemeteries in Dartmouth,” Lund said. “That’s one of the things that prompted me to do the burials book, it was a listing of all the cemeteries where they were, and as best I could, who was in them.”
She said that the Collins Cemetery in particular has suffered from the stories associated with it.
“Time causes problems. There used to be an awful lot of beer cans in the cemetery,” she said. “Kids gather in the cemetery at night, drink when they shouldn’t be, and leave it behind. Bored kids with nothing else to do used to tip cows, now they tip gravestones.”
The Legend of the "Dark Shadows Cemetery" Lives On
When I was looking for the Collins Cemetery, as I mentioned, I drove right past it a couple of times. I pulled over and spoke to Vince, the farmer who owns the land surrounding the cemetery. He had never heard of Dark Shadows, and appeared to be too young to have been around during its heyday, but was aware that people stopped by that cemetery searching for the grave that shared the same name as a famous classic TV character.
“I thought they were looking for Barnaby Jones,” he said.
He was surprised to find that the cemetery may be the final resting place of a reverend that may have inspired a vampire.
Of course, this area does have its vampire legends, such as the strange case of Mercy Brown. Is it possible that Rev. Barnabas Collins might’ve been subject to the same false rumors?