On the outskirts of Dartmouth is a graveyard which unless you were looking for it you would pass. I know, because I did.
It’s called the John Collins Cemetery, and it’s basically a family plot from the mid-1800s, when all of Dartmouth was as rural as the current location where the little cemetery still stands, shrouded by a wall of stone next to the road that cuts a farm in two.
It may be named after John Collins, but legend persists that it is also the burial place of one Barnabas Collins, and that it was a visit to this cemetery that inspired the writers of dark shadows naming its most famous character after one of the names engraved on a tombstone.
The presumed dark shadows-Dartmouth connection
We know that dark shadows was an extremely popular show on the South Coast in the late 1960s and 1970s. The gothic soap opera set in the fictional Collinsport, Maine followed the Collins family through their strange and supernatural history, and no character was greater than the vampire Barnabas Collins.
For decades, the rumor persisted that the character of Barnabas Collins was modeled after the real Barnabas Collins, and that rumor has never died out. Rumor has it that a screenwriter on the show – or maybe even dark shadows creator Dan Curtis himself – was familiar with the cemetery and stopped during a visit to Newport’s Seaview Terrace, which served as the exterior of the fictional Collinwood mansion in the series, to draw inspiration from the names of characters.
Looking at Wikipedia, we find that Curtis was originally from Bridgeport, Connecticut. One of the show’s writers, Gordon Russell, was from Salem, Massachusetts, which probably helped getting hired on a show like dark shadows. The writer credited with creating Barnabas Collins, however, was Manhattan-born Ron Sproat. It’s hard to imagine any of them would have known or even stumbled across the tiny Collins Cemetery.
Of course, there were also several people named Barnabas Collins, especially during this same period, all over the country. There was even another Reverend Barnabas Collins in Ringwood, New Jersey.
Those who believe it was Barnabas of the South Coast who inspired the name point to other names on dark shadows, like Quentin Collins, claiming there was also a Quentin Collins buried in Collins Cemetery in Dartmouth – but I couldn’t find any record of it. 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.
Marc Dawidziak is a pop culture expert who has written extensively on dark shadows and knew Curtis. When contacted by email, he said he was unaware of the legend of the Collins Cemetery inspirational characters on the show.
“To make the case convincingly beyond coincidence would require some sort of direct connection. There certainly can be one, but if there is, I don’t know,” said said Dawidziak. “Geographically, Dartmouth is only 30 miles from Newport, Rhode Island, where the Collinwood exteriors were filmed at Seaview Terrace. production heard of a relatively nearby Collins Cemetery.”
So who was the real Barnabas Collins?
In fact, he was a man of God, not a vampire. Reverend 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 Braley Four Corners Church in Acushnet. There are no trace of where he was buriedhowever, because there is no gravestone for him anywhere.
Judith Lund of the Dartmouth Historical Commission literally wrote the book about Dartmouth cemeteries, publishing Graves and grave sites in the city of Dartmouth, Massachusetts in 1997. However, by the time she wrote the book, Barnabas Collins’ headstone had already disappeared (if it ever was in Collins Cemetery). She heard a rumor explaining why.
“I was told the stone was in a bar in Boston,” she said in a phone interview. “It’s an interesting story for sure.”
Who is buried in Collins Cemetery in Dartmouth?
However, those closest to Reverend Barnabas Collins rest forever in Collins Cemetery.
We know that Barnabas’ first wife Olive Millard Collins and his second wife Hannah Chase Collins are buried there, with no headstones 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 landmarks, Leonard Collins, who lived less than four years from 1830 to 1834; James Collins, who probably lived less than a year in 1834; Mary T. Collins, who lived about five years from 1835 to 1840; Mariah Collins, who lived less than a year in 1839; and Hannah Collins, who lived just under five months in 1846.
Frederick Collins is the only one of Barnabas’ six children to have reached adulthood. He died around the age of 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 to 1936, and his son John F. Collins, who lived only one year, is buried there with him. Also marked on the same headstone is Gilbert M. Collins, who lived from 1861 to 1941, and there is no indication of his relationship to the two Johns.
What does Collins Cemetery in Dartmouth look like today?
Collins Cemetery has only a few headstones left, and only two of them are still standing. A thick overgrowth covers the entire cemetery, matted so that it covers the animal burrows that can be found in a few places – and which, honestly, look just as much like something crawling rather than inside . Trash and dozens of rusty tin cans are gathered behind the stone wall.
It is sacred ground, but there is no real way of knowing who is buried there and where they rest.
“It’s typical of a lot of cemeteries in Dartmouth,” Lund said. “That was one of the things that drove me to do the grave book, it was a list of all the cemeteries they were in, and as best I could, who was in them.”
She said Collins Cemetery in particular has suffered from the stories associated with it.
“Time creates problems. There were an awful lot of beer cans in the cemetery,” she said. “Children gather at the cemetery at night, drink when they shouldn’t be, and leave behind. Kids who were bored and had nothing else to do used to tip cows, now they knock over headstones.
The Legend of “dark shadows The cemetery” lives
When I was looking for Collins Cemetery, as I mentioned, I walked past it a few times. I stopped and talked to Vince, the farmer who owns the land surrounding the cemetery. He had never heard of dark shadowsand seemed to be too young to have been there in his prime, but knew people stopped by this cemetery looking 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 discover that the cemetery could be the final resting place of a reverend who could have inspired a vampire.
Of course, this region has its vampire legends, like the strange case of Mercy Brown. Is it possible that Reverend Barnabas Collins was the subject of the same false rumours?