Historical Accounts of Remarkable Events

The Salem Witch Trials - 1692, Salem, Massachusetts

Betty Parris is stricken with “fits.” An unseen spectre pinches her. She dives and cowers under tables; she screams blasphemies. She convulses, and her body contorts into grotesque poses on the floor. Soon six of her friends exhibit the same peculiar symptoms. Townspeople fast and pray to rid Salem of the Devil’s influence. Then the girls identify their tormentors: three witches. A witch hunt ensues. The residents of Salem hang nineteen of their own and crush Giles Corey to death with heavy stones.

--- National Geographic --- Smithsonian ---
The Crucible by Arthur Miller

 

The Winslow Incident - July 2010, Winslow, Washington

First, the animals go strange. Then people all over Winslow are struck with nausea and vomiting, fever and chills. Food poisoning is suspected. But then symptoms intensify, and speculation gives way to hysteria when people realize that the sick are losing their minds. Incredible tales of lunacy, ghosts, witch hunts, a creature in the woods and a bogeyman are traded in whispered tones, though no one outside of Winslow is ever able to confirm what really happened those hot days in July.

--- Wiki --- The Bee --- A Plague of Madness by G.F. Olson
The Winslow Incident by Elizabeth Voss

 

The Dancing Plague - July 1518, Strasbourg, France

Frau Troffea begins dancing in the street. Her husband demands she cease, yet she dances into the night. She continues to dance the next day, and the next. Frau Troffea cannot stop. Onlookers gather. Soon dozens join her—and a plague of compulsive dancing spreads. Within a month 400 people are afflicted with the madness, fervently dancing day and night. The Dancing Plague continues well into September, with several dancers dying each day from "hot blood," exhaustion or heart attack.

--- Digital Journal --- BBC News ---
A Time to Dance, A Time to Die: The Extraordinary Story of
The Dancing Plague of 1518 by John Waller

 

The Dancing Cat Disease - 1953, Minamata, Japan

Cats begin to "dance." Crows fall from the sky. Fish float dead on the sea. Soon people exhibit odd behavior: loss of coordination, shouting uncontrollably. When victims start to go mad, panic and confusion sweep through town. The sick are ostracized for fear of contagion. In some cases the affliction progresses slowly; in others the transition from good health to total deterioration takes only days. One man loses his senses in four days and is dead in seven weeks. His wife’s degeneration lasts nine years.

--- University of Minnesota --- American University --- Teruki --- Bitter Sea The Human Cost of Minamata Disease by Akio Mishima

Mass Hallucinations - August 1951, Pont-Saint-Esprit, France

Several hundred people are suddenly besieged with nausea and vivid hallucinations. Some are too weak to leave bed, while others exhibit superhuman strength. Some have beautiful religious experiences, others, hellish visions of the apocalypse. A war veteran believes his dead comrades surround him, and converses with the ghost soldiers day and night. Another man said, "It was terrible. I had the sensation of shrinking and shrinking, and the fire and the serpents coiling around my arms.” More than 250 are afflicted, including 50 admitted to asylums and seven who died.

--- BBC News --- Time Magazine ---
The Day of St. Anthony's Fire by John G. Fuller

The Devils of Loudun - 1634, Loudun, France

Sister Jeanne des Agnes and sixteen other nuns throw violent fits—screaming obscenities, lifting their habits, contorting their bodies, their faces transforming into grotesques. The nuns tell of vivid nightmares where Father Grandier sends demons to possess them while he performs vulgar acts. Though subjected to jail and severe torture, Grandier maintains his innocence. In court, the prosecution produces a Devil's pact signed in blood by Grandier and numerous demons. Found guilty of causing demonic possession, Father Grandier is burned alive at the stake.

--- Executed Today --- Traditional Witch ---
The Devils of Loudun by Aldous Huxley

The Hollinwell Incident - July 1980, Nottinghamshire, UK

Children taking part in a brass band tournament suddenly collapse. A police officer reports, “It is like a battlefield with bodies everywhere.” Symptoms include dizziness, trembling, numbness. 259 children collapse onto the field. A witness claims, “Some kids were catching their friends as they fell, and then they were falling down themselves. No one could understand what was happening.” Theories abound: insecticides, high-frequency radio waves, food poisoning, the Coxsackie virus, a UFO, or mass hysteria.

---- BBC News --- Fortean Times ---
The World's Most Incredible Stories Editor Adam Sisman

 

more links

"Beware of Mass Hysteria!" • DoctorsHangout.com
Mad Gasser of Matton - 1930 - 1940s
The Tanganyika laughter epidemic - 1962
Top 10 Bizarre Cases of Mass Hysteria

The fine print: THE WINSLOW INCIDENT is a work of fiction inspired by historical accounts of entire villages gone mad.

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