Mass hysteria is when a large number of people become convinced of a popular delusion. It can be something sinister, like that Jews are poisoning wells as people thought during the plague, or something ridiculous, like that witches are stealing people’s penises. Here are five of the weirdest episodes of mass hysteria in history.
Popobawa, which translates to “bat wing”, is the name given to a creature that people in Tanzania believe has been attacking people for decades. The story goes that men wake up late at night to the sound of leathery wings flapping through the room. They slowly open their eyes thinking a bat must have gotten int. Instead they see this guy:
Terrified, the men believe that this monster is going to kill them only to find that there is something else on his mind. According to “witnesses”, the Popobawa’s inclinations run less to eating flesh than to partaking of it. That’s right, the Popobawa is believed to be motivated by a penchant for buggery.
Reports of the Popobawa go back to the 1970’s. It is said that the origins of the Popobawa lie with a local Imam who decided to get his revenge on some impolite neighbors by enlisting the help of a Jinn, which is a devil or spirit in the Islamic tradition, and apparently ended up being a sexually aggressive bat in this case.
Popobawa sightings continued for decades before reaching their height in 1995, when a wave of reported encounters with the amorous monster had the city of Dar Es Salaam in a state of crisis. People believed that the creature targeted people who were skeptical of its existence.
Majka Hamad was one such skeptic who reported having his own experience: “It was just like a dream but then I was thinking it was this Popobawa and he had come to do something terrible to me, something sexual.”
As the reports of attacks continued, men took to sleeping in groups around bonfires, hoping that there was safety in numbers.
While discounting the creature’s existence was said to entice it, reciting verses from the Koran and slathering pig fat over your body was said to repel it.
Attacks seemed to dwindle by the end of the year, though there are still occasional reports of Popobawa attacks, which interestingly seem to fluctuate with the tide of national elections.
So as ugly as elections get in America, at least nobody has to worry about getting raped by a giant bat.
Knock on wood.
The Mad Gasser Of Mattoon
In 1944, in Mattoon, Illinois, a man named Urban Raef was in bed one night when he noticed an unusual smell. Feeling weak and nauseated, he assumed that his stove was leaking gas and asked his wife to see if the pilot light was out. At that point, his wife found she was too weak to move. The next morning, having regained the use of their legs, they reported the event to the local police, who told them they were most likely imagining it. But then a few days later, another woman reported a similar experience: strange odor, nausea, weak limbs, and a burning sensation on the lips.
Over the next few weeks, hundreds of people reported having been the victim of a mysterious gas leak in their homes. People even began to claim they saw a mysterious man with some kind of gas dispensing apparatus lurking around their homes.
Some alleged that an escaped mental patient was behind the gas attacks. Though seeing as dozens of people were reporting attacks all across town every night, unless this guy was a wizard this can probably be chalked up to some overactive imaginations.
Or maybe it was wizards.
Koro is classified as a culture-specific mental disorder. Essentially it’s the conviction that your penis is retracting into your body like the head of a scared turtle. People suffering from it employ a variety of methods to prevent it, like repeatedly stretching the penis out or even finding something to anchor it to.
Koro has a long history, it was mentioned in ancient Chinese medical texts as being caused by “a concentration of coldness in the liver”, a diagnosis that the modern medical community has been suspiciously quick to dismiss.
And paranoia about genital retraction has even erupted into episodes of full-scale panic in several countries over the years.
In China, people believe that Koro can even kill you, which explains why so many people were worried when, in 1967, a rumor began in Singapore that a number of pigs injected with a swine flu vaccine had died from Koro and that eating pig meat could spread the condition. Men walked around clamps on their genitals and 97 people were admitted to the hospital with the conviction that they were dying from penis retraction.
Similar events have happened in Thailand and India, as well as numerous places in Africa, where witches are often believed to be the culprits after casting dick-shrinking spells.
And before you make fun of people in other cultures for believing in something so ridiculous, remember that in the Middle Ages it was a commonly held belief in Europe that witches liked to “deprive men of their virile member.” After stealing the members, witches were said to enchant them so that they moved around on their own like a hairy caterpillar and ate corn.
The Dancing Plague
In July 1518, in the sleepy region of Alsace in the then Holy Roman Empire, a certain woman named Mrs. Troffea began dancing in the streets of the city of Strasburg. Within the next few days over thirty people had joined her, dancing without food or water until they collapsed.
By the end of the month, 400 people were filling the city square with flailing limbs and probably some pretty alarming body odor by this point. Over the course of the next few weeks, around 15 people a day were collapsing from heat stroke or heart attacks, having literally danced themselves to death.
The city fathers, having ruled out the influence of the stars or vengeful witches, decided that these people could only be cured by more dancing. So they hired musicians and encouraged the dancers to continue.
Finally deciding that telling people to keep dancing was a bad way to put an end to a dancing plague, the city turned to religion. According to contemporary accounts, after priests offered a series of blessings, the dancing stopped. Presumably, this lead to a few decades where dancing was banned until a young man from another city taught everyone to cut loose.
The London Monster
In 1788, a London woman came forward with an unusual story. According to her account, a man had approached her late at night when she was walking alone and proceeded to stab her buttocks several times with a needle. Word of this attack spread throughout the city and soon more women were reporting similar attacks. Over the next two years, the people of London were gripped with terror at being attacked by “the London Monster” as the assailant came to be known.
Withing a few weeks, good old-fashioned vigilantism ruled and people were beaten up in the streets on suspicion of being the monster. Women took to wearing copper pots over their petticoats and men wore “Not the Monster” pins to avoid mob justice. Pickpockets even took advantage of the panic. They would clean out a victim’s pockets and then shout “Look, the monster”, making their escape while the crowd was giving the poor man a solid beating to go with his robbery.
Another rumor began that only pretty, rich women were targets, so it became something of a fashion trend for a woman to be able to claim she had been attacked, which led to several women inflicting injuries on themselves in order to get recognition. It was sort of like “Oh, my dearest Marjorie, you say you haven’t been assaulted? How fortunate you are to be so plain and bereft of suitors.”
It was basically the 18th-century version of the humblebrag.
The number of victims rose and the police, desperate to make an arrest, settled on a drifter named Rhynwick Williams. Despite Rhynwick having solid alibis for most of the alleged attacks, he was convicted of “the destruction of clothing,” which for some reason technically carried the death penalty at the time. Luckily for Williams, once the hysteria died down a bit he got a new trial and was only sentenced to six years.
Historians are divided on whether the Monster actually existed. Some say the culprit was likely someone with piquerism, which is a fetish for poking people with sharp objects. Others say none of the attacks occurred at all, but many agree that most reported attacks were fabrications.
Either way, it’s proof that you don’t want to be a shiftless drifter during an episode of mass hysteria. Which is probably good advice to remember, since if this list proves anything, it’s that everyone can start losing their minds at the drop of a hat.
The tragic tale of Florence Foster Jenkins, terrible opera singer
Florence Foster Jenkins had a dream. She wanted to be a famous opera singer. The problem was, she couldn’t actually sing.
Florence Foster Jenkins had a dream. She wanted to be a famous opera singer. The problem was, she couldn’t actually sing.
Well, she could sing. Just not very well. Let’s listen, shall we?
If you can’t watch the video above, let me try to do it justice with a description. It sounded like two sick cats fighting over a tin can full of marbles. It was like a box of accordions being dragged behind a wandering troupe of Vietnamese folk musicians. It was the sound your elderly grandmother makes as she takes a fatal tumble down a flight of stairs.
So how did a woman like that become an opera singer? Well,basically it came down to a large inheritance and a legendary capacity for self-delusion. Not to mention a healthy dose of syphilitic brain damage.
Florence was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania in 1868. Early on, she discovered a love of music, and was actually something of a child prodigy on the piano. She was so good that she was invited to play at the White House during the Hayes administration.
But, Florence didn’t want to play the piano, she wanted to sing. So, she asked her father if she could go to Europe to study Opera.
Presumably having heard her sing, her father took a long draw on his pipe, worked his lip under what was probably a pretty impressive mustache and said, “No”.
Betrayed, and set on revenge, Florence eloped with a local doctor named Frank Jenkins. Unfortunately for Florence, the good doctor had a predilection for ladies of the evening and contracted a case of Syphilis, which he promptly spread to Florence. This being the 19th century, that wasn’t grounds for a divorce so Florence set out on her own while still legally married to the man whose name she would keep the rest of her life.
Florence made a meager living giving piano lessons until an arm injury stopped her from playing. She and her mother Mary moved to New York where Florence met her second, common-law husband, St. Clair Bayfield in 1909. By this time her Syphilis was doing what Syphilis does and virulently attacking her brain.
In that same year, her wealthy father died, leaving Florence with the funds she needed to bankroll her own singing career. So, that’s just what she did, renting out concert halls to give private recitals. She hand delivered invitations to these recitals, making sure never to invite any critics.
Her performances were marked with mistakes in pitch, timing, and pronunciation of the foreign words that are sort of necessary to pronounce correctly when you’re singing opera. Her accompanist was forced to make frequent adjustments to his playing to account for her tendency to rapidly switch tempo and pitch, which can be heard on the recordings that survive.
Florence became the celebrity she wanted to be, though not for the reason she would have hoped. Word got around the city about her “so bad it’s good” performances and it became something of an inside joke among the New York elite to send friends to a show with purposely vague reviews. One critic wrote that her singing was “like the untrammeled flight of some great bird.”
The ultimate payoff was to go with a friend who expected to hear a lovely rendition of The Magic Flute and then watch the expression of bewilderment on their face as they tried to figure out why such a terrible singer would be giving recitals.
By popular demand, Florence was finally convinced to give a performance at Carnegie Hall at age 76, and tickets quickly sold out. People stood outside waving hundreds of dollars in the air in the hopes of securing entrance to the show. The most valuable seats were in the back where people would fall to their knees behind doubled over in laughter. People advised each other to bring handkerchiefs to shove in their mouths. Others had to be carried out after laughing themselves hysterical.
Meanwhile, Florence took the laughter as adulation rather than derision. As she walked off the stage to raucous applause, she must have thought this moment the culmination of her life-long dreams to sing opera at Carnegie Hall.
The next morning she read the reviews. One critic praised her great range saying, “She can sing anything except notes.” Another said, “It was largely a recital without voice for the tones that Madam Jenkins produced were tiny. Much of her singing was hopelessly lacking any a semblance of pitch but the further a note was from its proper elevation the more the audience laughed and applauded.”
Two days later, Florence suffered a fatal heart attack. Some attribute her demise to the stress of learning what people actually thought of her singing.
Her long-time accompanist, Cosme McMoon, argued that it was unrelated. He stated in an interview that her capacity for self-delusion was such that she could have easily convinced herself that it was the reviewers who were wrong.
Regardless of the truth of the matter, Florence Foster Jenkins probably summed it up best when she said, “People may say I can’t sing, but no one can ever say I didn’t sing.”
The Dwarf Who Became A Giant
If you’re familiar with Game of Thrones, and its most popular character, you know it can be tough to be a dwarf with all the white walkers and having to murder your father with a crossbow. But it’s probably also tough to be a giant. After all, you have to duck under doors and constantly get asked to pull things off of high shelves.
But it’s probably even tougher to go from one to the other. Luckily, there’s only one person in history who has ever had to go through that. In 1899 a child named Adam Ranier was born in Austria. For most of his life. he was small and sickly. When he was 18, he was evaluated by army physicians after his draft number was called who rejected him after finding that he only measured four and a half feet tall. He was, technically speaking a dwarf.
But then one day he started growing for some reason. And in the next ten years, he grew to be over seven feet tall, making him the tallest man in the country. But while most people would be pretty excited to discover that they could suddenly dominate their local pick up basketball game, Adam had some pretty severe side effects from his growth spurt.
His spine began to curve significantly, and he lost the vision in his right eye along with the hearing in his left ear. In 1931, two doctors studying him discovered that the source of his incredible growth. They found a large tumor pressing on his pituitary gland, pushing huge amounts of growth hormones into his body. Today the condition is called Acromegaly, and Adam displayed all the symptoms, including unevenly spaced teeth, a pronounced jaw and brow, and unusually large hands and feet. Adam also found that eating was difficult and he began to suffer the effects of a poor diet.
Due to his condition, Adam remained bedridden for much of his life. The doctors performed a surgery that was intended to remove the tumor, but after examining him a few years later they found that he was still growing, which meant that they had been unable to correct the condition. Adam died at a fairly young in 1950 at a height of seven feet and ten inches.
But to this day, Adam Ranier remains the only person who has ever lived as both a dwarf and a giant. It’s a shame that more isn’t known about his life. Though, even at the time, his case attracted a lot of attention in the international press. And the Guinness Book of World Records included an entry on him in 1975. And though he was unfortunate to have to suffer such debilitating physical conditions, at least he will be remembered as unique in the history of mankind.
7 weird things we’ve learned through science
Ah, science! Domain of the geeks. I may not have loved you when I was a teenager with other things to think about, like the insane changes in my body, but now that I’m older I have come to be fascinated by your astounding discoveries.
Here’s a look at some of the strangest of natural phenomena—whether in biology, anatomy, archeology, or astronomy. Some of them are too weird too believe… and yet it’s all true!
Thought clouds weigh nothing because they float? Wrong. Clouds weigh millions of tons. Yet they float because they are less dense than the surrounding air and than the rising currents of hot air. That’s why the sky does not fall on our heads dufus!
In this very moment, there are about 100 billion bacteria living in your mouth, and 100 trillion (100,000 billion) in your digestive tract. Oh and there are 25,000 germs walking on each square inch of your cell phone, and 7.2 billion on your kitchen sponge. Bacteria and germs are living beings—that makes your body, phone and kitchen extremely social places! Fortunately, most of these microscopic life forms are harmless and work actively for our mutual benefit.
… But they are not allergic to us, unfortunately. The itch that results from a mosquito bite is simply an immune response from your body. When the insect “bites” you, it in fact sucks your blood through its “trunk” (i.e. its proboscis) while simultaneously injecting substances including an anticoagulant. This helps the blood pass easily through its proboscis and its digestive tract. Itching is not directly caused by the bite or chemicals contained in the mosquito’s proboscis but by the immune response of the body fighting them. Our body releases histamine, a protein involved in many allergic reactions, to fight against parasites. Histamine causes swelling around the bite so that the blood rushes to the affected area, and this has the side effect of itching.
93% of your body mass is actually stardust. Time to start writing poems y’all. Most of the elements that make up your body, like your bones, organs, and muscles are made of various atoms and molecules. And where do you think those atoms and molecules come from? Technically from your mom, but if you trace everything back far enough, these particles come from the stars.
Believe it or not, you have 2 meters of DNA in every cell in your body, which has 10 trillion cells. If we put all that DNA together and made a string out of it, we could tie the string from the Earth to the Moon over 100,000 times!
Giant Dinosaur Stomach
The Sauroposeidon, of the brachiosaur family, is one of the largest dinosaurs ever found. It could reach up to 18 meters in height and weigh up to 60 tons. Naturally, his stomach was the size of a swimming pool. Time for a swim in the dino’s tummy!
The muscles in your eyes are the most active ones in your body. According to one study, they actually move more than 100,000 times a day. Does that sound like a lot? Try to count how many times your eyes just moved just to read this paragraph. Now, if only I could do one push-up for every eye-movement!
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