Mass hysteria is a social illness characterized by unusual behaviors, actions, thoughts, and feelings among a group of people. There are a lot of strange things that revolve around mass hysteria. For instance, those affected usually do not have any underlying medical condition that might trigger the symptoms. This makes it hard for medics to diagnose the health issues or give scientific explanations. Throughout history, there have been several instances of mass hysteria. Here are some of the most famous and strangest cases.

1. Salem Witch Trials

One of the most memorable cases of mass hysteria was when more than 200 people were accused of practicing witchcraft in the town of Salem, Massachusetts. It all started with two young ladies, Betty and Abigail, who made funny noises while convulsing. Soon, other girls from within Salem also started behaving the same way. Things got worse when an enslaved woman named Tituba claimed that she served the devil to escape punishment.

The locals began associating these symptoms with witchcraft, marking the onset of sexism, xenophobia, and religious extremism in the town of Salem. While the accused were not burned to the stake, as most people assume, about 19 of them were hanged to death, and others died in prison.

This case of mass hysteria ended when Governor Phip’s wife was accused of witchcraft. He had to pardon everyone else who was accused of being a witch so he could save his other half.

2. Twitching Pandemic of Louisiana

In 1939, during a school’s homecoming dance in Bellevue, Louisiana, one female student started twitching her leg uncontrollably. This went on for another week, a time when her colleagues started showing similar symptoms.

Afraid of what was happening, many parents removed their children from the school, further leading to the spread of the uncontrollable leg twitching condition. After further research, patient Zero was discovered to be a poor dancer and was afraid of being embarrassed in front of her boyfriend. Therefore, she started the twitching disease to skip the dance.

3. The Dancing Plague in Strasbourg

In 1518, France’s city of Strasbourg was affected by a dancing plague. This case of mass hysteria started with a lady called Frau Troffea and spread to more than 400 residents. She went to the streets and started dancing out of the blues. Frau did her dance for almost a week before being gradually joined by a group of people.

It was so severe that some of those affected danced until they died either because of exhaustion or a heart attack. The doctors didn’t know what was going on, either, so they associated the dancing with a condition known as hot blood, and that dancing was the only cure.

This theory was false, and so was the one that claimed the residents of Strasbourg had been cursed by Saint Vitus. The dancing plague started in June and ended in September.

4. The Mad Gasser of Mattoon

In 1944, the town of Mattoon in Illinois experienced a case of mass hysteria labelled the Mad Gasser. On the first of September of that year, a lady called Aline Kearney noticed her legs were paralyzed for about thirty minutes after she smelt a sickening yet sweet odor in the atmosphere.

Her husband arrived a few minutes after this condition had kicked in and saw a man standing by the window. He chased the man but was unable to catch him. When news about Aline’s experience came out, other people also reported similar occurrences.

During that period, there was a lot of speculation and anxiety regarding the use of chemical weapons. So, armed gangs started roaming the streets in search of the Mad Gasser, who was believed to either be a Nazi prisoner or a chemistry teacher.

5. Day Long Laughter at a Girls’ Boarding School in Tanzania

Tanganyika, which is modern-day Tanzania, experienced a case of mass hysteria when several adolescent girls from a rural boarding school started laughing uncontrollably. Soon, the condition became contagious, and more girls started laughing for no reason. The authorities were confused about what was causing the hysterical laughter and closed the school.

As the girls headed home, they spread this condition to a neighboring town called Kashasha, spreading to 14 other schools and affecting over a thousand people. The victims would laugh for a duration ranging from hours to 16 days. It eventually faded after two years, with doctors unable to figure out its cause to date. Fortunately, there were no casualties.

6. Biting Nuns of Germany

While at a covenant in Germany in the 15th century, one nun started biting other nuns out of the blues for no apparent reason. Other nuns also started doing the same before anyone could figure out what was happening. As this news spread throughout the country, so did the condition.

Within a few months, nuns in Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands were biting one another. At that moment, it was believed that the nuns were possessed by evil spirits, and exorcists were called upon to do their thing.

The exorcists failed terribly, forcing the covenants to adopt other practices to stop this mass hysteria. The measures taken were brutal; they included being thrown into a pool of water and flogging. Sad as it was, the punishments seemed to work as the hysteria stopped. It had become so bad that some nuns started meowing like cats.

7. Governments Using Human Heads for Building in Malaysia and Indonesia

In the 1930s, there was a rumor in Malaysia and Indonesia that the government was using human heads as the cornerstones for buildings. The rumor also claimed that the government had hired bounty hunters to bring them the parts.

The locals were so scared that they would be home as early as 7 pm. The first prime minister of Indonesia once narrated how these rumors had spread mass hysteria in his home village, Banda. A similar rumor was spread later in 1979 in the town of Borneo. But this time around, the government was hunting people to use their bodies to strengthen a nearby bridge. It might seem hilarious, but this case of mass hysteria led to the closure of schools and the formation of night patrols.

8. The Clown Panic of 2016

While the majority of the mass hysteria cases happened in the previous centuries, there is one that happened most recently: the great clown panic of 2016 in the United States. It all started in August in Wisconsin when a clown named Gary was hired to stand on a corner to promote a film. He looked creepy and got the attention of the residents of Green Bay.

Weeks later, there were reports of clown sightings in South Carolina, Georgia, and several other states, leading to the arrest of many clowns in the country. It got so bad that the government had to interfere and warn the public against the shooting of clowns.

Categorized in:

General Knowledge, History,

Last Update: June 19, 2024