Showing posts with label urban legends. Show all posts
Showing posts with label urban legends. Show all posts

Friday, August 30, 2019

The Mad Gasser of Mattoon

Mattoon Illinois in the 1940s
Small towns across the country have their share of odd stories and urban legends, and Mattoon Illinois is no exception.  Located in the central part of the Prairie State, Mattoon is bordered by a sea of corn on the north and timberlands to the south. But in the 1940s, it became known for its “Mad Gasser.”
"Anesthetic Prowler" on Loose
 It all began the night of Friday, September 1, 1944 when Aline Kearney and her three-year-old daughter Dorothy Ellen were awakened by a sickening sweet smell. When Mrs. Kearney tried to get out of bed to investigate, she discovered that her legs and lower body were paralyzed. When her husband returned home from work at midnight, he saw a man prowling around the house and gave chase. Mr. Kearney reported that the man was extremely thin and dressed all in black. The next day police said that apparently a burglar was attempting to anesthetize his intended victims before breaking into their homes. Two other homes had also reported similar incidents that night.
Mad Gasser of Mattoon
Another resident, Urban Raef reported the next day that he was awakened by an odd smell in his bedroom on the night of August 31. Raef woke his wife who thought that maybe the pilot light had malfunctioned on the gas stove. When she tried to get out of bed her legs would not move. Raef was unable to help her because he became physically sick. Both attributed their problems to the strong smell.
Each night more incidents occurred and the next morning the local paper carried more stories about the “Anesthetic Prowler,” later dubbed the “Mad Gasser of Mattoon.”
 By September 5th, evidence was supposedly found. A Mattoon woman discovered a piece of white cloth on her porch that had an odd odor and caused her mouth and nose to burn when she inhaled it. That same night, another resident reported that gas was blown into an open bedroom window awakening them.
The symptoms of the attack were always the same: vomiting, a burning sensation in the mouth and nose, lightheadedness, problems breathing, and temporary paralysis of the legs.
The following Wednesday, September 6, seven more families had been gassed. By September 10, another half dozen residents had experienced the Mad Gasser’s attacks. Officials said that by the description of the smell, they thought that ether or chloroform was being used.
Reports were now coming into police headquarters at a fast pace and local police had no ideas what was happening or how to stop it. Their only clues included the white cloth, cut window screens and a woman’s footprints found outside some of the windows. Roadblocks were set up and armed patrols scoured the neighborhoods where the attacks occurred. Vigilante groups took to the streets in search of the culprit but no one was ever caught.
Police were baffled and claimed the incidents were the result of mass hysteria caused by the original news reports. The police chief suggested that any gaseous fumes could be coming from the Atlas Imperial Diesel Engine Plant in the city. (However no employees of the plant reported any of these symptoms during this time.) Police, tiring of the media frenzy, threatened that they would start arresting anyone who reported a gassing and then refused to submit to a medical exam. Only one more report was filed.
The final call came on Wednesday night, September 13 when a woman told police that she had seen a female dressed in men’s clothing skulking outside her house. However, there was no report of any odors. 
In all more than two-dozen people reported being disabled by gaseous fumes sprayed into their homes within the two week period.
Was there really a “Mad Gasser” in Mattoon during the late summer of 1944? Or was the theory of mass hysteria correct? University of Illinois psychology student Donald M. Johnson published a paper in 1945 suggesting that since the incidents occurred during the war when the men were off fighting, it could have been caused by mass hysteria brought on by paranoia, fear and delusions.
Others pointed to local resident and university student Farley Lewellyn who was studying chemistry. Lwellyn had been shunned by the small community for the suspicion of being a homosexual. Many suggested that the attacks were based on his “mental instability and pent up anger.”
Another theory is that residents reading the war news from Europe may have thought that the Nazi’s were attempting a poisonous gas attack in the heart of the U.S. – an area that was supposedly safe from attack.
Botetourt County, Virginia
It is curious to note that similar events occurred in Botetourt County, Virginia from mid- December 1933 until February 3, 1934.  There too gas was used to immobilize residents and make them ill. Dubbed the “Anesthetic Prowler,” a man dressed in dark clothes was reported to have flooded several homes with an unknown gas that caused victims to choke, gag, experience weakness, headaches, dizziness and breathing problems. For unknown reasons, the gasser then moved to Roanoke County where the incidents continued from February 7 to February 12. Police received 19 calls within that six-day period, but again, no one was ever caught and the entire episode was listed as the result of mass hysteria. Was Mattoon's gasser a copycat?
To this day, no one has ever arrested for being the Mad Gasser. Who and what caused the illness of more than two dozen residents of Mattoon during those two weeks in early September 1944 remains unsolved.
~  Joy

Friday, September 20, 2013

The History of the Ghost Story (and Why We Love Them)

Hidden Full Moon
Ghost on Stairs
Autumn is the season for falling leaves, cozy fires, candied apples, and ghostly tales. No other season lends itself with such atmosphere to those stories of lost souls, unseen beings and mysterious beasts traveling just beyond the perimeter of our world.

And we love to hear them, to be scared by them. Just look at the number of urban legends, ghost stories and horrifying tales that are on the internet. Not to mention the recent incursion of paranormal shows on television and radio.

Old Man

Pliny the Younger
Fact is, mankind has told ghost stories since ancient times. The concept of a ghost story began over two thousand years ago when Roman statesman and author Pliny the Younger (A.D. 61 – 115) told such tales in his letters. His accounts were of an old man in chains with a beckoning finger whose restless spirit haunted Pliny’s house. Pliny’s tales were so vivid, he was sought out to tell and retell the story.

Soul Departing Body
Pirate Ghost
Most cultures, then as now, believe that a person’s soul or spirit exists independently of his or her body, and continues to be present after death. It is thought that phantoms appear because they have unfinished business on earth, or because they are apprehensive about how, or if, they were buried properly. Most places that are haunted are associated with the ghost through emotions or something that happened there.

Specters have been seen all over the world. In 856 A.D. a poltergeist (German for noisy ghost) was reported to be tormenting a family in Germany.

Ann Boleyn's Ghost
In England, the ghost of Anne Boleyn has been seen in the Tower of London many times since her execution there in 1536.

Haunted U.S.
The U.S. is a country that has always been full of ghostly lore. And according to a new Gallup poll conducted this year, 37% of Americans believe in ghosts.

Native Americans would tell spirit stories around campfires as a way to instill values, strengthen their history, and help preserve their culture. Most of these stories involved morals aimed at making the younger members of the community think about their actions and decisions.

From Lithobolia
New Hampshire
The first settlers ghost story is said to have taken place in a tiny town in New Hampshire. In the spring of 1682, the home and tavern of George and Alice Walton suddenly became plagued by falling rocks, inside and out. The rocks fell for three months. No matter where the family went to try and escape, the phenomena followed them and the rocks would continue to pound whatever building they were in. But suddenly, as abruptly as the event began, it stopped. No explanation was ever found for why it had occurred although the secretary of the colony of New Hampshire, Richard Chamberlain, wrote a pamphlet about it, but the incidents remains a mystery to this day.

George Washington
Union Troops
Several of our presidents and founding fathers have been encountered as ghosts roaming their former haunts.
President George Washington’s ghost appeared to Union soldiers outside of Gettysburg during the bloody battle. Washington appeared on a white stallion, raised up his sword and issued the command, “Fix bayonets. Charge!” The Union soldiers, following his order, charged down the hill and forced the Confederates into a full retreat. It is said that Washington can still be seen each summer, galloping across the battlefield of Gettysburg.

Benjamin Franklin
Franklin's Statue
Benjamin Franklin was a statesman, inventor, writer, scientist and philosopher during his long life. But it appears that Franklin had a special fondness for Philadelphia and the American Philosophical Society. He has been seen near the society’s library from time to time, and some report that he has inhabited his statue, located nearby and gone out dancing in the streets.

Abraham Lincoln
Lincoln's Ghost
President Abraham Lincoln’s life ended by an assassin’s bullet and his spirit has never rested easy. His ghost haunts the hallways of the White House, and his silhouette can be seen standing in the Oval office window as he continues to await word on the progression of the war. Lincoln’s spirit has also been seen in Springfield, Illinois his former home, where he wanders the old Capitol Building and the city streets late into the night.

M.R. James
The classic ghost story came about during the Victorian Age, from 1840 to 1920. These stories contained the fundamentals of folklore touched with psychology.  Author M.R. James, known for his ghost stories at the turn of the century, remarked that the essential elements of a ghost story are “the stoney grin of unearthly malice, “malevolence and terror, the glare of evil faces, and “long distant screams.”

Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol
The Turn of the Screw
Some of our best-loved ghost stories are from this period and include A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, The Turn of the Screw by Henry James and Oscar Wilde’s comedy The Canterville Ghost.

Today, we can sit in the comfort of our living rooms and be scared silly watching such television shows as Ghost Mine, Ghost Hunters, Stalked by a Ghost, and Notorious Hauntings. And since the 1970s, movies about ghosts have been an extremely popular genre.

Urban legends are our modern versions of folklore; they change as our world changes but they still echo our fears and provide us with an ethical message couched in a cautionary tale, warning us about what could happen if we take something too far.

The Hammersmith Ghost
Ghost stories offer us a way to be frightened but still maintain control over our lives. They help us to bond with others, sharing stories and fears that will end when the story is finished. Ghost stories are an escape into another realm that delivers more fear than our current situation. When you’re worrying about monsters and ghosts and demons, you’re not worrying about what you have to do tomorrow. And when the tale is done, suddenly, tomorrow doesn’t seem so bad…

~ Joy

*Thanks to Leonard Bruce Olin for the suggestion of this post!
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