Posts Tagged ‘Mass hysteria’

It’s a famous media broadcast now, it’s also a very gripping thing to listen to as well. The original book is a work by H G Wells that started life as a serialisation by the English author.

The Martians have been plotting an invasion to Earth that’s to their own diminishing resources. In the book the events of the invasion are set in motion in Woking, Surrey but Orson Welles transfers them to America. Wells no doubt picked his location as it was local and he knew how to describe things with familiarity and if you pop over to Woking at any point you can locate a 23 feet high sculpture of a tripod fighting machine, ‘The Martian’ near the local railway station.

I’m not going into the plot, the reviews or such like but it is worthy of note because of films and of course the above-mentioned broadcast. That’s the bit I am going to look at it here for now.

George Orson Welles, 6th May 1915 to 10th October 1985 was involved in the business of entertainment and is famous for the film Citizen Kane, 1941 amongst other things but this is a blog for weird and interesting things, and I’ve picked out the 1938 broadcast of the War of the Worlds which, supposedly, sent thousands of American people into a mass panic about the alien invasions in their home states…

CBS radio invited Orson Welles to create a summer show that would last 13 weeks, the series began 11th July 1938 and the adaptation for H G Wells book aired 30th October 1938. It brought Orson Welles instant fame, the broadcast itself really is worth a listen to and you can sit back and appreciate it yourself if you wish.

There was supposedly a mass panic from people convinced of its validity, that aliens truly landed and it’s this bit I am looking at, were people really panicking so much that they would run from their homes in masses?

1.7 million listened to the broadcast and polls calculated that 1.2 million ‘were excited’ and mostly the reports seem to have been anecdotal. Cantril interviewed 135 people who cited some colourful claims about grabbing guns or packing up in a panic. It would hardly have been unusual for a busy area to have fast moving traffic and other rambunctious behaviours at the time so this was not entirely unexpected. Grovers Mill, New Jersey was not blasted by alien lasers or any such thing but the media took the story of the panic and without looking at data it might even be assumed claims of heart attacks and suicides were another effect but again, there was not noticeable shows in the data to support this. Miller countered Cantril’s claims and just did not seem to match up to the 1 million plus listeners.

American Telephone Company figures suggested a 40% rise in calls, again however, they did not lead to anything specific and it was just a higher record in some parts of New Jersey.

He also mentions that there is a notable other broadcast with the results of frightening some listeners, 31st October 1974 at Rhode Island, and one in Northern Portugal 1988 but they were not reported to on the same level. The same sort of thing appears in a 2010 publication by W Joseph Campbell and Slate.com, they in turn also look at media myths or fake news and include the press reports of the panic-stricken US citizens.

31st October, 1938 Daily News of New York’s front page encapsulates the news with the title “FAKE RADIO ‘WAR’ STIRS TERROR THROUGH U.S’. The New York Times gave us ‘Radio Listeners in Panic, Taking War Drama as Fact.’  The Detroit News went with ‘War Skit on Radio Terrifies Nation’ and The Boston Daily Globes ran with ‘RADIO PLAY TERRIFIES NATION’.

But was all of this remotely correct or fake news? Well in short, no, CE Hopper Company did the 2% response to people listening to it because most people were listening to NBC. The poll was conducted for 5000 people, so 100 people of 5000 were listening? Frank Stanton of CBS also said they were never censored for it because most people hadn’t even heard the show.

6 weeks after the broadcast it was admitted to, the figures were largely skewed and descriptions like disturbed or excited were inflated to ‘panic’. It did get enough hype that Adolf Hitler cited the panic as ‘evidence of the decadence and corrupt condition of democracy’.

So why?

Well in short radio was being seen as a threat to newspapers, they could use a few isolated cases as a way to make it sounds like these types of shows were an example of this terrible new media being irresponsible and untrustworthy. The Telegraph (UK paper) says that a woman tried to sue CBS for $50,000 thank to nervous shock but it was dismissed and a man tried to claim for shows as he’d spent that money on a train ticket, Welles was said to have paid for those.

There was indeed action taken that night, the police came to the station and one minute from the end of the show they were trying to shut it down. It played out and as a result Paul White, the head of CBS News, was summoned over. Welles found out later and was convinced it would end his career, but it didn’t.

Some listeners had turned in part way through and this seems to be where the reports started. Again, though it was very much a case of over-exaggeration and it does also seem that the repeated broadcasts about it being fictional could have fallen to few ears, a case of a small audience from the previous show affecting it too.

Let’s also put this into context, at the time a German Invasion was a possibility, rumblings of the inevitable war were a reality and was it so hard to imagine those who were affected and lured in part way through might have thought it was something to do with that?

Hadley Cantril calculated a 6 million strong audience, but it was then 1.7 million later on and yet this calculation seems flawed. He had doubled the usual audience and had tried to work on the idea not ever listener had a phone too. He summarised many reactions into panicked and yet quite a number had thought it was more of a prank than a reality.

No admissions for shock were made at Newark Hospital at that time, and there were no spikes in admission at New York either. Washington Post claimed a man died from a heart attack but the claim was not verified and Snopes also places this as mostly false.

So here is my summary – firstly its put Grovers Mill on the map for tourists like me who enjoy a bit of quirky history, radio hasn’t been stopped by the papers and vice-versa. I am quite sure we can safely say the average U.S citizen would have noticed laser space blasting Martians at the time and I, for one, love the broadcast. Thank you, H G Wells and Orson Welles, you gave me a great piece of history to look back on (and no I don’t rate the latest War of the Worlds film if you were wondering.)

Refs:

Robert E Bartholomew, Little Green Men, Meowing Nuns and Head-Hunting Panics

Snopes

Wikipedia

Telegraph.co.uk

Google Books

Project Gutenburg

Slate.com

This is one of those cases where I am unsure as to what label to give it, medical curiosity?

Gloria Ramirez was born 11th January 1963, and died 19th February 1994, she was a resident of Riverside, California and and is more often known as the ‘Toxic Lady’.

On the night of her death she was brought into the General Hospital suffering from the effects of advanced cervical cancer. She was confused, suffering greatly and the staff injected her with Valium, Versed and Ativan to sedate her. They realised she was responding badly and tried to defibrillate her, reports said that people saw an oily sheen on her body. A nurse tried to draw blood from her arm and said she could smell ammonia from the tube.

Staff treating her hand began to pass out and by several rumoured accounts the staff were ordered to evacuate. A skeleton staff remained to treat her, but she was eventually pronounced dead from kidney failure that related to the cancer.

An investigation was launched, Osaria and Waller were the detectives assigned to the case and found that those who developed symptoms were generally those who had been within two feet of Ramirez. Women were also more affected than the men for some reason. A theory put forwards is that the staff had suffered some sort of mass hysteria.

Two months after her death her body was released for autopsy and burial. An independent autopsy by the family pathologist stated he could not establish a cause of death, because her heart was missing and her organs had been cross-contaminated. The body was also too badly decomposed for him to make any conclusive decisions.

Gloria Ramirez is buried at the Olivewood Memorial Park, Riverside in an unmarked grave.

 

http://discovermagazine.com/1995/apr/analysisofatoxic493 updating this a little. Here is an article from 1995 on the subject.

I have also removed this from the urban legend category as the event has been proven just the how… well that has not.

 

 

A map of the gas attacks.

Or the Anaesthetic Prowler/Mad Gasser of Roanoke as just a few names for example was given the title when the person/people performed a series of apparent gas attacks in Botetourt County, Virginia during the 1930’s. It was also a re occurrence for Mattoon in Illinois during the mid-40’s. Whether the cases are just mass hysteria or not an explanation for the events remain under debate. The reports ran between December 22, 1933 to February 1934.

The first people to report the gas attacks were Mr and Mrs Bert Kearney, 1408 Marshall Avenue and they said he was a tall, thin man with dark clothes and a tight fitting cap. Another report some weeks later described the gasser as being female dressed up as male. The gasser was said to carry a flit gun (pesticide tool).

The first report was in Haymakertown, Boutourt County, she reported an unusual odour at about 10pmn on 22nd Dec 1933 that made her feel sick, it returned again about half an hour later and they contacted the police. A third attack on the house happened around 1am and the whole house was affected with 8 occupants inside from the family and a guest.

The symptoms they had included headaches, nausea, facial swelling, constriction of the mouth and throat. Alice Huffman (daughter of Cal) stopped breathing and had to be resuscitated. She had several fits afterwards which the doctor attributed to be anxiety attacks, not the affects of the gas.

24th Dec, Cloverdale had a report from the Hall family that after they returned from church and detected a small that made them feel sick and weak. The police found a nail had been pulled from the rear window and that this may well have been where the gas had been injected into the property.

Dec 27th mother and son reported a similar event to thee Huffman and Hall cases. Then a fourth happened Jan 10th and then a second attack that night in Troutville. It is worth noting that several more were reported but police dismissed them as either hoaxes or possibly the effects of anxiety/hysteria.

The second spate was in Mattoon, Illinois and began late August 1944. Raef woke up to find that he was weak and sick, he suffered a fit of vomiting and then went to his wife who he found partially paralysed and unable to leave her bed. A similar report was made by a young mother.

September 1st there was a third report, she thought the smell was due to the flowers at first but changed her mind when she found that she was loosing feeling in her legs. There was no evidence of a prowler. Then her husband reported that he found someone snooping around but could not catch him, he gave a similar description to the original attacks of a tall man in dark clothes with a tight fitting cap.

A cloth was found at a victim’s home and was tested but nothing was found during testing. More reports were coming in and it caused an investigation that included the FBI. The local police also had to stop the locals from forming groups that were on patrol and fear was being raised that someone might discharge a firearm incorrectly and cause more problems. During this time there were more reports from footprints to tears in window screens, all of which appeared to be adding to the hype. By September the police had so many reports that they had to act, they made a statement that the incident was likely a result of public fear and women’s anxiety over the local men on war service. Interestingly enough it did decline after this.

Chief of Police C E Cole determined that there had been no gas attacks, the town had been sick with hysteria not gassing. There was, he felt, more likely an explanation in that the gas may well have been something carried over on the wind from the local industrial factory and that public panic had been more of the problem. In fact many of the symptoms such as nausea and choking, or even temporary paralysis are signs of shock/stress and other psychosomatic ailments.

There was another fear that it was due to Toxic Waste or pollution, it was possible that it was a release of something called Carbon Tetrachloride however the primary company involved in this allegation was Atlas-Imperial and they were adamant that they could not have carried enough of that in the factory to cause such widespread symptoms over the two areas. Also before the time of the gassing they had been certified safe by the State Department of Health.

Some researchers conclude that there is evidence there may have been some attacks by an actual assailant. It’s not clear if Botetourt and Mattoon are connected or that one is a copycat but the two ere nearly a decade apart and only affected the local area.

2003 saw a book by Scott Maruna, a former resident of Mattoon who feels that the attacks were due to a mentally disturbed man call Farley Llewellyn who was a chemistry student isolated from the community as he was believed to be homosexual. This was his notice and says that many of the attacks were within his local area. It was also claimed that the female gasser descriptions (more rare) were the work of his sisters to stop suspicion falling on him.