The Dancing Plague of 1518.

In July of 1518, in full view of her neighbors, Frau Troffea for no apparent reason began to violently dance in the streets of the city of Strasbourg.
There was no music and her face betrayed no expression of joy. She appeared unable to stop herself from her frenzy.
Had this remained an isolated incident, the city elders may have put it down to madness or demonic possession, but soon after Troffea began her dancing, a neighbor joined in.
And then another. By the end of a week more than 30 people were dancing night and day on the streets of the city.
And it didn’t stop there. By the time a month had passed, at least 400 citizens of Strasbourg were swept up in the phenomenon.
Medical and civic authorities were called in once some of the dancers began dying from heart attacks, exhaustion, or strokes.
For some inexplicable reason, these men believed that the cure for the dancing was more dancing, so they erected a wooden stage for the dancers and musicians were called in.
This all sounds like some archaic bit of folklore, but the dancing plague of 1518 is clearly chronicled in medical, civic, and religious notes of the time.
Modern researchers pore over those notes to develop theories as to what caused this bizarre incident.
One of those theories postulates that the dancers were the victims of mass hysteria: instances when more than one person believes they are afflicted by an identical malady — often during times of extreme stress within the affected community.
The Strasbourg incident occurred during a time of rampant famine and malnutrition and subsequent deaths.
But 400 people? A well-known recent incident generally seen as an example of mass hysteria is 1962′s “The Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic” which affected only 95 people.
A second theory is in the realm of agriculture.
The condition called Ergotism occurs when grains of rye are attacked by a specific mold.
Eating the infected rye can lead to seizures, although the movements of Strasbourg’s afflicted looked much more like traditional dancing than seizures of any sort.
A final school of thought states that the dancing was in result of some kind of religious ecstasy caused by veneration of Saint Vitus, the patron saint of epilepsy.
via The Dancing Plague of 1518 – Historic Mysteries.

‘Death By ‘Rouge’ – Mercury Sulfide.

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In the late 1700s one of the many sources of death, at the time, was a nasty little thing with the incongruously pleasant name of “cinnabar.” We’ll show you how fashion trends combined with chemistry to kill people off.
No one puts on make-up for their health. In the 2000s, fashion regimes involve injecting poison into the face. In the early 1900s, make-up would sometimes blind women and occasionally cover them with radium.
In the 1800s, arsenic-based make-up and tonics would shrink down women’s capillaries and, at times, poison them.
It was in the 1700s that people really went to town. The standards of the day were different. Women liked dark lashes and eyebrows, so they’d darken their facial hair with soot.
Other than that, they wore very little eye make-up. They also didn’t go overboard with the lips. It was the skin that they concentrated on. If you’ve ever seen horror movies involving creepy porcelain dolls with chalk-white skin and dark red splotches on their cheeks, you’ve seen the last remnant of the fashion of the 1700s.
Women painted their faces pure white with Venetian ceruse, which was made by mixing lead with vinegar. Because make-up was expensive, and washing wasn’t considered healthy, they wore this lead until it wore off, sometimes for weeks.
(Some ladies at this time also came up with the pre-cursor to botox, an enamel-like coating that stiffened parts of their faces and didn’t allow their skin to wrinkle.)
Then came the pièce de résistance. Red cheeks were considered natural and youthful. A little red was good. More red was better. French court women slathered themselves in it, starting at the corners of their eyes and spreading it to the corners of their mouths. In 1781, French women used two million pots a year.
This rouge had to work well with the white paint, and it had to stick around for a while, so it couldn’t be berry juice. Cosmetics makers put their heads together and came up with a little thing known as cinnabar – a pigment that was sometimes used to decorate paintings or pottery.
We now know it as mercury sulfide. It’s shown to cause neurological disorders, emotional problems, and peeling skin (so once you start using make-up, you need more make-up). Pregnant mice exposed to mercury sulfide gave birth to offspring with incurable neurological disorders.
One celebrated beauty, Maria Gunning, died at twenty-seven due to her make-up. Exactly how many other women (or men, who also painted themselves) died due to mercury or lead poisoning, and how many families were affected, we can’t tell.
Because these products were most used by the rich and powerful, it’s possible that history could be different if people at that time had decided they liked darker skin and eye-shadow.
via One Of The Hazards Of The 1700s Was Death By Rouge.

Another Dental Instrument of Torture, 1939.

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Don’t you hate it when you go to the dentist and he asks you a question.
But you can’t answer because one of his tools is deep in your mouth.
Above we can see a 1939 dental tool come torture device called a “gnathograph”, and it’s designed to measure how your teeth are set so a dentist can fit a crown, straighten a rogue tooth and so on.
Thankfully, dentistry has moved on from such primitive tools, or has it?
Source: 20 Hellish Nightmares That Used To Be Everyday Life | Cracked.com

Rabies, the Bestial Virus.

A canine suspected of being rabid that had been exhibiting symptoms of rabies, including restlessness and overall uncharacteristic aggressive behavior.
Rabies is one of mankind’s long-feared diseases. And rightfully so: for centuries, a bite from a crazed, slavering animal was almost always a guarantee of a slow warping of the mind and a pained, gruesome demise. A death sentence.
I just recently finished reading about our long and tragic relationship with rabies in Rabid: A Cultural History Of The World’s Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy, easily one of the finest non-fiction narratives on infectious diseases.
The husband-and-wife duo have synergistically joined forces as a journalist and public health veterinarian to write a witty and thorough telling of the history and cultural mythology of the virus and the animals that it infects, us included.
The book charts the earliest mentions of rabies treatment in ancient Greek and medieval Islamic medicine, and follows its manifestations in folklore, literature and cinema, and to its eventual taming in the development of Pasteur’s hard-won vaccine.
It’s a delightful read spanning the stories of Odysseus and American frontiersmen, of the Brontë sisters and Stephen King, and of Christian saints and vampire.
PHIL_2539_loresA hospitalized man is shown in restraints as he suffers from the final stages of the rabies infection, 1959. Image: CDC
Upon finishing the book, I felt that there appeared to be no aspect of our culture that this virus hasn’t played a role in infecting and transfiguring.
But the most intriguing aspect of the book is its brief sojourn into the development of some of our most historically endurable monsters: vampires, werewolves and zombies. The authors write,
Between the fifteenth and the eighteenth centuries, Europe gestated two enduring legends whose part-human, part-animal villains bite their victims, thereby passing along their own degraded conditions.
Rabies is a scourge as old as human civilization, and the terror of its manifestation is a fundamental human fear, because it challenges the boundary of humanity itself.
That is, it troubles the line where man ends and animal begins – for the rabid bite is the visible symbol of the animal infecting the human, of an illness in a creature metamorphosing demonstrably into that same illness in a person.
Read more via The Bestial Virus: The Infectious Origins of Werewolves, Zombies & Vampires – Body Horrors | DiscoverMagazine.com.

The Deadly Flu Virus of 1918.

The influenza pandemic of 1918 killed well over 50 million people around the world.

The image above shows people playing baseball while wearing masks.
The crowd wear masks as well. And that reflects the most terrifying and devastating aspect of the 1918 pandemic in a way the other pictures don’t:
It killed anyone. Young, healthy adults—of the sort that play baseball—normally rarely care about the flu, but the 1918 outbreak was different. It killed anyone, and we still don’t really know why.
The photo also represents a sad futility when you learn that the masks didn’t protect people.
While cotton gauze may stop bacteria, viruses are much smaller. Yet pictures record large groups wearing them, from police in Seattle, to paperboys in Canada, to soldiers in France, right down to the general public.
Not one of them was protected in any way from one of the deadliest events in human history.
Read on via 10 Poignant Photographs From Humanity’s Lowest Moments – Listverse.

Pleasure and Pain from Coffee.

balzac163 years after his death, Honoré de Balzac remains an extremely modern-sounding wag.
Were he alive today, he’d no doubt be pounding out his provocative observations in a coffice, a café whose free wifi, lenient staff, and abundant electrical outlets make it a magnet for writers.
One has a hunch Starbucks would not suffice…
Judging by his humorous essay, “The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee,” Balzac would seek out a place that stays open past midnight, and the strongest, most arcane brewing methods.
The Bucket of Black Snakes was his Green Fairy. He was that most cunning of addicts, sometimes imbibing up to 50 cups of coffee a day, carefully husbanding his binges, knowing just when to pull back from the edge in order to prolong his vice.
Coffee — he called it a “great power in [his] life” — made possible a grueling writing schedule that had him going to bed at six, rising at 1am to work until eight in the morning, then grabbing forty winks before putting in another seven hours.
It takes more than a couple of cappuccinos to maintain that kind of pace.
Whenever a reasonable human dose failed to stimulate, Balzac would begin eating coffee powder on an empty stomach, a “horrible, rather brutal method” that he recommended “only to men of excessive vigor, men with thick black hair and skin covered with liver spots, men with big square hands and legs shaped like bowling pins.”
Apparently it got the job done. He cranked out eighty-five novels in twenty years and died at 51.
The cause? Too much work and caffeine, they like to say.
Other speculated causes of death include hypertension, atherosclerosis, and even syphilis.
via Honoré de Balzac Writes About “The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee,” and His Epic Coffee Addiction | Open Culture.