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The Mad Gasser

Tonight's guest, Robert Bartholomew, has written about the case known as "The Mad Gasser," and declared it to be a classic case of mass hysteria. Back in September of 1944, the town of Matoon, Illinois was panicked by reports of a "Mad Gasser" or "Mad Anesthetist." The Gasser was allegedly roaming the community and spraying a peculiar smelling gas through the windows of unsuspecting victims. After the initial police report, dozens of similar reports followed with symptoms that included burning lips, vomiting, nausea, and difficulty walking. But neither the Mad Gasser nor traces of gas or chemical residue were ever found, though the case temporarily grabbed headlines in Time, Newsweek and other publications.

Bartholomew believes that fears related to WWII played on the Matoon citizens, as U.S. troops were just about to invade Germany. "When you place the Mad Gasser case in context, it becomes easy to see why the people of Matoon reacted the way they did- nuclear gas attacks were a very common fear during that time," Bartholomew told the Journal Gazette Times-Courier.

However, the case continues to be debated, and reputable researchers like Loren Colemen have found evidence through interviews that some attacks did occur (which he documented in his book Mysterious America. "Nobody will ever make me believe it was a hoax. I remember the incidents well-and there was definitely more to them than that," Dorothy Dunn, a Matoon resident for 85 years, told the local paper. Care to play detective on this baffling case? This E. Illinois University website allows you to piece together the evidence for yourself.

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