It all started in the small town of Mattoon, Illinois, on August 31, 1944 and lasted a long gruelling two weeks, when Urban Raef awoke in his bed feeling like he was going to throw-up. He struggled to get to the washroom. His wife woke feeling the same. They both had thought they left the gas on in the kitchen and it was leaking into their apartment bedroom. But no!
On September 1, just before midnight, Aline Kearney and her daughter Dorothy awoke feeling sick and paralyzed unable to move when they smelled a strange "sweet, sickening odour." The daughter noticed a man in a dark suit peeking into their bedroom window, a neighbour also saw a man after hearing the women scream for help. Investigators found nothing. The local papers picked up the story.
That was the beginning of the legend of "The Mad Gasser." You could almost say it went viral, in the newspapers at least. Then, other gas attack cases started to surface; a woman reported being attacked by a man in a dark suit, who forced himself through her front door, she noticed an unusual smell about the man, adding fuel to the fire.
The following evening, another woman reported smelling what seemed to be a cheap perfume coming through her windows, enough to make her feel like she couldn't move. A child somewhere else in the sleepy town awoke feeling nauseous. After the parents put two and two together, the smell and the gasser, all hell broke loose. People all over town complained about the sickening smell with a new twist, a strange man would always be lurking outside around their bedroom windows.
On September 8, the Herald, a newspaper in a near-by town reported people were being shocked with a jolt of electricity after smelling the noxious fumes. Their throats, mouths and faces became swollen. Within days after publication, the story became a national sensation. The attacks carried on.
Mass hysteria took hold. The smell and the man in a dark suit became synonymous with each other. Any odd smell became a "Mad Gasser" attack, any man in a dark suit walking at night was the "Mad Gasser!" Rumours spread of a Neanderthal (ape-man) type creature was lurking the town, in another story, a lunatic was on the loose. On September the 10th after another two attacks on five people the "Mad Gasser" vanished and was never to be heard from again.
The officials claimed, mass hysteria to be the cause of the attacks and that there never was a "Mad Gasser!" Case dismissed!
So, is the story of the Mad Gasser just another urban legend? A case of mass hysteria, or is it some kind of government cover-up and just passed off as mass hysteria? All I can say is something did happen in those two weeks, in Mattoon. Something strange indeed!
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