After so many downer-type posts, it’s about time for something not so heavy. There are a lot of so-called historical facts on the web. Some are of the LOL variety, but I was unable to verify most of them. It boiled down to a few to follow in chronological order.
First up, the mystery of the “Dancing Plague” of 1518. A woman in Strasburg, France started it by dancing nonstop on a public street. People joined her gyrations with no let-up for as many as six days, staying in motion, which is supposedly inhuman and impossible, until they dropped. When the illness waned—the inflicted expired of exhaustion and/or heart attacks and strokes—four hundred men and women had died. Seven other cases were recorded during the medieval age in the same region. This incident is well documented and a book was written about it, in which the conclusion of the mystery was mass psychosis brought on by starvation and disease. Maybe. But how can starved, diseased people dance for days nonstop when that kind of exertion is beyond marathoners? Another suggestion said it came from ergot fungus ingestion, which can infest grains, but that’s poisonous. The only medical conclusion I could think of was that it was an early version or variation of St. Vitas Dance, or syndenham chorea, but that usually occurs in female adults, the rheumatic fever version mostly shows up in kids. Who the heck knows what caused it? Maybe they were naughty and St. Vitas rained down on them his dancing curse. Case unsolved. It happens. One medical source suggested a contageous “outbreak of psychogenic illness.” That could happen. Look at our Congress.
There’s also the famed story of storming the Bastille, in which all of seven, yes, seven prisoners were freed. Let’s be real. The Bastille’s ugly reputation came from the ever-popular Richelieu, thug-slash-minister to Loius XIII. The building was actually an armory, hence let’s storm it to get the munitions inside, not the prisoners, but the later scenario makes for a juicier story. Richelieu liked to throw his political and religious enemies in the clink. Aristocratic families with misbehaving sons dumped them in a cell there to cool their high-kicking, red heels. The thing that impressed me most about the Bastille was seeing its key. The memory of it is clear and perfect, in a box on the wall of George Washington’s house on Mt. Vernon.
The last factoid I didn’t fully confirm, because I want it to be true, but did verify that certain parts are documented. On the isle of Crete during WWII, Germans tried to scare off allied forces by shouting out in English that they were going to attack with bayonets and stab the enemy to death. The threat was met with wild and eager cheers from the allied soldiers. Their joy so terrorized the Germans that they retreated. What the Germans didn’t know was they had threatened the famed Maori warriors with their most ardent wish—a glorious victory in hand-to-hand battle. New Zealand’s battalions became known as Knife Men, had petitioned to go to war, and ran around Crete making use of their bayonets. And got lots of medals. A caveat: my family on my mother’s side is all Germanic immigrants, proud and rock-hard stubborn. It’s ingrained. If only the Germans hadn’t been so cocky. Oh the irony.
Next up: Haven’t Decided Yet