For the next few days of posts I will be diving into the underbelly of the Fortean to find some really quirky creatures that have always fascinated me. First up tonight will be the Mad Gasser of Mattoon. A classic case of media induced mass hysteria or an actual Fortean creature? You be the judge.
On the night of August 31, 1944 a Mattoon, Illinois man woke up feeling quite ill and went to the restroom to throw up. He came back into his bedroom and asked his wife if she had left the gas on. She replied that she hadn't, and upon trying to move found herself unable to move.
September 1st of that same year Mrs. Bert Kearney was awakened by a sickly, sweet odor in her bedroom. When the smell began to increase, Mrs. Kearney found that she was becoming more and more paralyzed. Her husband was on his way home around and hour or so later, as he pulled onto their street, he saw a strange man at the window. He would later describe him as a tall man wearing a dark clothing with a tight cap on his head. Mr. Kearney gave chase but the man escaped.
After this, many people from around the town reported to the police that they were also suffering from strange odors that would come into their bedrooms that was accompanied by paralysis from anywhere up to ninety minutes. The town soon turned to a full panic mode, many of the town's residents were angry that the police seemed unable (or unwilling) to deal with the 'Gasser'. Of course by this point, most of the police force was convinced (by the lack of substantial evidence) that the residents were suffering from mass hysteria rather than from the attacks of a Phantom Gasser.
One final visit from the Gasser would occur on the evening of September the 13th. A witness reported seeing a women that was dressed in man's clothing, spray gas through her bedroom window. The next morning the lady and her son found a pair of high-heeled shoe prints outside of the window. All in all its a very strange story and I suggest that if you are interested in learning more you should pick up Jerome Clark's Unexplained!, which is where I first read about the story.
Hysteria or an actual attack? Personally I don't really know what to make of this story. On the surface it makes for a really cool, albeit bizarre, tale from the annals of the Fortean. It's possible, like my dad always used to say, that there is a kernel of truth at the heart of every myth. So maybe some burglar had really bad cologne on. Or some bizarre creature from the Nth dimension came to attack the residents of a small town in Illinois. Who knows? Your thoughts?