The Mystery of the Dancing Plague of 1518

There are many unsolved mysteries that exist across the globe, some of which strike fear into the heart of the masses, but not all mysteries are scary. Some of them are just downright bizarre and baffling, making us stop and wonder what was actually going on. The Dancing Plague of 1518 is one of those mysteries, which has puzzled historians and physicians everywhere since that fateful year.

The story is told that it all began with one woman, named Frau Troffea, in a small village in France close to the border of Germany. According to all historical records, she simply walked out into the streets of Strasbourg one day in mid-July and began to dance without the accompaniment of any kind. She was the only one, but not for long. After only a couple days Madame Troffea was joined by other dancers, and in a week’s time, over a hundred other members of the community were dancing with her!

This might seem like an odd but silly thing for people to do, but what truly makes it a mystery is that all of these people were dancing against their will. By the end of August, over 400 people had joined in the involuntary dance party in the streets. Local authorities were unwittingly making things worse by encouraging the dancing, thinking that the only way to cure the dancers was to dance out the “hot blood” they thought to suffer from.

When people started dying from exhaustion and weak hearts, those same authorities started rethinking their decision, and eventually decided that they were cursed by a locally revered saint, Saint Vitus, who was reputed to cast dancing curses. The afflicted citizens were loaded up onto wagons and sent up to a temple in the mountains to be “healed.”

There are several other noted occasions of “dancing plague” that happened in previous centuries, but none were as large or as well documented as the Strasbourg plage, which was also the last one to strike in Europe. Extensive research has been done on what started and perpetuated this bizarre event in history, but nobody can actually pin down what really happened despite excellent records from various sources.

Was it ergot poisoning from rye bread sold at the community bakery? Mass hysteria due to the psychological stress of poverty, illness, and natural disasters that was pandemic in the country at the time? Religious trance states that roped in the susceptible minds of those who were particularly devout? Most experts are on board with mass hysteria and religious trances, but nobody will ever really be able to say with 100% certainty.

You can look over the evidence and try to solve the mystery yourself, but if you are really in the mood for a mystery, look no further! Come join The Murder Mystery Company for an evening of mystery, intrigue, and murder, and solve a Clue-style mystery with our mystery experts near a crime scene near you!

Famous Mystery Writers and Their Characters: The Rampo Edition

Hello again, welcome to the third installment of Famous Mystery Writers! Today we are going to take a peek into the world of a mystery writer and his characters from a completely different part of the world. Tarō Hirai, better known by the pseudonym Edogawa Rampo, hailed from Japan, and his literature was heavily influenced by Poe and Doyle, who are featured in my previous Famous Mystery Writers selections.

He studied economics at Waseda university, and graduated in 1916. Rampo took up a number of odd jobs to make ends meet, until he was finally published in 1923. This first piece was in Shin Seinen, a popular magazine written largely for an adolescent audience. He was the first Japanese author to feature in this magazine with a detective story. Rampo was not the first Japanese mystery writer, being precedented by authors such as Ruikō Kuroiwa, Kidō Okamoto, Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, Haruo Satō, and Kaita Murayama. He was however, the first to gain major mainstream popularity with his attention to detail, and mystery solving methods that were very close to the current Japanese culture.

Rampos character, Kogoro Akechi, is definitely Rampos interpretation of a Japanese Sherlock, while still maintaining his own set of eccentricities and genius. For example, unlike Sherlock, Akechi has a wife, and an adopted son who helps him solve crimes. He also dresses fastidiously, where Sherlock has a tendency to be a bit slovenly, especially in his home.

Then again, echoing Sherlock’s penchant for smoking a pipe, Akechi smokes Egyptian cigarettes while brooding over a case. Like Sherlock’s Moriarty, he also has a nemesis- The Fiend with Twenty Faces, which he comes up against several times in several different novels. Also similar to Sherlock who sticks to London for his cases, Akechi spends most of his time in his home city of Tokyo, and utilizes the Boy Detective Club, a knockoff of Rampo’s the ‘Baker Street Irregulars’.

Thanks for reading another edition of Famous Mystery Writers and Their Characters! The Murder Mystery Company loves a good detective, and we’re always on the prowl for new characters to write about! Leave a comment below and let us know who you want to read about next!

If you love case cracking, and you want to solve a mystery of your own, check out one of our public shows, or set up a night of mystery at your own private event, and don’t forget your detective hat!