Local records show that in 1891 an outbreak of contagious laughter affected several families on the east coast of Newfoundland. Very little information is known about the incident as the local authorities had no idea how to treat the matter. Local doctors were unable to reach the families before the attack was finished and the only surviving account was written by a local clergyman. One person is known to have died.
On the Fourth of August I was called to the Mackay House by Robert Earl Mackay. His Children were unable to stop laughing and he was afraid they had been possessed. I hurried forth only to find the entire household in paroxysms of laughter and unable to tell me why. At first I was moved to chuckle myself, but when I saw the exhaustion of the children, still laughing merrily to themselves and helpless in their mirth, I understood the importance of the situation at once and sent for Doctor Mortimer.
This laughter I learned had been ongoing for several hours and showed no signs of abating. There were lulls and crescendos and in between gasps Millicent Mackay begged me for help. I began to look about the house for some clue as to how I might do so, when I felt an over powering urge to laugh myself. It was like a sudden inspiration that flashed through my mind, and before I understood it, I too was laughing merrily along, happy at first but becoming increasingly concerned by my lack of self control. It were as if I was drunk, though no wine, ale or spirit had passed my lips and as time passed it became increasingly difficult to move. After a while I was left helpless, rolling about on the floor. I laughed for almost the whole night before blessedly I passed out. When I came to, Doctor Mortimer had pulled me away from the house and would let no one near it. I later learned that a small crowd which had gathered about the house were all similarly struck down by the contagious laughter at the same time as I was. People who arrived after this, such as Doctor Mortimer were not affected.
I later learned that the laughter had begun when the Mackay family were seated about their mid day meal. Grace had just been said when the children saw a pale figure peering through a window. Robert Earl Mackay went outside but could find no one. When he returned he found his children giggling uncontrollably and unable to stop not even when threatened with a spanking.
Lambert Fairhurst later told me he too had seen a tall pale ghost like figure, around about the same time as I was in the Mackay House.
The story of the grey ghost took on a life of its own shortly afterwards, but no one else came forward to speak of the apparition and the Mackay children have since told me that the face they saw was not a ghost but probably a vagrant. Four days after the attack, we buried old Mrs Halliday whose heart had burst as she laughed.
The Lublin Incident.
Signals Intercepts from NATO listening posts in Turkey indicated an outbreak of mass psychogenic illness took place in the vicinity of the village of Lublin. Naturally, no information was forthcoming from the Soviet Union, but in 1985 a defected GRU officer, code named 'Highball' reported that the incident had involved a laughter epidemic at the damaged Mayak nuclear processing plant in the Chelyabinsk Oblast (Mayak had been involved in a serious contamination accident in 1957). At the time the CIA had little idea of what was really taking place and began flying U2 spy planes over the area. In 1960 one of these spy planes was shot down leading to the capture of Francis Gary Powers.
According to 'Highball', the Lublin Incident was sporadic in nature and took place over the course of several days. A KGB operation covered up the details, but in 1960 the GRU was tasked with investigating all international incidents of Mass Psychogenic Illness.
The Tanganyika laughter epidemic
The Tanganyika laughter epidemic of 1962 was an outbreak of mass psychogenic illness (MPI) rumored to have occurred in the vicinity of the village of Kashasha on the western coast of Lake Victoria in the modern nation of Tanzania near the border of Kenya.
It is possible that, at the start of the incident, a joke was told in a boarding school, and that this joke triggered a small group of students to start laughing. The laughter perpetuated itself, far transcending its original cause.
The Tanganyika laughter epidemic is often understood as implying that thousands of people were continuously laughing for months. However, since it is physiologically impossible to laugh for much more than a few minutes at a time, the laughter must have made itself known no more than sporadically. The epidemic reportedly consisted of occasional attacks of laughter among groups of people, occurring throughout vicinity of the village of Kashasha at irregular intervals. According to reports, the laughter was incapacitating when it struck.
The school from which the epidemic sprang was shut down; the children and parents transmitted it to the surrounding area. Other schools, Kashasha itself, and another village, comprising thousands of people, were all affected to some degree. Six to eighteen months after it started, the phenomenon died off. The following symptoms were reported on an equally massive scale as the reports of the laughter itself: pain, fainting, respiratory problems, rashes, and attacks of crying.
Reports of the incident
There are only a few reports of this occurrence. These reports have been embellished and misquoted.
In cases of mass psychogenic illness there are often not many reports of the incident.
Due to its nature the incident has been confused with positive humorous or infectious laughter as seen in phenomena like the holy laughter movement. The nature of MPI, however, is quite dissimilar to these euphoric experiences.
The Sturgeon Bay Incident
1st April. 1964.
An outbreak of infectious laughter took place at Cherry Hills, near the town of Sturgeon Bay on the Door Peninsula and lasted for three days.
Two hundred and twelve people were recorded as having been subjected to a mysterious bout of contagious laughter that could not be stopped. Medical authorities declared the incident to be a rare and extremely unusual case of mass psychogenic illness. Federal Authorities took over the investigation when four people were found to have mysteriously disapeared during the incident. All information pertaining to the incident was subsequently classified.
A CIA document partially declassified and released in 1986 revealed that the United States Government had been concerned the incident might be the work of Soviet agents, or possibly a domestic vigilante group, as two of the missing persons had been employees at Moore Electronics, a company which routinely handled government defence contracts. Several experts in toxicology, chemical and biological warfare examined the incident but found nothing of interest. The investigation was terminated 12th June 1955.
On 14th June 1965, Mrs Emma Jane Gillis, the wife of one of the missing men, hired a private detective from Chicago, named Lemmy Rogers to investigate the Sturgeon Bay Incident and find her husband. Rogers conducted numerous interviews over the course of ten days before also suddenly disappearing on 24th June. 1965. Gillis reported Lemmy Rogers's disappearance to the local Sheriff's office.
Due to the previous interest by Federal Authorities of the Sturgeon Bay Incident and suspecting foul play, the Federal Bureau of Investigation sent a team of investigators to Sturgeon Bay to help find the missing man. After nine weeks of extensive searching, no body nor trace of Lemmy Rogers was found and the investigation ended blindly. The case remained active until 1972 but no further investigations took place. A court of inquiry declared Lemmy Rogers to be missing presumed dead on 12th October. 1973.