The Mysterious Mad Gasser of Mattoon
Temporary paralysis, tremors, nausea, burning skin…
Was some Axis operative or local lunatic attacking little Mattoon, Illinois, with poison gas?
Towards the end of World War II, the sleepy town of Mattoon came under attack by a madman. Or perhaps it came under attack by many madmen and women, who believed that they were under attack by a madman. Who was the “mad gasser” of Mattoon?
By the end of August the town of Mattoon, Illinois was baking in the heat and people kept their windows open at night to let in the cool night air. In 1944 they kept those windows open only a crack, because many of the men were away, fighting in World War II, and even civilians were instructed to be on the alert. People were told to keep their eyes open for suspicious activity. The entire country was on edge.
And so, when a couple woke up smelling something sweet and feeling strange, they were understandably freaked out. The two people had wildly different symptoms. The husband was up on his feet, vomiting. The wife thought perhaps she’d left the gas on, but when she tried to get up to check, found she couldn’t move. Later the same night, in a nearby house, a child got sick in bed while its mother was too incapacitated to get up and comfort it. A few nights later, another woman smelled a sweet substance and felt herself being slowly paralyzed from the legs upward. She screamed enough that her neighbours heard her and came running.