Betty Parris is stricken with “fits.” An unseen spectre pinches her. She dives and cowers under tables; she screams blasphemies. She convulses, and her body contorts into grotesque poses. Soon six of her friends exhibit the same peculiar symptoms. Townspeople fast and pray to rid Salem of the Devil’s influence. Then the girls identify their tormentors: three witches. A witch hunt ensues. The residents of Salem hang nineteen of their own and crush Giles Corey to death with heavy stones.
First, the animals begin acting strange. Then people all over Winslow are struck with nausea and vomiting, fever and chills. Food poisoning is suspected. Soon symptoms intensify, and speculation gives way to hysteria when people realize that the sick are losing their minds. Incredible tales of ghosts, witches, forest monsters and the town bogeyman are traded in whispered tones. In the end, no one outside of Winslow ever knows what really happened those hot days in July.
Frau Troffea begins dancing in the street. Her husband demands that she cease, yet she dances into the night. She continues to dance the next day, and the next. Frau Troffea cannot stop. Onlookers gather. Soon dozens join her—and a plague of compulsive dancing spreads. Within a month 400 people are afflicted with the madness, fervently dancing day and night. The Dancing Plague continues well into September, with several dancers dying each day from "hot blood," exhaustion or heart attack.
Several hundred people are suddenly besieged with nausea and vivid hallucinations. Some are too weak to leave bed, while others exhibit superhuman strength. Some have beautiful religious experiences, others, hellish visions of the apocalypse. A war veteran believes his dead comrades surround him, and converses with the ghost soldiers day and night. Another man claims, "It was terrible. I had the sensation of shrinking and shrinking, and the fire and the serpents coiling around my arms.” More than 250 are afflicted, including 50 admitted to asylums and seven who died.
Sister Jeanne des Agnes and sixteen other nuns throw violent fits — screaming obscenities, lifting their habits, contorting their bodies, their faces transforming into grotesques. The nuns tell of vivid nightmares where Father Grandier sends demons to possess them while he performs vulgar acts. Though subjected to jail and severe torture, Grandier maintains his innocence. In court, the prosecution produces a Devil's pact signed in blood by Grandier and numerous demons. Found guilty of inciting demonic possession, Father Grandier is burned alive at the stake.
Cats begin to "dance." Crows fall from the sky. Fish float dead on the sea. Soon people exhibit odd behavior: loss of coordination, shouting uncontrollably. When victims start to go mad, panic and confusion sweep through town. The sick are ostracized for fear of contagion. In some cases the affliction progresses slowly; in others the transition from good health to complete deterioration takes mere days. One man loses his senses in four days and is dead within seven weeks. His wife’s degeneration lasts nine long years.
Children taking part in a brass band tournament suddenly collapse. A police officer reports, “It is like a battlefield with bodies everywhere.” Symptoms include dizziness, trembling and numbness. 259 children collapse onto the field. A witness claims, “Some kids were catching their friends as they fell, and then they were falling down themselves. No one could understand what was happening.” Theories abound: insecticides, high-frequency radio waves, food poisoning, the Coxsackie virus, a UFO, or mass hysteria.
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