From time to time, just about everybody gets a tune or jingle stuck in his or her head, and simply can’t seem to get it out, humming or mumbling it on and off for hours or maybe days on end. But what about the next level: how about a dance move that one can’t stop? Almost everyone loves a good shimmy, but what happens if the shimmy is so good that you just can’t quit, and end up dancing yourself to death?
That is what the good people of Strasbourg, Alsace, in what is now France, discovered in July of 1518, when their town was struck with a dancing mania, with hundreds of people dancing nonstop, for days on end. By the time the dance fever finally broke, many had literally danced themselves to death, perishing from heart attacks, strokes, or sheer exhaustion.
The Strasbourg dance craze started innocently enough. On an otherwise unremarkable summer morning, a Frau Troffea began dancing in the street. Onlookers clapped, laughed, and cheered her high spirits as she danced. And danced. And danced some more. Troffea danced without rest or respite for six days. Within a week, she had been joined by dozens in her marathon dance, mostly women.
Concerned, authorities consulted local physicians, who opined that the plague was caused by “hot blood”. Convinced that the dancers would recover only if they got it out of their system by dancing continuously, musicians were hired, a wooden stage was erected, and additional dancing space was made by opening up guildhalls and clearing out a marketplace to make more room.
The authorities’ efforts to help the crazed dancers get it out of their system backfired, and simply ended up encouraging even more people to join the mania. Within a month, the number of nonstop dancers had mushroomed into the hundreds, and at the height of the dance fever, fifteen residents were dying each day from exhaustion and heart attacks.
The Strasbourg dance craze was not an isolated incident, and between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries, similar outbreaks with enough frequency for contemporaries to coin a term for the phenomena: Saint Vitus’ Dance, or Saint John’s Dance. There is no modern consensus on the cause, so it is simply categorized as an unusual social phenomenon – a mass public hysteria, or a mass psychogenic illness of unknown provenance.
Lyndon Baines Johnson, (1908 – 1973) might have gone down in history as one of the country’s greatest, if not for Vietnam. He spent decades in Congress, first in the House and then the Senate, whose Majority Leader he became in the 1950s. When fate elevated him from vice president to president following John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, he entered the Oval Office with an unequaled mastery of the legislative process.
He put that mastery to good use, pushing through landmark legislative accomplishments such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Both Medicare and Medicaid were also started during his administration. Had Vietnam not derailed his ambitious “Great Society” program, LBJ would probably rank alongside FDR as one of America’s most transformative presidents. Another thing that might have derailed Johnson’s ambitions was his… Johnson.
21. ‘Have You Ever Seen Something as Big as This?!’
If there was one subject matter that LBJ never got tired of talking about, it was his Johnson. The 36th president was always eager to let those around him know that he had an unusually large penis. LBJ was a competitive womanizer, and whenever people mentioned JFK’s many affairs, he would bang the table and brag that he had more women by accident than Kennedy ever had on purpose. Today, the sheer number of sexual assault allegations LBJ’s conduct invited would probably force a presidential resignation – at least if he was a Democrat or TV president.
From early on, LBJ was notorious for creeping out people, especially in congressional bathrooms. If a colleague entered as he was finishing off at the urinal, he would often swing around, still holding his member, and whirl it around while hooting: “Woo-eee! Have you ever seen something as big as this?!” Johnson would then begin discussing pending legislation, while continuing to brandish and shake his Johnson.
Lyndon Johnson had no humility when it came to his penis, which he called “Jumbo”. In an alpha male ritual of primacy assertion, LBJ obliged aides, both male and female, to take dictation while standing at the door of his office bathroom, while he urinated or defecated.
He also liked to display it – in a manner of speaking – on the House and Senate floors. While conducting his business as a legislator, Johnson was in the habit of extravagantly rummaging away at his crotch. He would frequently reach through his pocket to better position “Jumbo”, so its outline could show beneath his pants.
19. Johnson Never Tired of Talking About His Johnson
Lyndon Johnson never tired of working a penis size boast into conversations, as a clip from the LBJ Tapes, recording a phone call with his tailor illustrates: “Another thing, the crotch, down where your nuts hang – it’s always a little too tight. So when you make them up, gimme an inch that I can let out there, because they cut me“.
He also had a special nozzle installed in his White House bathroom, positioned to shoot water directly at his penis while he showered. He refused to listen to arguments from White House staff that installing the special nozzle would require a great deal of plumbing work, and insisted on having his way. Being POTUS, he of course had his way, telling the staff: “If I can move 10,000 troops in a day, you can certainly fix the bathroom any way I want it“.
Successful Japanese businessman and restaurateur Kichizo Ishida (1894 – 1936) had a reputation as a ladies’ man. Starting off as an apprentice in a restaurant that specialized in eel dishes, he opened a highly successful restaurant when he was 24, the Yoshidaya, in Tokyo’s Nakano neighborhood. By 1936, Ishida seems to have left the management of his other business affairs to his wife, and dedicated himself to womanizing. Early in 1936, he began a torrid love affair with a recently hired employee, Sada Abe. It ended horrifically.
Sada Abe (1905 – 1971) had been Geisha and former prostitute before she started working as an apprentice at Ishida’s restaurant. It did not take long after her hiring for her boss to start making advances, which she eagerly welcomed. The duo became infatuated with each other, spending days engaged in marathon sex sessions at hotels, not pausing even when maids came in to clean the rooms.
Kichizo Ishida was quite pleased with the physical part of his torrid affair with his employee and girlfriend, Sada Abe. Unfortunately, her infatuation with her boss and boyfriend grew into obsession. She started getting jealous whenever Ishida returned to his wife, and began toying with the idea of murdering him as a means of keeping him forever to herself.
She bought a knife and threatened him with it during their next marathon sex session, but Ishida assumed it was role play. Instead of alarming him, the knife turned him on, which threw Sada off. Later during the marathon session, she again steeled herself to kill him, this time attempting to strangle him with a Geisha belt during sex. That only turned him on even more, and he begged her to continue, which again threw her off.
Kichizo Ishida finally fell asleep, at which point Sada Abe, gathering her nerve one more time, went ahead and strangled her dozing lover to death with a Geisha scarf. Then she took out the knife and castrated him, carved her name on his arm, and with his blood wrote “Sada and Kichizo together” on the bed sheets, before fleeing.
Ishida’s body was discovered by a hotel maid the next day. When news of the murder and mutilation broke, and that a “sexually and criminally dangerous woman was on the loose“, Japan was gripped with what became known as “Sada Abe panic”.
15. ‘Ma’am, Why Do You Have a Penis and Testicles in Your Purse?’
Police eventually caught up with and arrested Sada Abe. When they did, they discovered that she was carrying Kichizo Ishida’s genitals in her purse. When questioned why she was running around with her deceased lover’s penis and testicles, Sada replied “Because I couldn’t take his head or body with me. I wanted to take the part of him that brought back to me the most vivid memories”
Sada Abe was tried, convicted, and served five years in prison before she was released. She went on to write an autobiography, and lived until 1971. The Ishida-Abe love affair and its painfully creepy conclusion became a sensation in Japan, embedded in its popular culture and acquiring mythic overtones ever since. The story and variations thereof has been depicted in poetry and prose, both fiction and nonfiction, portrayed in movies and television series, and interpreted over the decades by numerous philosophers and artists.
In 1505, a fourteen-year-old ascended China’s throne as the Zhengde Emperor (1491 – 1521). Unsurprisingly, the teenaged ruler was uninterested in governing. Disregarding state affairs, he abandoned himself instead to an extravagant and profligate lifestyle, marked by lavish spending, bizarre behavior, and poor choices that set the stage for the Ming Dynasty’s downfall.
The teenage emperor entrusted governance to eunuchs, and devoted himself to pleasure seeking. In his defense: how many people would have done better if given absolute power at age fourteen? With governance left entirely in their hands, palace eunuchs became China’s most powerful class. Without checks or oversight, corruption became endemic and public offices were openly bought and sold, while taxes soared to pay for the emperor’s pleasures and to feather the nests of courtiers and officials. The poor governance was bad, but the emperor’s creepiness was worse.
The young Zhengde Emperor took to learning foreign languages and traveling incognito – although most of the time it was obvious just who he was. He was also into make believe in a big way, creating an alter ego for himself, a general Zhu Zhu, upon whom he lavished praise and rewards. He also built a city block within the imperial palace so he could pretend to be a shopkeeper.
Less innocent, and way creepy, was his habit of taking his companions on thrill raids. They would burst into the homes of rich subjects, violently seize and kidnap their daughters, then hold them for ransom. Officials who criticized the emperor’s erratic and irresponsible behavior were arrested, tortured, and executed by the hundreds. Zhengde eventually drowned in 1521 when his pleasure barge capsized, finally bringing his reign to a long hoped for end.
Frances Clara Folsom (1864 – 1947) was born in Buffalo, New York, the only surviving child of Oscar Folsom, a lawyer and close friend of Grover Cleveland. At age 27, the future president met Frances shortly after she was born. Cooing over the newborn, Cleveland took an interest in her while she was still in swaddling clothes. He bought the infant Frances a pram, used to babysit her as “Uncle Cleve”, and doted on her.
Frances’ father was killed in an accident while racing his carriage in 1875, and left no will. So a court-appointed Cleveland to administer his deceased friend’s estate. That brought him in even closer and more frequent contact with Frances. He became her new father figure, and her hero. Unlike Frances’ real father, who had been notoriously careless of both his life and his family, “Uncle Cleve” was dependable, quite attentive, and doting. Eventually, the doting became something else.
Grover Cleveland continued to dote on Frances Folsom as she grew up. Then, at some point, matters progressed from doting to grooming: Cleveland took to sending her flowers, with notes saying “I am waiting for my bride to grow up“. People thought he was kidding, but as things turned out, Cleveland was in deadly earnest.
After he was elected president and while Frances was in college, Cleveland sent her a letter proposing marriage, then sweated her reply like a schoolboy. She agreed, and on June 2nd, 1886, as the Marine Band was conducted by John Philip Sousa, 21-year-old Frances Folsom wed the 49-year-old president in the White House’s Blue Room. To date, it is the only time a president was married in the White House or while in office.
Character actor Albert Dekker (1905 – 1968) had a career that spanned 40 years on stage and the silver screen. During that time, he accumulated a filmography of over 110 credits, winning acclaim for notable performances in films such as East of Eden, The Killers, Dr. Cyclops, Kiss Me Deadly, as well as in his final acting role in Sam Peckinpah’s classic western, The Wild Bunch.
He also won acclaim for being one of the few actors in Hollywood to exhibit enough moral courage during the Red Scare of the early Cold War, to stand up to and denounce the demagogic Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee. That got Dekker blacklisted in Hollywood and derailed his career for years, before the anticommunist hysteria finally waned and he was able to return to acting. Unfortunately, what he is most remembered for is his super creepy death.
In 1968, Albert Dekker completed filming The Wild Bunch, left the set, and seemingly fell off the map. Family and friends grew concerned after days passed with nobody hearing from him. He was a no-show at a date with his fiancee, fashion model Geraldine Saunders. She tried calling, but got no response, so she went to his apartment and pinned a note on a door already covered by notes from friends and acquaintances.
When she returned later that evening and found things still the same, Saunders convinced the building manager to let her in the apartment. Once in, they found the bathroom door chained from the inside, and had to break it open. There, they discovered Dekker hanging dead from a leather belt. Normally, that would be plenty startling and creepy in itself, but in this case, that was just the start of the creepiness.
The scene in Albert Dekker’s apartment was horrific, as well as so bizarre and grotesque that his fiancee collapsed. The building manager was so flummoxed, that it took him quite some time to overcome the shock and gather his wits to call the police. Dekker was naked in the bathtub, with a ball gag in his mouth, a scarf covering his eyes, and his hands cuffed behind his back. In addition to the belt around his neck, there was another around his waist, tied to a rope binding his ankles, which in turn was wrapped around his wrist and clasped in his hand.
Dekker’s nipples were surrounded by sun rays drawn in lipstick, which was also used to draw a vagina on his stomach. A hypodermic needle was sticking out of each arm, and his right butt cheek had two needle punctures, above which the word “whip” was written in lipstick. His body was covered in other words written in lipstick, including “slave”, “cocksucker”, “make me suck”.
Albert Dekker’s death was initially ruled a suicide. However, after S&M toys and porn were found in his apartment, it was changed to accidental autoerotic asphyxiation while masturbating. Despite the coroner’s ruling, foul play was suspected and the death was and remains suspicious. For one, his fiancee knew that he had been keeping $70,000 cash in the apartment to buy a new house.
The money, as well as expensive cameras and filming equipment, were never found. In addition, it seemed incongruous that Dekker could have tied himself in the manner in which he was discovered all on his own. Whether Dekker had acted alone, had a partner or partners who panicked and fled when a sex game went terribly wrong, or was murdered, the mystery remains unsolved to this day.
Japanese Army sergeant Shoichi Yokoi was posted to Guam in 1943. The following year, after the island was captured by US forces, Yokoi went into hiding with nine other Japanese soldiers. They refused to surrender at war’s end. The group gradually dwindled over the years, until Yokoi’s last two remaining companions drowned in a flood in 1964, and he was left as the last Japanese holdout on Guam.
Unlike the majority of holdouts who did not believe that the war was over, Yokoi knew by 1952 that the war had ended with Japan’s surrender. He simply could not bring himself to swallow his pride and return home as a defeated soldier. So he hid in the jungle for 28 years.
It was not only pride that prevented Shoichi Yokoi from surrendering. He also convinced himself that Japan would rise again and attempt to retake Guam. When that happened, he would be ready and in place to assist with the reconquest. Awaiting that day, Yokoi survived in the jungle, spending his days hiding in an elaborate hole in the ground, and emerging at night to hunt lizards and gather snails and tubers.
In January, 1972, two local men came across Yokoi in the jungle. Taking him for a local villager, they were ready to move on, but a paranoid Yokoi assumed they were about to attack him, so he attacked them first. They beat him up and subdued him, then carried him out of the jungle and back to civilization, where his astonishing story finally came out.
When Shoichi Yokoi was asked how he had managed to hide for so long in an island as small as Guam, only two miles from a major American air base, he replied “I was really good at hide and seek“. By the time he finally arrived back in Japan, Yokoi was famous.
Despite 28 years of isolation in a Pacific jungle, his mind was still sharp, and he swiftly parlayed his celebrity into a successful media career, becoming a popular TV personality and an advocate for austere living. He died of a heart attack in 1997, and was buried under a gravestone that had been commissioned by his mother in 1955, when he had been officially declared dead.
3. Creeping on a Dead Wife’s Lookalike Half-Sister
Thomas Jefferson engaged in conduct that would count as clear-cut violent sexual criminality today. The Founding Father and leading member of the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence was a complicated man, to put it mildly. On the one hand, he penned some of the most stirring words in advocating freedom, liberty, and equality.
Jefferson’s phrase in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” has moved and inspired idealists for centuries. On the other hand, Jefferson pursued his happiness in a hilltop plantation, Monticello, leading a life of luxury that was only made possible by the labor of hundreds of chattel slaves. There, he also raped his dead wife’s underage lookalike half sister.
Thomas Jefferson had a creepy relationship with his slave, Sally Hemings (1773 – 1835) – although calling it straightforward rape might be more accurate than a “relationship”. Sally Hemings was a slave, kept in bondage by a brutal system in which violence, including deadly violence, was used to coerce its victims and secure their compliance. She had as much choice in submitting to Jefferson’s sexual demands as does a modern kidnapped victim, who finds herself chained for years in some psycho’s basement.
Even if she had not been a slave, there would still have been something super creepy about the age disparity between Sally Hemings and the famous Founding Father. Thomas Jefferson was 44 years old when he started having sex with Sally. She was thirteen or fourteen. Even if she had been a willing participant, it would be considered statutory rape today: children that are deemed legally incapable of consenting to sex.
Thomas Jefferson’s child concubine was also his dead wife’s sister and lookalike. Sally Hemings was the daughter of a slave woman and John Wayles, Thomas Jefferson’s father-in-law. That made her the biological half-sister of Jefferson’s wife, Martha Wayles Jefferson (1748 – 1782). Sally, who was nine when her half-sister died, bore a striking resemblance to the deceased Martha, and the resemblance only increased as she grew. Jefferson missed his dead wife, so when her lookalike sister was thirteen or fourteen, he began sleeping with raping her.
In short, Thomas Jefferson having sex with Sally Hemings would be an epic scandal if it had happened today, hitting just about every icky button there is. Pedophilia? Check. Incest? Check. Violence, coercion, and rape? Check, check, and check. Adding another layer to it all is that Jefferson fathered six children upon Sally, and kept them as slaves. He eventually got around to freeing his children, but he never freed his concubine: Sally Hemings was still Thomas Jefferson’s slave when he died in 1826.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading