Victorians Thought Train Rides Were Hazardous to Mental Health
Sensationalist media whipped up the frenzy. An illustrative example occurred in 1865, during a train journey from Carnforth to Liverpool in England. An armed passenger went crazy and attacked windows to get at passengers in other compartments. When the train slowed down and stopped at its next station, the lunatic calmed down. When the train got underway again, he went nuts, only to calm down once more when the train stopped at the next station. The pattern frenzy while the train was in motion, then calming down when it slowed down and stopped, was repeated until the train reached Liverpool.
The day’s newspapers and mental health professionals linked that nutjob’s bouts of madness to train travel. However, rather than reason that he was a mentally disturbed individual, for whom train travel was a trigger, they concluded that train travel caused his mental illness. The belief persisted, well into the twentieth century, that the speed and motion of trains drove people mad. The pattern of flawed analysis that confused causation with correlation repeated itself. Somebody would act crazy or in a socially unacceptable way in a moving train, and the train’s speed or motion would be blamed for causing the craziness.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading
All That is Interesting – The Strange, Surprising History of the Vibrator
Anthony, Dave, and Reynolds, Gareth – The United States of Absurdity: Untold Stories From American History (2017)
Atlas Obscura – The Fat Men’s Clubs That Revelled in Excess
Atlas Obscura – The Victorian Belief That a Train Ride Could Cause Instant Insanity
BBC – The Weird History of Contraception
Best Glam Health and Lifestyle – Gladiator Sweat and Other Surprising Aphrodisiacs of the Ancient World
Carson, Gerald – The Roguish World of Doctor Brinkley (1960)
Cracked – The Exclusive World of 19th-Century Upper-Class ‘Fat Men’s Clubs’
Daily Beast, April 27th, 2012 – ‘Hysteria’ and the Long, Strange History of the Vibrator
Eyewitness to History – The Flagellants Attempt to Repel the Black Death, 1349
Found in Antiquity – The Five Strangest Deaths of the Philosophers
Haviland, David – Why You Should Store Your Farts in a Jar & Other Oddball or Gross Maladies, Afflictions, Remedies, and “Cures” (2010)
History Collection – Strangest Hygiene Practices from the Middle Ages
History Learning Site – Cures For the Black Death
Irish Times, September 12th, 2017 – Fake Smiles and False Teeth: A History of Dental Pain
Journal of Popular Culture, Volume 25, Issue 1, Summer 1991 – Medical Charlatanism: The Goat Gland Wizard of Milford, Kansas
Lee, Alton R. – The Bizarre Careers of John R. Brinkley (2002)
Listverse – 10 Amazing Aphrodisiacs From History
Listverse – 10 Crazy Cures For the Black Death
Medical Daily, October 7th, 2016 – The Use of Poop in Medical Treatments Throughout History
Medievalists – Did People Drink Water in the Middle Ages?
Mental Floss – Early Trains Were Thought to Make Women’s Uteruses Fly Out
Mental Floss – The Fart Jars of 17th-Century Europe
Moorehead, Alan – The White Nile (1960)
Moseley, James – The Mystery of Herbs and Spices: Scandalous, Romantic, and Intimate Biographies of the World’s Most Notorious Ingredients (2006)
NPR – The Forgotten History of Fat Men’s Clubs
Office of NIH History – A Timeline of Pregnancy Testing
Ranker – Were Medieval People Really Drunk on Beer and Wine All the Time?
Slate – What Was the Drink of Choice in Medieval Europe?
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy – Heraclitus
Stuff – The Torturous Path to Finding the Source of the Nile
World History Encyclopedia – Medieval Cures for the Black Death