Join 3,496 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


The 1951 Pont-Saint-Esprit poisonings
August 24, 2010 9:48 AM   Subscribe

On August 16th 1951 a number of people in the quiet southern French town of Pont St.Esprit began to fall ill. Stomach pains were soon followed by violent and often terrifying hallucinations. Local hospitals were soon overwhelmed and more than thirty people were taken to asylums in nearby towns. It was soon decided that the cause was bread poisoning and the evidence pointed to just one Bakery. The reason, it was believed was 'ergot', a fungal infection found in Rye bread which had often caused mass poisonings in Medieval times. Journalist Hank Albarelli, however, claims that a recently released CIA memo shows that the CIA were in fact testing LSD on the inhabitants of the town.

An interview with Hank Albarelli.

I apologise if the radio programme in the first link is only available in the UK, but hopefully it's more widely available.
posted by dng (56 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
From his webpage, his misspelled articles and the link to his bio says:

"Some of these articles can be found on the World Net Daily, Pravda, Cubanet, Counterpunch, and Crime Magazine websites."

I understand some people write for World Net Daily news, but admitting it as though it improves your credibility?
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 9:56 AM on August 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Surely this.
posted by DU at 9:57 AM on August 24, 2010


I understand some people write for World Net Daily news, but admitting it as though it improves your credibility?

The same goes for Pravda (and probably those other three as well).
posted by daniel_charms at 10:01 AM on August 24, 2010


For that matter, Pravda has had the relevance and journalistic integrity of of the Weekly World News since its purchase by private concerns after the fall of Communism.
posted by griphus at 10:02 AM on August 24, 2010


Ah, so that's why last week all the articles about the CIA's interest in LSD poisoning were perculating 'round the 'net. To prep us for this...
posted by jkaczor at 10:05 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Memo looks fake as all hell. On White House stationery with no classification stamps? Why in god's name would they be so stupid? Plus, no codenames? Proper operational security would require codenames that have nothing to with actual proper names. Seriously, burn all files about a named person and a named place? Laughable.

Can't say anything about the actual event, no idea, could be. But the idea that a bunch of rank amateurs would not have layers of protection for Truman and not use code names is totally unbelievable. The known LSD experiments all had code names, such as MKULTRA. You're not covering anything up with a memo saying destroy all files related to a specific place and person.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:06 AM on August 24, 2010 [8 favorites]


World Net Daily and Counterpunch? Now that's versatility.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:07 AM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Which side of the fence is Cubanet on?
posted by acb at 10:07 AM on August 24, 2010


While Ergot isn't LSD, it is used to make LSD and contains some amount of lysergic acid; I have no background in this, but the effects of "ergot poisoning" may not appear to be much different than someone who was given LSD. While an interesting theory, but I have to agree that:

... [American academic Professor Steven Kaplan says] it would have not have survived the fierce temperatures of the baker's oven - though Albarelli counters that it could have been added to the bread after baking.

Based on the fact that most people had unpleasant experiences, my WAG is that some Jimson Weed seeds or some variant may have gotten mixed in with the bread.
posted by Challahtronix at 10:09 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


World Net Daily and Counterpunch. Someone call David Broder. We may have found the bipartisan he's been searching for.

(Shucks. The CIA never gave me any LSD.)
posted by octobersurprise at 10:10 AM on August 24, 2010


Boingboing of all places, had this several months ago, and it was pretty much torn apart in the comments.
posted by zabuni at 10:12 AM on August 24, 2010


jkaczor: “... all the articles about the CIA's interest in LSD poisoning were perculating 'round the 'net...”

This word, "perculating" – I keep hearing people use it. What does it mean?

Oh. Oh my. But then I don't really understand... but perhaps I shouldn't ask...
posted by koeselitz at 10:14 AM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


The journalist's homepage has a link to "MORE ATICLES".
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:15 AM on August 24, 2010


Ooops - hey thanks koeslitz, I will be more careful in future enuncification ;-)
posted by jkaczor at 10:16 AM on August 24, 2010


If you haven't read The Day of St Anthony's Fire, it's totally worth it. Fuller backs up his explanation and timeline fairly convincingly. To me, it's much more convincing than this possible CIA memo.
posted by atbash at 10:20 AM on August 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Mark Crispin Miller wrote:
"The scenes in [Albarelli's] book are filled with characters deep into intrigue, their identity always in flux, like floating human jello. And yet these people, some, we discover, still in power, have the ability to tear somebody in two like they were a slice of bread. The conclusions of his detective work fit together like sword and scabbard."
Floating human jello that can tear you apart like a slice of bread. Wow, that's a mean trip, man.
posted by octobersurprise at 10:26 AM on August 24, 2010


Perculate is a perfectly cromulent word.
posted by cronholio at 10:27 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


For that matter, Pravda has had the relevance and journalistic integrity of of the Weekly World News since its purchase by private concerns after the fall of Communism.

Only since?
posted by Behemoth at 10:28 AM on August 24, 2010


heh. if you type the number at the bottom of the memo (X73317--53) into google, you get these results. we are through the looking glass here people...
posted by marienbad at 10:29 AM on August 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


And Scully was poisoned by ergot, too!
posted by octobersurprise at 10:34 AM on August 24, 2010


Ugh. Very disappointing that the BBC would publish this so uncritically.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:42 AM on August 24, 2010


I can't wait to follow the online adventures of my favorite FVI agents, Diana Scully and Fix Muelder!
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:45 AM on August 24, 2010


Memo looks fake as all hell.

The jpg image of it has bleedthrough type on it. I can't quite make it out, but maybe if we gave it to CIA forensics...
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:49 AM on August 24, 2010


The Fortean Times has had a couple of pieces on this stuff recently:

Reservoir Drugs: Are the CIA spiking your water supply?

Don't Drink the Water: The CIA were more interested in working with huge quantities of hallucinogens than is widely realised
posted by homunculus at 10:54 AM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


wait...wait! don't discuss this any further until I can go get some tinfoil!
posted by HuronBob at 11:00 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


This seems suspect for a number of reasons, but the most damning is that the symptoms don't sound right: posted by justkevin at 11:10 AM on August 24, 2010 [8 favorites]


jkaczor: “Ooops - hey thanks koeslitz, I will be more careful in future enuncification ;-)”

No, I – erm. Sorry if it sounded like I was being high-handed; I really meant, what did you mean? Does it mean sort of "filter through" or "circulate"? I'm not telling you you're doing it wrong; I just wanted to understand.
posted by koeselitz at 11:14 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Just popping in to note that Andrei Codrescu's great novel, "The Blood Countess," includes a fun description of a town undergoing what sounds like ergot poisoning.
posted by bovious at 11:15 AM on August 24, 2010


That "CIA memo" actually hurts his case more than it helps it, for the reasons that Ironmouth points out above. It's not a smoking gun so much as it's a smoking gun with the "killer's" signature engraved on the barrel.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:19 AM on August 24, 2010


Wiki doesn't mention the Barbara Comyns novel which uses an ergot outbreak to often brilliantly mordant effect: "Who Was Changed, and Who Was Dead."

But Metafilter did in 2005 in a post by OmieWise

Ergotism: The Satan Loosed in Salem? Linda Caporael's 1976 Science article was the first sustained argument that the Salem witch scare was caused by a case of ergot poisoning. Mary Matossian's 1989 book Poisons of the Past: Molds, Epidemics and History makes a more comprehensive argument for the effect that ergot poisoning has had specfically on European history. Barbara Comyns wrote a fabulous 1955 novel called Who Was Changed, and Who Was Dead about a 1927 ergot poisoning outbreak in Manchester, England. Pictures of the dread mold.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 11:20 AM on August 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


I meant 'percolate' - which, I've always 'heard' pronounced as 'perculate'. And percolate does mean "filter through" (think about percolator coffee pots)

(Heh - one of my worst flaws; I have a reasonably broad vocabulary - obtained through reading, however my pronunciation sucks - especially if I've never heard a word in use directly.... I am always making "fox passes"...)
posted by jkaczor at 11:23 AM on August 24, 2010


I really meant, what did you mean? Does it mean sort of "filter through" or "circulate"?

Are you unfamiliar with old fashioned coffee percolators? Water goes in the bottom, a basket is put on the top filled with coffee, the water circulates up a central tube, spills through the grounds, drains back down into the water below... gradually, coffee is made. (It's an entirely different mechanism from drip coffee pots, where all the water passes through the grounds once.)

This action, of repeatedly exposing a large body of something to a substance until that substance has full brewed into the large body... that is how percolating is metaphorically meant in an instance like this.

Or are you being deliberately obtuse based on a misspelling?
posted by hippybear at 11:23 AM on August 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


You'd never guess it. There was a fish in the perculator.
posted by norm at 11:24 AM on August 24, 2010 [8 favorites]


hippybear: “Or are you being deliberately obtuse based on a misspelling?”

No, honestly. I've never used a perco/ulator, and I don't think there's a 'right' spelling; people can spell words however they want. (And the urban dictionary entry I found when I searched was funny.) I wasn't sure if 'perculate' was an alternate spelling of 'percolate' or maybe its own word, either, and not really knowing there was a meaningful connection there, I wondered. Your explanation makes sense to me. Thanks.
posted by koeselitz at 11:37 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sounds like it's time for the perculator.
posted by electroboy at 11:48 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


See you later, percolator.
posted by Floydd at 11:52 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I remember the bread crusts of Paris.
posted by beelzbubba at 12:18 PM on August 24, 2010


I will not refudiate the perculator!asterix


*It may be a mute point, but I could care less.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:28 PM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


For that matter, Pravda has had the relevance and journalistic integrity of of the Weekly World News since its purchase by private concerns after the fall of Communism.

...and prior to that?
posted by schmod at 12:34 PM on August 24, 2010


I've heard that gastrointestinal pain is not a symptom of LSD. I've heard mushrooms can give you weird stomach issues, but this is to be expected because I've heard that it is essentially a poisonous fungus that your kidneys have to work hard to protect you from.

So, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that this is one weird story that the CIA is not behind.

Unless, of course, the CIA was experimenting with some new compound that did have such effects.

I've heard, anyway.
posted by clvrmnky at 12:55 PM on August 24, 2010


Memo looks fake as all hell.

The jpg image of it has bleedthrough type on it. I can't quite make it out, but maybe if we gave it to CIA forensics...


I'm just talking about the content.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:00 PM on August 24, 2010


mute point

My boss says this. It drives me craaaaaaaaaaaaazy.
posted by kmz at 1:19 PM on August 24, 2010


I don't think there's a 'right' spelling; people can spell words however they want.

Jehr ne ast lwejndter ayrpt B efre capp ccvx.
posted by splice at 1:34 PM on August 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


mute point
My boss says this. It drives me craaaaaaaaaaaaazy.


Maybe he's just asking you to be quiet?
posted by Hoenikker at 1:43 PM on August 24, 2010


It may be a mute point, but I could care less.

It begs the question, "Why?"
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:56 PM on August 24, 2010


Le pain ... de la MORT!!!

It may be a mute point, but I could care less.

FEWER!
posted by mrgrimm at 2:02 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've never used a perco/ulator, and I don't think there's a 'right' spelling;

Just don't put any fish in it.
posted by Dr Dracator at 2:08 PM on August 24, 2010


A long, long time ago in Atlanta, at the CenterStage music venue, was a lady hawking frozen Margaritas from a machine. However, her accent and her apparent ignorance caused her to pronounce them, "Margueritas."

I can still hear her. Please help.
posted by bovious at 2:15 PM on August 24, 2010


Wait, how do you pronounce "margarita"? I wouldn't be able to tell much difference between the two.
posted by YamwotIam at 5:46 PM on August 24, 2010


You're welcome!
posted by CarlRossi at 7:29 PM on August 24, 2010


This word, "perculating" – I keep hearing people use it. What does it mean?

It's time for the Percolator
posted by delmoi at 7:33 PM on August 24, 2010


I concur this doesn't sound like LSD (of which, to be sure, I have no personal experience). It does not, however, surprise me that the US government would be highly interested in the hallucinogenic effects of mycotoxin, and even assign their top LSD guy to review the case.
posted by dhartung at 7:34 PM on August 24, 2010


I haven't any experience with HUGE doses of LSD, but what I've learned from personal experience (and from taking many many others on their first "voyage") is that it generally causes a huge amount of giggling laughter, a fascination with the undiscovered beauty of the familiar, and a moderate amount of drive toward very low-ambition adventure. And ultimately, deeply honest conversation and a wish that it would fucking end because it's been 10 hours already and dammit we're tired of this.

That would not be what is described in the FPP article. Not at all.
posted by hippybear at 8:51 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, on her it came out "Marg-yer-itas," in a very flat nasal tone. It was awful. How do *I* pronounce it? Properly, but not frequently enough.
posted by bovious at 11:48 AM on August 25, 2010


The secret history of psychedelic psychiatry
posted by homunculus at 2:57 PM on August 31, 2010


It begs the question, "Why?"

Begging the question is one of those misunderstood expressions, like "eksetera".
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:03 AM on September 3, 2010


« Older In addition to being a five term US senator, Barry...  |  This past Saturday evening a w... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments