For a short, nightmarish period in August 1951, dozens of residents of Pont-Saint-Espirit suffered from extreme hallucinations, leading to five deaths. A newly-unearthed memo hints that it was a CIA experiment, the BBC reports:
On August 26, 1951, postman Leon Armunier was doing his rounds in Pont-Saint-Esprit when he was suddenly overwhelmed by nausea and wild hallucinations.
“It was terrible. I had the sensation of shrinking and shrinking, and the fire and the serpents coiling around my arms,” he remembers.
Leon, now 87, fell off his bike and was taken to the hospital in Avignon. He was put in a straitjacket but he shared a room with three teenagers who had been chained to their beds to keep them under control.
Over the coming days, dozens of other people in the town fell prey to similar symptoms. Doctors at the time concluded that bread at one of the town’s bakeries had become contaminated by ergot, a poisonous fungus that occurs naturally on rye.