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Strange Electric People

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Strange Electric People


In 1846, when Angelique Cottin of La Perriere, France, was 14, practical control of electricity was still some 30 years in the future. Thus the sudden appearance of what seemed to be uncontrolled electrical energy in the girl was both mystifying and terrifying. For 10 weeks in all, Cottin appeared to be "charged" her touch sent heavy furniture flying across the room, those around her could not grasp any object she held, and in her presence, compasses danced madly. Sometimes the young girl's powerful seizures brought her to the edge of convulsion, and she often ran away at the first indication of an attack.


Cottin, whose case was reported by French physicist Francois Arago, was one of a handful of historical figures known as electric people, victims of something called "high-voltage syndrome," a condition that may be related to the alleged psychokinetic powers of certain subjects now being studied in the United States, the Soviet Union and other countries..


Joni Michell and Robert J. M. Rickard collected a number of such cases for their book "Phenomena." One concerned Jennie Morgan of Sedalia, Missouri. Sparks allegedly flew from the girl to objects nearby; a hand-shake with this late-19th-century teenager was reportedly enough to cause, in certain cases, unconsciousness. The authors also mentioned the case of Caroline Clare of Canada, reported by the Ontario Medical Association. According to their investigation, her affliction included acute magnetization of her body-knives and forks clung to her skin. Louis Hamburger, whose case was studied by the Maryland College of Pharmacy, suffered similarly from magnetization, while whenever Frank McKinstry of Joplin, Missouri, was so careless as to stop in his tracks while "charged," so the story went, his feet would stick to the earth, and strangers had to pry them loose before he could move again.


It has long been known, of course, that humans do generate electricity. Tiny electrical charges help move signals from one cell to the next in the brain, and the electroencephalograph, which measures electrical impulses, is common tool for measuring various kinds of activity in the brain. Massive electric shocks to the brain, in the form of electroshock therapy, are still used as treatment in certain cases involving severe mental depression, although the technique is not as yet fully understood . Near-fatal accidental doses of electric shock, as well, have produced some remarkably beneficial effects. In 1906, for example, French astronomer Camille Flammarion reported on a paralyzed man who, after being stuck by lightning, "gradually and permanently recovered the use of his limbs. A weakness of the right eye also disappeared, and the invalid could write without spectacles. On the other hand, he became deaf." In another of Flammarion's cases, a woman who had been paralyzed for 38 years "recovered the use of her legs after a stroke of lightning.



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