Unidentified Exploding Object

06 30 tunguskaToday is the anniversary of what is known as the Tunguska Event. It is named for the Tunguska river in a very remote area of Siberia. On June 30th 1908, it was the site of a massive explosion. The blast destroyed 830 square miles (2,150 sq km) of forest. It is the largest such event in recorded history and, even now, no one can really agree on what caused it. Luckily it was such a sparsely populated area that no fatalities were reported, and hopefully this is because there weren’t any.

Because it happened in such an isolated place, and because Russia was facing a period of extreme political upheaval at the time, no one visited the area to investigate the cause until 1921. There are a few eyewitness reports of the event. This is what a man named Semyon Borisovich Semyonov had to say when he was interviewed in 1930:

“…the sky split in two and fire appeared high and wide over the forest. The split in the sky grew larger, and the entire northern side was covered with fire. At that moment I became so hot that I couldn’t bear it, as if my shirt was on fire; from the northern side, where the fire was, came strong heat. I wanted to tear off my shirt and throw it down, but then the sky shut closed, and a strong thump sounded, and I was thrown a few metres.”

Among those who witnessed the event, a few said they had seen an object in the sky, To some it was a red fiery ball, to others it seemed to be shaped like a tube and was blue or white in colour. Many agreed that it was too bright to look at. Most people just heard it and described a noise like thunder, or like artillery fire, or falling rocks. The tremors were recorded all over the world. For three days afterwards, glowing clouds were seen in the night sky, so bright that it was possible to read a newspaper, all over Northern Europe. The name for clouds that glow in a dark sky is ‘Noctilucent Clouds’, which is lovely. Here is a picture of some…

06 30 noctilucent clouds

The explosion is thought to have been caused either by an exploding meteorite or a comet. Leonid Kulik, the first man to investigate the site, expected to find a huge crater in the middle of the area of devastation, but what he found was a clump of trees that were stripped bare but still standing. For miles around the trees had been knocked down in a direction away from the blast. It seems that what ever caused it had exploded in the air, stripping the trees directly below it, with the force radiating outwards when it hit the ground.

Some mineral samples taken in the area suggest a meteorite, but it is far from conclusive. The lack of any obvious impact sites and the reports of glowing clouds suggest a comet. The glow could have been caused by fragments of dust and ice from the comet in the upper atmosphere catching the sun’s rays. I did find an eyewitness report that claimed a new lake had been formed in the explosion, and that it boiled for two days. But this seems to have been dismissed. However, there is a lake nearby called Lake Cheko which may or may not have been created by a fragment of meteorite. A team of investigators from the University of Bologna believe they have identified a large rock, deep in the lake which may be a piece of the meteorite. They also have evidence from the sediment in the lake that it may be only a hundred years old, but because the area is far from any centre of population, nobody can be certain how long it’s been there.

There are many other explanations on offer. Some suggest that a cloud of natural gas, from under the earth’s crust, may have been forced to the surface and then been ignited by lightening. Others that it was caused by a scientist called Nikola Tesla, who claimed to have invented, and therefore perhaps tested, a weapon that could transmit electricity through the air. Among some of the even crazier theories are a black hole colliding with the earth, an exploding spaceship and a nuclear bomb that somehow travelled back in time and exploded over Siberia. What ever happened, we are incredibly lucky that it did not explode over a major city. St Petersburg, Helsinki, Stockholm and Oslo are all on the same latitude, and could easily have been in the path of a comet, meteorite, spaceship or time-travelling bomb.

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Theatreland

06 29 globeToday, I want to tell you about the Globe Theatre, in Southwark. The theatre where William Shakespeare worked and where his plays were performed. It opened in 1599, I don’t know the exact date, but I do know when it burned down and it was on this day in 1613.

The Globe was built to house an acting company called the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. It was owned, for the most part, by the company’s lead actor, Richard Burbage and his brother Cuthbert. But Shakespeare owned a one eighth share in the project. The actors’ previous home in Shoreditch, north of the City, had been one of the first, and certainly the most successful permanent theatres to be built in England since Roman times. I can tell you where it was: between Alice Daridge’s garden and the Earl of Rutland’s oat barn. Just near the Great Horse Pond, next to the common sewer and a slaughterhouse. Not that this really tells you much about it’s geographical location, but it does give you some idea of what it might have been like. It opened in 1576 and was called, simply, ‘The Theatre’. But they had run into problems. The Theatre had been built by Richard and Cuthbert’s father James Burbage and a man named Mr Brayne who was his brother-in-law. After both men died, there was a huge falling-out over who owned what. Added to this, the Theatre was built on land that was leased from a man called Giles Allen. Allen was a staunch Puritan who wasn’t keen on theatre and, when the lease ran out in 1596, he refused to renew it. What’s more, he claimed that the building now belonged to him too.

The Burbages side-stepped the whole problem on the night of December 28th 1598. Giles Allen was away celebrating Christmas at his country residence and the Burbages, along with a carpenter called Peter Street and a few others, probably including Shakespeare, simply stole the building. They assured onlookers that they were renovating it, but in fact, they carted away all the massive oak beams and stored them in the carpenter’s warehouse over the winter. When the weather improved, they used the beams to build themselves a new theatre across the river at Southwark.

The site of the Globe theatre wasn’t great either. It was prone to flooding, especially at high tide and they had to build a sort of raised bank to protect it. Also, one of the other attractions on offer nearby was bear-baiting. We have an account from a Swiss tourist called Thomas Platter, who visited in 1599. He said that he saw twelve bears and a hundred and twenty mastiffs and it absolutely stank because of all the offal that was fed to the dogs. He also went to see a play. It was Julius Caesar and it may have been the first play performed at the Globe. Thomas tells us that the audience could stand and watch from the courtyard for one penny. For two, you could get a seat in the galleries and for three, you could get a cushion as well and a seat where everyone could see you. He describes the actors as lavishly dressed and explains why this was. Lords and knights, he says, tended to bequeath their best clothes to their servants. But they were much too fancy for a servant to wear, so they sold them and actors bought them.

06 29 globe and bear garden

The theatre, as I said, caught fire in 1613. It was during a performance of Henry VIII. It broke out after the firing of a theatrical cannon. Some of the material fired from the cannon reached the thatched roof of the building where it smouldered unheeded for a while. The fire spread inside the thatch and soon the whole roof was on fire. The entire building was burned to the ground in less two hours. It seems no one was hurt though, which was lucky as the theatre could host up to three thousand spectators and there were only two small doors for everyone to get out. According to an eyewitness the only casualty was a man whose breeches caught fire, but it was quickly put out by someone pouring a bottle of ale over them.

The theatre was quickly rebuilt on the same foundations, but this time, they sensibly built it with a tiled roof. The Globe Theatre was in use, apart from periods of closure due to outbreaks of bubonic plague, until all the theatres were closed by down the Puritans in 1642. It was demolished two or three years later. We have a pretty good idea of what the theatre looked like because we have a beautiful reconstruction of it, only 750 ft from where the original stood. It is the first thatched building to have been allowed in London since the Great Fire of 1666.

06 29 shakespeare's globe

Here Comes Summer

06 28 the magic apple treeToday, I am in a bit of a quandary. The thing that I was going to tell you about did, I’ve since discovered, not happen on this day at all, but on the 25th. Never mind, it’s sometimes easy mistake a 5 for an 8 and if you wanted to know about the Newbury Coat, which was a bet about being able to shear a sheep, spin and weave its wool and make a coat out of it in a single day, you’ll find it here.

Then I wasn’t sure what subject to choose. I could tell you that it is the anniversary of Queen Victoria’s coronation. But the ceremony excluded, for the first time, the bit where the new monarch’s Champion rides into Westminster Hall in full armour during the coronation banquet, which is a pity. I could tell you that it is the birthday of Henry VIII. But that was a shame for quite a lot of people, especially his future wives. Anyway, I’m not generally big on royalty unless they’ve done something spectacularly eccentric. So, here instead is an extract from another ‘on this day’ publication for June 28th. It is “The Everyday Book” published in 1826.

Before you read it, you might like to know that ‘lawn of Cos’ means a very light linen fabric that would be lovely to wear on a hot day, that a water-cart would have sprinkled water in the streets to keep the dust down and that the word ‘tittle-bat’ probably means ‘stickleback’, a sort of fish. Also, you may like to know that ‘Tartarus’ refers to a region of the underworld, far below Hell, where all the really bad people went. Sadly, I can’t help you with the phrase ‘suckers of leather’, it might mean some sort of pump, but they are clearly three words that have changed their meaning significantly over the last two hundred years, and I wouldn’t google them.

So here is part of an essay by the poet Leigh Hunt called ‘a “Now”: Descriptive of a Hot Day’. Even though it describes a world long gone, I think it would remind me of what summer is like, even in the depths of winter.

06 28 samuel palmer sunset

“Now grasshoppers “fry”, as Dryden says. Now cattle stand in water, and ducks are envied. Now boots and shoes and trees by the road side, are thick with dust; and dogs rolling in it, after issuing out of the water, into which they have been thrown to fetch sticks, come scattering horror among the legs of the spectators. Now a fellow who finds he has three miles further to go in a tight pair of shoes, is in a pretty situation. Now rooms with sun upon them become intolerable; and the apothecary’s apprentice, with a bitterness beyond aloes, thinks of the pond he used to bathe in at school. Now men with powdered heads (especially if thick) envy those that are unpowdered, and stop to wipe them uphill, with countenances that seem to expostulate with destiny. Now boys assemble around the village pump with a ladle to it, and delight to make a forbidden splash and get wet through the shoes. Now also they make suckers of leather, and bathe all day long in rivers and ponds, and follow the fish to their cool corners, and say millions of “my eyes” at “tittle-bats”. Now the bee, as he hums along, seems to be talking heavily of the heat. Now doors and brick walls are burning to the hand; and a walled lane, with dust and broken bottles in it, near a brick-field, is a thing not to be thought of. Now a green lane, on the contrary, thick-set with hedge-row elms, and having the noise of a brook “rumbling in pebble-stone,” is one of the pleasantest things in the world. Now youths and damsels walk through hay-fields by chance; “ha’ done then William;” and the overseer in the next field calls out “let thic thear hay thear bide;” and the girls persist, merely to plague “such a frumpish old fellow.”

06 28 samuel palmer. early morning 1825.

Now, in town, gossips talk more than ever to one another, in rooms, in doorways and out of windows, always beginning the conversation with saying that the heat is overpowering. Now blinds are let down and doors thrown open, and flannel waistcoats left off, and cold meat preferred to hot, and wonder expressed why tea continues so refreshing, and people delight to silver lettuces in bowls, and apprentices in doorways with tin canisters that lay several atoms of dust. Now the water-cart, jumbling along the middle of the streets, and jolting the showers out of it’s box of water, really does something. Now boys delight to have a water pipe let out, and set it bubbling away in a tall and frothy volume. Now fruiterers’ shops and dairies look pleasant, and ices are the only things to those who can get them. Now ladies loiter in baths; and people make presents of flowers; and wine is put on ice; and the after-dinner lounger recreates his head with applications of perfumed water out of long-necked bottles. Now, the lounger who cannot resist riding his new horse, feels his boots burn him. Now buckskins are not the lawn of Cos. Now jockeys, walking in greatcoats to lose flesh, curse inwardly. Now five fat people in a stage coach, hate the sixth fat person who is coming in and think he has no right to be so large. Now clerks in offices do nothing but drink soda water and spruce-beer, and read the newspaper. Now the old-clothesman drops his solitary cry more deeply into the areas on the hot and forsaken side of the street; and bakers look vicious; and cooks are aggravated: and the steam of the tavern kitchen catches hold of one like the breath of Tartarus. Now delicate skins are beset with gnats; and boys make their sleeping companion start up, with playing a burning glass on his hand; and blacksmiths are super-carbonated; and cobblers in their stalls almost feel a wish to be transplanted; and butter is too easy to spread; and the dragoons wonder whether the Romans liked their helmets; and old ladies, with their lappets unpinned, walk around in a state of dilapidation; and servant maids are afraid they look vulgarly hot; and the author, who has a plate of strawberries brought him, finds he has come to the end of his writing.”

06 28 leigh huntIncidentally, Leigh Hunt was not big on Royalty either. He was once arrested and tried for saying something extremely uncomplimentary, but also true, about the Prince Regent. He was promised that he would be let off, if he promised not to say anything else rude about the future George IV. He politely declined and spent two years in prison. He bore it well. He had his room papered with rose trellises and the ceiling painted like the sky. He had his books, he had a piano and he had lots of visitors. His friend Charles Lamb said there was: “no other such room, except in a fairy tale.”

I hope it’s sunny where you are. If it isn’t, and you’re still not feeling summery, you could give this a try. I’m off to unpin my lappets and buy some strawberries.

Giant Nap

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Yesterday, I wrote about the Pied Piper legend, a story in which a whole village full of children disappear inside a mountain and are never seen again. Today I have another story about people who vanished into an underground cavern. The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus. In Germany, June 27th is known as ‘Siebenschläfertag’ (Seven Sleepers Day). The weather on this day is meant to determine the weather for the following seven weeks. On this basis of that, I predict a little bit of sun, not very warm and looks as though it might rain in a bit. So no change there.

Siebenschläfer is also the name for an edible dormouse, which is a pretty sleepy animal. ‘Seven sleeper’ is also a term which had been used across Europe to describe a person who sleeps much longer that is considered necessary. The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus slept much longer than either a sleepy human or a hibernating dormouse. They were seven young Christian men who faced persecution from the Emperor Decius. They refused to worship what they saw as false idols and ran away to hide in a cave. In some versions of the story, they were walled up there by the emperor and left to die.

Many years later, their cave was opened again, by a shepherd who was hoping to use it as a shelter for his sheep. Or by a landowner who wanted it for a cattle stall. After he had gone away, the sleepers awoke but thought they had slept only one night. They sent off one of their number to buy bread in the city. Expecting to have to hide from his persecutors, he was surprised to find that the sign of the cross had been placed at the city gate and that there were churches everywhere. When he took out his money to pay for the bread, the baker was also very surprised. The coin he wanted to pay with was so very old that he thought the young man must have found some ancient treasure. It turned out that they had all slept for years and years. In some accounts it is 300 years, in others 208 or 180. The Emperor was now a Christian called Theodosius II and Christianity was now the dominant religion. Everyone was very excited, and crowds of people rushed to visit the cave and its newly woken inhabitants. There was, at that time, a debate about whether the promise of the resurrection could really be true. Here was living proof that God could raise people from the dead. The sleepers emerged from the cave and, after telling their story to the Bishop of Ephesus, they all died immediately whilst praising God. Of course a church was built over the spot, and you can still visit the Grotto of the Seven Sleepers today.

As you’ll gather from the discrepancies, there are many versions of this story and not all of them are Christian. There is a version of it in the Qur’an which is pretty vague about the number of sleepers, perhaps there were seven, but maybe five or three. The men fall asleep as Christian Berbers, but wake in a land that had converted to Islam. They too, convert to the new religion and can then die happy. This story also includes a sleeping dog who guards the cave entrance. In the Islamic version, only Allah knows how long they slept, which is a neat way of side-stepping the discrepancies between the various accounts. The location is not always the same either. Some place the cave in Jordan and there are several contenders in Tunisia. I think my favourite is at Chenini in southern Tunisia. There, if you visit the Mosque of the Seven Sleepers, you will find very large tombs which are about four metres long. The legend there tells us that the men continued to grow whilst they slept and awoke as giants.

Paying the Piper

06 26 pied piper 2Today is Rat Catcher’s Day in Hamelin, Northern Germany. It celebrates not only rat catchers, who do a nasty job and deserve to be recognised, but the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin for which the town is famous. There are actually two dates on which this event is commemorated. The other, July 22nd, was first put forward at the beginning of the seventeenth century. But my gut feeling is that it belongs here, between the wild celebrations of Saint John’s Eve and the legend behind ‘Seven Sleepers Day’ which I will tell you about tomorrow. Not everyone realises that it is not just a fairy tale. There is some truth in it.

According to the earliest sources, on this day in 1284, one hundred and thirty children from the town were led away by a mysterious piper and were never seen again. This is, of course, not a cause for celebration, it’s awful. But it’s a curious tale and its lack of explanation has made it the subject of much speculation. The story tells us that the town was plagued by rats. The piper was employed by the mayor of the town to lure the rats away. He achieved this by charming them with a tune from his pipe and led them all to the river, where they drowned. The mayor then refused to pay the agreed sum and the piper left promising revenge. He returned on June 26th, the feast day of John and Paul and this time he played a different tune. The adults were all in church as he led the children away. Up to three children were left behind to explain what had happened. One was lame and couldn’t keep up, One deaf, who could not hear the tune. The other was blind and could not see where he was going. In one version the children disappear into a mountain, in another they are drowned in the river like the rats.

06 26 pied piper

We know there is some truth in this story because the earliest written records from the town of Hamelin dating from 1384 begin ‘ It is a hundred years since our children left.’ also there was a stained glass window in the church commemorating the event which dates from around 1300. Unfortunately, it was destroyed in 1660 but the above illustration is a drawing of it dating from 1592.

The earliest written accounts do not mention rats at all, this part of the story didn’t appear until the sixteenth century. So what we have is a tale of how the children of the town were lured away by a man in a multi-coloured (pied) costume who played them a strangely irresistible tune. Some think that the children were the victims of a plague and that the piper symbolises death. Others think that the piper was a member of some odd religious sect who lured the children away. It is true that some of the features of the Pied Piper, the trance inducing music and the colourful clothes, reminded me of the people who were thought by some to have been responsible for the dancing plagues that I wrote about a few days ago. A rather uncomfortable theory is that, at a time when everyone was grindingly poor, perhaps unable to provide enough food for all their children, they may have been sold into slavery. Another explanation is that ‘children’ does not necessarily refer to very young people. It may just mean people who were born in the town. Around that time an area of Eastern Europe was being resettled following a war and young people may have been lured there in hope of finding a better life.

The tale of the Pied Piper and the missing children has now been told and retold for well over seven hundred years and has undergone many changes. It is one of the stories collected by the Brothers Grimm and it appears in a poem by Robert Browning. Like many folk tales, it has received the Victorian treatment and been re-purposed as a story with a moral message. It’s hard to know what a child is supposed to take away from this story though. The children of Hamelin are victims and really can’t help what happens to them. It is good to learn that we shouldn’t renege on a promise, but probably if we learn anything from this story it is not to live in a time when the previous generation has taken loads of stuff and then decided not to pay for it. Hmmmm…

Flying the Flag

06 25 rainbow flagThe rainbow flag, also known as the gay pride flag and the LGBT pride flag was flown for the first time on this day 1978, in San Francisco at the Gay Freedom Day Parade. It has now become an internationally recognised symbol for the LGBT community.

The flag was designed by Gilbert Baker. Gilbert had grown up in Kansas where his grandmother owned a clothing store. He was fascinated by fabric and clothing, but no one had ever had the inclination to teach him to sew. He served for two years in the US army and afterwards, in 1972, moved to San Francisco just as the city’s gay community was flowering. The first thing he did was buy a sewing machine because, he said, “it’s 1972 and I have to look like Mick Jagger and David Bowie every single second”. Because he knew how to sew, he was soon making banners for protest marches. When the United States celebrated its bicentennial in 1976, he really noticed what a powerful symbol a flag could be. The Stars and Stripes do not have any words on it at all, yet everyone knows it says ‘America’. Then Harvey Milk, America’s first openly gay politician, asked Gilbert if he would make a flag for the march he was organizing.

Before Gilbert sewed his rainbow flag, the symbol for the gay movement had been the pink triangle. This was a symbol that the Nazis had used to identify prisoners who had been convicted of homosexuality. The idea had been to reclaim the symbol for themselves, but Gilbert saw that it came from a bad place: “a place of murder and holocaust and Hitler, We needed something beautiful, something from us”. Gay communities across the world had often identified themselves by wearing bright colours. Oscar Wilde and his friends had worn green carnations. In Australia, gay men had often identified one another by wearing bright yellow socks. A rainbow suggested diversity, in terms of race, age and gender. Also it reminded him of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, who had also travelled from rural Kansas to a new and colourful world.

Gilbert decided the flag needed a suitable birth place, so he did not make it at home, but at San Francisco’s Gay Community Centre. He gathered a team of thirty volunteers, including a friend called Fairy Argyle who was, he said, “the queen of tie-dye”. They used plain cotton fabric and dyed it all themselves using natural dyes. Two flags were made, each sixty feet long and thirty feet wide, so they needed huge barrels to dye the material. Rinsing the fabric was a bit of a problem and what they really needed to do was take if to a laundromat and use the big machines there. But you really weren’t allowed to put dye in the machines in case it spoiled the next person’s washing. So they waited until really late at night when no one else was there. After they were done, they threw Clorox in the machines to get rid of the dye, and just hoped that the next customer’s underwear wouldn’t all come out pink.

They made two flags, one with eight coloured horizontal stripes and one that was like the Stars and Stripes, but with rainbow stripes instead of the red and white. His friend used her tie-dye skills to make the stars, which were arranged in circles. Each of the colours was assigned a particular significance. Hot pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for art, indigo for harmony and violet for spirit. They also picked the place they unveiled their flag carefully. They chose the United Nations Plaza in downtown San Francisco, because they knew that gay rights were important to people all over the world.

Everyone loved their new flag, loads of people asked him to make one for them. Especially after the shocking assassination of Harvey Milk later that year. When the rainbow flag began to be reproduced commercially, it had to loose its pink stripe, because no one made pink flag material. In 1979, it was modified again and reduced to six colours when the design was split in half and hung on either side of the street for that year’s parade.

In 1994, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, Gilbert produced a rainbow flag that was a mile long. It was carried through New York and afterwards cut up. Parts of it were sent all over the world and they were carried in Gay Pride marches the following year. By 2003, he was able to restore the hot pink colour to the flag, which had now become a commercially available colour. He made another giant flag, one and a quarter miles long, which was again cut up and sent all over the world. Gilbert is incredibly proud to see his flag has become such an important and internationally recognised symbol for the LGBT community. But it hasn’t made him rich, it seems you can’t patent a flag. You can see a little video about the flag which features an interview with him here.

Don’t Stop Me Now

06 24 dancing plague 2Today is, as I mentioned yesterday, the feast day of Saint John the Baptist but, as I’ve already mentioned that, lets have a look what happened on this day in 1374 in Aachen, Germany. There was a sudden outbreak of Saint John’s Dance. A Dancing Plague was not an uncommon occurrence, there are many instances between the seventh and seventeenth centuries and their true cause is not known. The outbreak in Aachen was a pretty serious one. People began to dance hysterically and also to experience hallucinations. More and more people were drawn in and over the ensuing days thousands were involved. They danced until they were exhausted. They danced until and fell to the ground twitching and foaming at the mouth. Then, they got up and danced again. The plague spread to nearby towns and onwards across Europe for the next two years. The victims certainly were not enjoying their dancing. They were in pain. They often screamed for help and begged for mercy. Dancing Plagues were seen as a curse from Saint John or from Saint Vitus, but we can only guess at why they happened.

Several explanations have been put forward for the cause of the outbreaks. Ergot poisoning has been suggested. Ergot is a fungus that grows on wheat which would certainly have caused convulsions and hallucinations, but more commonly limbs were affected resulting in gangrene. You’d think if that had happened as well, someone would have mentioned it. It is also quite possible they occurred because people were under a great deal of psychological distress. Europe had been devastated by the Black Death and, in the area around Aachen there had been a terrible flood that washed away all the soil and would have made growing crops very difficult. Similar conditions preceded another outbreak of the Dancing Plague in Strasbourg in 1518. Some people probably just cracked and went crazy and then others followed suit.

No successful cure was really found. Many thought it was caused by demons and tried exorcism. Oddly, some people thought that music could be the cure. Some musicians were engaged to encourage the dancing in the hope that those afflicted would just become exhausted and stop. Others tried to play music to match the pace of the dance, hoping that if they gradually slowed the tune, they could bring the dance to a halt. In the Strasbourg outbreak, a special stage was constructed in the centre of the town in an effort to contain the dance. It didn’t work. Putting the dancers in such a prominent position only encouraged more to join in. Some attempts were made to remove things that seemed to upset the afflicted and make the dancing worse. For example, they seem to have been especially troubled by the sight of anything red. They also had a particular aversion to pointy shoes.

Although the dancing plague in Aachen is pretty well documented, I’ve found it hard to get to the historical accounts as medieval German isn’t one of my strong subjects but I did find a few fragments suggesting that those who started the dancing were not the townsfolk at all. They are described more like a band of travelling pilgrims of a peculiar dancing sect who wore colourful clothes They sought out holy places to perform their rituals. One chronicler notes that ‘in their songs, they uttered the names of devils never before heard’. Another that ‘many dance manias turned into mass orgies.’ It seems to be the Czechs and Bohemians that were regarded as responsible for the plague as they were considered well known for ‘sexual immorality including annual festivals involving the free partaking of sex.’ So it may have been, for some, just a more attractive proposition than praying in church, especially if you could blame it on a plague.

Incidentally, I found out the dancing plague is not the town of Aachen’s only claim to dancing fame. In October 1959 it possibly opened the first discothèque. That is, a dance hall in which records were played instead of having a live band. So it also may have employed the first DJ, a man named Klaus Quinine who called himself DJ Heinrich. I’d love to be able to say he rolled in from Bohemia with a crate of twelve inch remixes under his arm. But I can’t.