Mental Health and Insanity

Hardware Diet

March 1934: Forty-year-old Mabel Wolf of Brooklyn showed up at Kings County Hospital complaining of acute stomach pain and a loss of appetite. An x-ray revealed the presence of a large clump of metallic objects in her stomach. In a subsequent hour-long operation, surgeons removed 1,203 pieces of hardware from her stomach. The objects weighed a total of one pound, three ounces. Amazingly, they hadn't done her any serious harm.

Lebanon Evening Report - Mar 21, 1934

The inventory of items removed included:

  • 584 fine upholstery tacks
  • 144 carpet tacks
  • 2 chair tacks
  • 1 roundheaded thumbtack
  • 3 thumbtacks (ordinary)
  • 46 small screws
  • 6 medium screws
  • 80 large screws
  • 1 hook-shaped screw (coat hanger)
  • 30 small bolts
  • 47 larger bolts
  • 3 picture hooks
  • 3 nuts
  • 2 large bent safety pins
  • 1 small safety pin
  • 2 stray pins without heads
  • 1 matted mass of hair containing screws and pins
  • 59 assorted beads
  • 4 pieces of wire
  • 89 pieces of glass (all sizes)
  • 1 piece of teacup handle

Miss Wolf claimed that she had eaten all the objects five years earlier, in a single week, while she had been working at a Manhattan hardware store. (You have to wonder if the store had noticed the loss of inventory.)

When pressed further, Miss Wolf said, "I really don't know what started me on my diet. I guess I was just trying to be funny. Don't ask me any more about it. I only want to get well and go home."

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - Mar 20, 1934

Miss wolf had suffered minor stomach pains for five years as a result of the objects, but she had been able to self-treat the discomfort with patent medicine. She finally went to a doctor when the pain became too intense.

One mystery that the doctors weren't fully able to explain was why the metal objects all clumped together in her stomach. Dr. Edwin H. Fiske speculated that "metallic objects in the stomach take on a kind of magnetism, which attracs the individual objects to one another, so that they cling together in one large ball, as if welded together. Thus the danger of the cuts from pointed nails and pins is lessened."

Evidently Miss Wolf suffered from the eating disorder known as pica, which is a compulsion to eat non-nutritive items such as paper, metal, chalk, mud, etc. I suspect that her strange diet hadn't been confined to a single week. She'd probably been doing it for quite a while.

We've previously posted about a few other people who suffered from this disorder, including the boy who ate the Bible and the Human Ostrich.

If you're interested in the subject of pica and people swallowing weird things, you can find a whole bunch of cases discussed (including Mabel Wolf) in Swallow: Foreign Bodies, Their Ingestion, Inspiration, and the Curious Doctor Who Extracted Them by Mary Cappello.

Posted By: Alex - Fri Dec 30, 2016 - Comments (3)
Category: Food, 1930s, Mental Health and Insanity

The Geography of Madness

The notion of Koro, or supernatural penis theft, is practically a NOTW trademark. I'm pretty sure I first learned about this delusion from Chuck about thirty years ago.

Now we can learn even more, thanks to a new book which covers this exotic madness, plus many others.

From the publisher's site:

"The Geography of Madness is an investigation of 'culture-bound' syndromes, which are far stranger than they sound. Why is it, for example, that some men believe, against all reason, that vandals stole their penises, even though they’re in good physical shape? In The Geography of Madness, acclaimed magazine writer Frank Bures travels around the world to trace culture-bound syndromes to their sources–and in the process, tells a remarkable story about the strange things all of us believe."

Posted By: Paul - Thu Jun 30, 2016 - Comments (4)
Category: Regionalism, Books, Mental Health and Insanity

The Electric Pencil

Sounds pretty much like prime fodder for WU-vies.

"Around the year 1910, a patient at State Lunatic Asylum No. 3 in Nevada, Missouri, who referred to himself as The Electric Pencil, executed 280 drawings in ink, pencil, crayon and colored pencil. These beautiful drawings of animals, people and buildings were executed on both sides of 140 ledger pages, each bearing the name of the hospital in official type across the top, thus dramatizing the interface of the institutional and the creative. The Electric Pencil's drawings were sewn into a handmade album of fabric and leather, which shortly afterwards was lost--for a century."

Posted By: Paul - Tue Mar 29, 2016 - Comments (5)
Category: Cult Figures and Artifacts, Eccentrics, Books, Twentieth Century, Mental Health and Insanity

Keeping Mentally Fit

Is the narrator drunk? Of just folksy?

The lesson learned: look around you and you will probably spot a lunatic.

Posted By: Paul - Fri Sep 18, 2015 - Comments (4)
Category: PSA's, 1950s, Diseases, Mental Health and Insanity

Training For A Darwin Award

There's stupid, there's crazy, then there's THIS guy!

Posted By: patty - Sat Aug 01, 2015 - Comments (4)
Category: Can't Possibly Be True, Mental Health and Insanity, Goofs and Screw-ups, Trains

Creepy 1948 ad for electro-shock therapy

Back in the 1940s, electro-shock therapy (or "electro-tonic therapy") was promoted as a breakthrough treatment for depression. But it never managed to live up to the hype and was eventually mostly replaced by chemical treatments (popping pills). Though, from what I understand, it's still used in certain situations.

If the medical industry was promoting electro-shock therapy today, I imagine they'd show pictures of happy people running through fields and playing with grandchildren. But this 1948 ad (Time - Sep 20, 1948) offered a slightly more realistic and disturbing image.

Note the line: "Brain disclosed for illustration only." Glad they clarified that.

Posted By: Alex - Sat Jul 11, 2015 - Comments (7)
Category: 1940s, Mental Health and Insanity

Montreal Madness of 1892



People acted weird in familiar NOTW fashion even over a century ago, as this Montreal newspaper reveals.

Posted By: Paul - Fri May 01, 2015 - Comments (5)
Category: Emotions, Newspapers, Husbands, Wives, Nineteenth Century, Mental Health and Insanity


France has enacted a law limiting excessively thin models from working until their BMI reaches a minimum level set forth in the law. Fines and even jail time can be leveled against fashion houses and modeling agents trying to use models that are thinner than the law allows. Its about time we quit letting vanity destroy our little girls.

Posted By: patty - Sun Apr 05, 2015 - Comments (13)
Category: Addictions, Eating, Design and Designers, Fashion, Food, Nutrition, Health, Disease, Mental Health and Insanity

Kusama:  Princess of Polka Dots

Creator of the "penis chair," among other objects of art.

Posted By: Paul - Sat Feb 14, 2015 - Comments (0)
Category: Art, Avant Garde, Pop Art, 1960s, Asia, Mental Health and Insanity

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Who We Are
Alex Boese
Alex is the creator and curator of the Museum of Hoaxes. He's also the author of various weird, non-fiction books such as Elephants on Acid.

Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.

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Chuck is the purveyor of News of the Weird, the syndicated column which for decades has set the gold-standard for reporting on oddities and the bizarre.

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