American Hysteria

American Hysteria

American Hysteria explores how fantastical thinking has shaped our culture – moral panics, urban legends, hoaxes, crazes, fringe beliefs, and national misunderstandings. Poet-turned-podcaster Chelsey Weber-Smith tells the strangest stories from American history and examines the forces that create the reality we share, and sometimes, the reality we don't.

Episodes

July 22, 2024 46 mins
Rod Crawford is the curator of the arachnids and related research collections at Seattle’s Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. His website called Spider Myths debunks the many misconceptions about spiders, and for this episode, he joins me to discuss some of these urban legends and bogus facts. Many of them may surprise you! Check out Rod Crawford's website Spider Myths Become a Patron to support our show and get early a...
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For this Urban Legends Hotline episode, we are dissecting the myth that the average person swallows a certain number of spiders in their sleep by following this false fact's bizarre and mysterious trail on the early internet, looking at other spider-related urban legends, searching for pop culture references to spiders in mouths, as well as old newspaper articles about the alleged dangers of swallowing spiders, and analyzing the su...
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This is an update on the new developments surrounding one of my favorite movies of all time, The Blair Witch Project, paired with our 2019 minisode. When news broke that the film's production company Lionsgate will be reviving the franchise with genre giant Blumhouse, the three original actors took to social media with a serious bone to pick. The Blair Witch Project masqueraded as real found footage of three college students who we...
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For this episode, the hosts of the new podcast Pretendians, Robert Jago and Angel Ellis, explain Indigenous Identity Fraud, the phenomenon of scam artists pretending to be indigenous in order to receive certain kinds of benefits. We talk about the motivations of these Pretendians, how they get away with it, the effects these charlatans have on the indigenous peoples they attempt to emulate, and how these living caricatures overshad...
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Fur and Loathing is a new investigative podcast from Nicky Woolf about an unsolved 2014 chlorine gas attack on the world’s largest Furry convention, an assumed safe place for those who create animal avatars using elaborate costumes. Nicky takes me through the case, shares his experience at a recent convention, discusses misconceptions and urban legends about the Furry community, and explains a dark subculture that lurks in the frin...
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Reporter and Radiolab producer Matthew Kielty and musician Chad Matheny (AKA Emperor X) were both part of a 2014 episode of the 99% Invisible podcast called Ten Thousand Years that asked the same question we did in our Talking to the Future episode: how do we communicate warnings about nuclear waste to humans ten thousand years in the future when language, symbols, and familiar technologies have all fallen away? Matt was a contribu...
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How do we warn people 10,000 years in the future about nuclear waste sites that will remain extremely dangerous for longer than human civilization has existed? When language, symbols, and technologies are lost to time, how can we get our message across? Atomic Priesthoods, Radiation Cats, Forests of Thorns, manufactured folklore, these are just a few of the unorthodox ideas of government-sponsored academics trying to answer this ba...
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May 6, 2024 43 mins
For some context for our upcoming series that we have not yet revealed, we will revisit excerpts from our past episodes: Horror Movies pt. 1, The End of the World, and Alien Abductions pt. 1 and 2. We encourage you to listen to the full episodes! Become a Patron to support our show and get early ad-free episodes and bonus content Or subscribe to American Hysteria on Apple Podcasts Sound design and Production by Riley Swedelius-Sm...
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Amanda Montell is the host of the podcast Sounds Like A Cult as well as the author of the new book The Age of Magical Overthinking: Notes on Modern Irrationality, a collection of personal essays on various cognitive biases, those flawed ways of thinking that were very important for early humans but now cause all kinds of problems in our technologically advanced world. Amanda explains why these cognitive biases originally existed, h...
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Sarah Marshall joins me to chat about how, in 1968, one unsuspecting young woman’s bustline almost caused a stock market bust when thousands of Wall Street employees became obsessed with watching her walk to work. I also tell Sarah about an absurd 20-year-long craze called Girl-Watching that taught "genteel" men the "refined art" of covertly checking out women, as well as the avant-garde artist and feminist responses to the treatme...
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In the late 1950s, an organization known as SINA started a campaign with the mission of clothing naked animals for the sake of decency. Today we will look at this bizarre moral crusade and its leader, whose life you'll have to hear about to believe. Become a Patron to support our show and get early ad-free episodes and bonus content Or subscribe to American Hysteria on Apple Podcasts Find us on Instagram @americanhysteriapodcast L...
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Journalist and author Tom Risen is here to tell me about some of the real conspiracies that the CIA and the FBI were involved in from the 50s to the 70s and how, in 1975, one senator finally took these agencies to task, revealing shocking truths that would be used for decades to make the conspiracy theories we know today seem far more plausible. Tom writes about government surveillance and spy agencies and is the co-author of the b...
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John O'Connor is the author of The Secret History of Bigfoot: Field Notes on a North American Monster, a cross-country adventure and investigation into the lore around Bigfoot as well as the personalities of those who spend their lives chasing this elusive creature. Get John's book here Producer and Editor: Miranda Zickler Associate Producer: Riley Swedelius-Smith Hosted by Chelsey Weber-Smith Go to factormeals.com/americanhyste...
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March 4, 2024 54 mins
For the second part of this Urban Legends Hotline episode, we are continuing to explore various tall tales of ruthless gang initiations from the 1990s onward, as well as looking at the sweeping anti-gang laws of the 80s and 90s that had devastating effects on communities and categorized entire neighborhoods as gang associates, enacting severe punishments based on erroneous assumptions and outright lies. Call for a Ceasefire and He...
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February 26, 2024 61 mins
For this Urban Legends Hotline episode, we are answering a listener message about a story of street gangs initiating wannabes with frightening rituals including driving around with their headlights off and murdering the first good samaritan who gives them a courtesy flash. We'll explore several scares that have flared up due to different versions of this urban legend, as well as real crimes wrongfully blamed on these initiations, a...
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February 19, 2024 37 mins
'Gang Initiations' is the topic of our upcoming series, and this episode will provide extra context using excerpts from three previous episodes—Urban Legends, Drugs, and Dangerous Teens. Become a Patron to support our show and get early ad-free episodes and bonus content Or subscribe to American Hysteria on Apple Podcasts Thank you to our sponsors: Factor’s delicious, ready-to-eat meals make eating better every day easy. Head to ...
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Live at SF Sketchfest, Sarah Marshall tells me about the urban-legendary alligators in the sewers of New York City. But of course, that's only one of the many manholes we open. Make sure you listen to You're Wrong About! Leave us a message on our Urban Legends Hotline Check out our new merch line Folk Devils United Become a Patron to support our show and get early ad-free episodes and bonus content Or subscribe to American Hysteri...
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Today I'm joined by paranormal corespondent Jim Perry of the podcast Euphomet and Sapphire Sandalo of the podcast Stories With Sapphire as well as the TV shows Ghost Town Terror, Paranormal Caught On Camera, and Paranormal Nightshift. We'll discuss what it’s like to work on very different kinds of projects in the supernatural sphere and get a little behind the scenes look at classic reality ghost shows. We’ll talk about the dream o...
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In this episode I tell podcaster Sarah Marshall a truly wild story I uncovered about the first recognized case of Munchausen Syndrome (Factitious Disorder) in the United States. An alleged professional wrestler and American folk anti-hero called the Indiana Cyclone faked symptoms of injury and illness while blowing through hospitals across the country from the 1950s to the 1970s, leaving a bizarre kind of terror in his wake. Catch...
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Pop culture correspondent and major Pro Wrestling fan BJ Colangelo and I discuss the quirky history of this manly soap opera, its changing landscape in terms of gender and sexuality, as well as the complicated psychology of kayfabe, in which staged performances are presented as genuine. Read BJ's Review of The Iron Claw Check out her podcast This Ends at Prom Check out our new merch line Folk Devils United Become a Patron to suppo...
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