The incident started on July 16, 1975 in the fourth-grade classroom of the Mary G. Cantor Elementary School in Steeplehaven, Ohio. During a lecture on long division, three girls at the back of the class began causing a disturbance. They were Lea Estes (10), Krystal Simmons (9), and Deirdre Suarez (10), close friends who normally sat together in the back corner of the room.

They had begun laughing in the middle of the lesson, and found themselves unable to stop. Attempts by their teacher to quell the laughter were unsuccessful, even as the girls protested (in what spare breaths they could manage) that they were trying to stop. In fact, the laughter soon spread throughout the classroom, and by the end of the period even the teacher had been consumed with it. By the end of the day 75% of the teachers and staff at Mary G. Cantor were affected, and as the children were bussed home for the night (the principal, unaffected, insisted that the children be returned to their families rather than examined medically) the laughing spread among their families.

By the morning of July 17, half the businesses in Steeplehaven were shut down, their owners helpless with laughter. The city’s public transit system, police force, and fire brigade each collapsed as the mysterious affliction spread and those unaffected found themselves unable to deal with the resulting load. By some estimates, between 66 and 80 percent of Steeplehaven residents were affected at one point or another, and smaller outbreaks had been reported in the surrounding areas.

Eventually, the effects seemed to wear off. Some were affected for as little as two hours, while others suffered continuous spasms of laughter for up to a week; the last patients were not discharged until July 24. The laughing epidemic had claimed the lives of 27 people, mostly children and the elderly, including two of the three initial sufferers. Despite an investigation by the CDC, no infectious agent or toxin was ever officially discovered; the outbreak was eventually dismissed as “mass hysteria” by the government and the press.

However, it’s interesting to note that the blood and tissue samples taken from survivors and postmortem examinations of the dead disappeared from the CDC records and have never been officially accounted for.

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