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Top 10 Unbelievable Cases Of Hypnotism From The Past

by Elizabeth Yetter
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Since the late 1800s, hypnotism has fascinated the general public. People from all over the world either experimented with it or experienced it. In fact, it was a common subject covered in newspapers worldwide on an almost daily basis.

Professional hypnotists would travel the continents and perform astounding acts by hypnotizing entire groups of people to perform silly feats. Doctors experimented with hypnosis and used it to lessen the pain of childbirth while dentists used hypnosis during tooth extractions.

It even reached the criminal classes. People started to come forward claiming that they were hypnotized to do bad things or that robbers had hypnotized them while forcing their way into the victims’ homes.

Many of the stories printed about hypnotism were incredible, but there were quite a few that seemed almost unbelievable.

10 Experimented On His Students

Before you decide to experiment with hypnotism on a large group of people, it is important to realize that not everyone is able to fall under hypnotic suggestion. One Berlin schoolteacher learned this lesson the hard way back in 1912.

The teacher, Boennecker, had the daunting task of educating the children of the “lower working classes.” He considered them loud, rude, and unruly and was apparently at wits’ end with his class.

Having an interest in hypnotism, the teacher decided to use it on his students. When he believed that they were all under his influence, he told his students not to mention the hypnotism to anyone. Then he told them that they must always tell him the truth and be polite.

After he woke his class from the trance, the hypnosis appeared to have worked on a number of students. But there were others who did not go into the hypnotic state. These very aware children went home and immediately told their parents what the teacher had done.

An investigation was launched, and the teacher was arrested. In court, it was determined that the hypnosis was unhealthy for the students and Boennecker was sent to prison for 10 days for his poor judgment.[1]

9 Forget What You Just Ate

Sometimes, hypnosis only works if you give the right hypnotic suggestion, such as in the 1899 case of a woman who suffered from a terrible stomach problem.

The woman, whose name was not revealed, tried almost everything imaginable to keep her food down, but nothing helped to hold it in. While at an Austrian university, doctors decided to try hypnosis on the woman.

At first, they gave her the suggestion that she would eat and that her food would stay in her stomach. After the initial session, she immediately began throwing up her food again. They tried the suggestion several more times, but each session failed.

Finally, a doctor suggested that she should forget about having eaten altogether after she partook of each meal. It worked. The woman would eat her food, and just as quickly, she would forget that she had eaten. The hypnotic suggestion was repeated a few more times, and she was finally able to keep her food down.[2]

8 It Must Have Been A Slow Day

If you worked in medical research and happened to have a very slow day, what would you do? Have a chat with the bacteria inside a petri dish? Well, Mr. Richard De Silva from the Ceylon Medical Research Institute decided to “hypnotize” bacteria back in 1953.

According to his findings, which were presented in the sixth International Micro-Biological Congress, he was able to affect the death rates of bacteria by the powers of verbal suggestion.

Placing bacteria on two plates, he would say over one of the dishes, “No growth, no growth! You are sterile, you are sterile, you are sterile! You are dead, you are dead, you are dead!” Both dishes were then placed into the incubator. At the end of 24 hours, the dish to which he had been unkind had fewer living bacteria than the dish he had ignored.

While science is still investigating how the thoughts of an observer affect behaviors and outcomes in research, speaking to things that could in no way understand the human language was call hypnotism back in the 1950s.[3]

7 Cruelly Made Insane

Ilma Szandor was prone to hysterics, but that certainly was no reason for doctors and “professionals” to treat her as they did.

The young Hungarian woman was extremely sensitive to hypnotic suggestion. When word got out, she quickly became the subject of numerous hypnotic experiments, many of which were said to be absolutely pointless.

For months at a time, she would be hypnotized several times a day by anyone who wanted to test his abilities as a hypnotist. During this time, she was subjected to “painful and distressing suggestions.”[4]

One cruel experiment performed on her involved a pair of scissors. While under hypnosis, she was told that the scissors were red-hot. The experimenter then laid the scissors on her arm, causing her excruciating pain. Even though the scissors were not hot, the incident resulted in burn blisters that took months to heal.

By the time the hypnotists were finished with her, she had become mentally unstable and was deemed insane.

6 How To Get Out Of A Marriage Proposal

Talk about getting cold feet. Martin Case of Milwaukee went to court in 1903 to complain that a certain woman, Miss Ormond, had him under her hypnotic spell.

According to a newspaper report, Case only had loving feelings toward the woman when he was in her presence and her letters had put him under her power of suggestion. He claimed that her eyes were hypnotic, and while he had only wanted to hire her as a housekeeper, he quickly fell under her spell.

What did the woman want?

Marriage. She pressed him for marriage relentlessly. In one incident, she went as far as to turn down the lamp, sit upon his knee, and gaze deeply into his eyes. Case caved in and agreed to marry her. Thereafter, Ormond was determined to hold him to his word. But Case swore he loathed the woman whenever he was out of her reach.

Case wanted to be free of Ormond, but he could not find the will or the courage to do so while in her presence. Instead, he got a lawyer who claimed that “Case’s mind was seriously affected by some strange influence, and he was not responsible for his actions.”[5]

A judge heard the case and granted Case protection.

5 Married While Hypnotized

Men were not the only ones who used the hypnosis excuse to get out of marriage. In 1897, a young woman claimed that a man hypnotized and then married her. The only difference between this woman’s claim and other claims from the past is that she may have been telling the truth.

The man she married, B.M. Main, was a professional hypnotist, palmist, and phrenologist. He had been traveling and made a stop at a town in New York. While there, he stayed at a boarding house that was owned by the older sister of Miss Mary Whitman.[6]

Before anyone had a clue as to what was going on, Main married the young woman even though she was engaged to be married to another man. When her family found out what had happened, they filed charges against the hypnotist and he was arrested the next day.

When questioned, Miss Whitman stated that she had no memory of the wedding or anything that followed it that night. She claimed that she was very much in love with the man she was engaged to and was repulsed by the hypnotist. Her only desire was to be released from the bonds of marriage.

A similar case happened in Brooklyn in 1901. A man went to a seance and married the spiritualist that very same day. He had never met the women prior to the event and believed that she had placed him under hypnosis. He went to court to ask for an annulment and to be rid of her overpowering influence.

4 Skipped The Chloroform

What was truly fascinating about hypnosis in the early 20th century was that the common person took an active interest in it. For example, A.J. Clark was a well borer. One day in 1902, he was involved in an accident that ripped open the back of his hand. He was taken to the hospital, and the doctors whisked him into surgery.

Clark refused the chloroform offered to him. Instead, he asked the doctors how long the procedure would take. They told him they would need an hour to repair his hand. With that, Clark closed his eyes, rubbed his head with his uninjured hand, and fell into a deep sleep.

The doctors began their operation, and Clark had no reaction to the poking, prodding, and cutting. They finished the operation a few minutes before the hour was up. Then the doctors sat around and waited to see if the well borer would wake.

Sure enough, a complete hour later, Clark woke from his hypnotic trance, stretched, and sat up. He said that he had felt and heard nothing during the operation and that he felt perfectly fine after he awoke.[7]

3 Not For Public Television

Would it be wise to hypnotize the public via their television sets? The BBC decided to run a trial test in 1946 and had a hypnotist perform hypnosis in front of the camera. The performance was then played on the closed circuit in the studio.

In the first test, 12 staffers watched the program and five of them “went to sleep.”[8]

Six staffers were used in the second test, and four of these viewers also fell asleep. Two of these guinea pigs were so deep into the hypnosis that the hypnotist himself had to be brought in to wake them.

It was then decided that broadcasting a hypnosis session over public television would be far too dangerous. If any viewers fell into deep hypnosis, it was believed that only the original hypnotist could wake them and that he would have to do it in person.

2 Did The Crime Against Her Will

In the 1900s, there were many instances where criminals said that they were hypnotized and made to do the crime. They claimed that they had no will of their own, that they were placed under the power of an unknown source, or that someone they knew put them into a zombielike state.

For instance, there was a case in Germany in 1923 where a woman, Paula Boden, claimed that she was hypnotized by two men. She and these men then stole seven million marks worth of appliances from the Rontgen Institute.

All three were captured. But when they had to face the judge, Boden claimed that she had no will in the matter. She was examined by doctors who concluded that she must have been hypnotized to commit the crime.

What made the claim even more believable to the court was that the men admitted to having hypnotized other women in the past. But they swore that they had never hypnotized Boden.[9]

The case against her was dismissed, and the two men were sent to prison.

1 Never Hypnotize The Police

It was meant to be entertainment. But the show went horribly wrong when an Australian professor decided to show off his skills and the power of hypnotism in 1924.

First, the professor hypnotized several people from the audience without any problems. Then he spotted a policeman and called the gentleman up onto the stage. The professor placed the officer under his hypnotic suggestion, handed him a stick, and told him it was a gun.

Pointing to the audience, the hypnotist said, “Shoot the audience, and then arrest the people for making a disturbance.”

The hypnotist thought it would be a funny act. But when the policeman realized that the stick was not shooting, he pulled out his real gun. He fired into the crowd, killing three people and wounding others.

People panicked, and it took some effort to pull the policeman out from under hypnosis. When he finally came to, it is said that he “went mad” because of what he had done and the hypnotist was arrested for such a careless act.[10]

Elizabeth, a former Pennsylvania native, recently moved to the beautiful state of Massachusetts where she is currently involved in researching early American history. She writes and travels in her spare time.


Read more bizarre facts about hypnotism on 10 Mesmerizing Facts About Hypnosis and 10 Deadly Cases Of Hypnosis.

fact checked by Jamie Frater