The bizarre mystery of "prairie madness"

Originally published at: The bizarre mystery of "prairie madness" | Boing Boing


What I feel this misses is that even in small communities, contemporarily, out in the country it gets mighty quiet. If the sound, and not the isolation of being a lonely pioneer in a strange land, were what causes it we’d still be having cases today in remote rural communities, I would think.


I’d place my money on it being the change in soundscape more than the prairie soundscape specifically. I grew up in quiet to silent environments and had to transition to a megacity (Tokyo). The din of Tokyo disrupted my sleep for a couple months until I could adapt to it. Then when I moved to a more silent environment, I had to adapt again to silence.

The isolation and sheer stress of trying to survive under subsistence agriculture would have been enormous, the change in soundscape would really be the icing on the cake.


Jinx! I owe you a beverage!


I think this is why when I’m out in nature I acclimate to the nothingness of noise, and it’s other human-induced noise that grates on my nerves.


Indigenous folks lived in those lands for centuries without being afflicted by any kind of “madness” due to the soundscape or other qualities. Maybe those white fuckers should have just gone home.


“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.”
― Raymond Chandler, Red Wind: A Collection of Short Stories

(apologies for the “meek little wives” … it was the unfortunate style of the times ~1946)


I do not possess the ability to tune out background noise either. This is why I hate Christmas because every store plays the same goddamn music over and over and over and over. When I worked retail, I honestly felt like I was going absolutely bonkers and had thoughts of puncturing my ear drums with pencils.

I work in a library now.


My wife says I have prairie madness. I can quote dialog from every episode. I own the hard cover Pioneer Girl The Annotated Autobiography. It goes into great detail of her life.

The series and the books don’t even come close to what people went through on the Prarie.


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No one could quite explain what happened the day Beulah went mad…

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I grew up on the outskirts of Wichita, KS and to this day I cannot sleep well when there’s noise going on outside the home. One of my fondest memories is going out into a snowfall at night just to listen to the world muted by the soft falling snow.


I can somewhat relate. Earlier today I got so upset by a cricket loudly chirping away in our kitchen—I literally stomped my feet and yelled, “Give it a FUCKING rest, Cricket!”

(I also think all the construction noise from my neighbor’s backyard is getting to me. :weary:)


I spent a good chunk of my childhood living on the high plains in Colorado. The stories I heard about prairie madness almost always attributed it to the wind (and isolation). There is petty much always wind. To add to that, starting in the late 1800s barbed wire began being used for livestock control. The nonstop sound of the wind ‘singing’ in the wire is something I remember fondly, though I could see that it might grate on some people.
I tried to find a recording on the youtube of this sound, but all I found was the sound of wind in power lines - which is different. So you’ll have to settle for this overly romanticized song that happens to mention ‘The Wind in the Wire’.


I do remember this on my bicycle trek across the southwest. There were some places in rural Texas along I-10 where the only thing you could hear was the pulsing sound of the power lines in the wind. And maybe the occasional coyote.


Sounds like culture shock and loneliness.


I think this is relative to the location. Today it rained on much of North Carolina, the lows are around 75F with a dew point not far behind. Outside is a deafening symphony of crickets and tree frogs, along with your various other summer time wild life. Sure winters can get dead silent, but much of the summer is just as loud at night as it is in the daytime.

As someone from NC I will say the times I’ve visited the Midwest the flatness bothers me. I feel exposed, like I’m being watched. At home there are trees or I suppose buildings most everywhere. Unless you happen to find yourself in a large field (that was cleared and plowed by someone) you rarely can see the horizon East and West. I don’t think I’d like to be on a boat at night either. I do wonder if I’d feel the same feelings in space…maybe it’s just me.


That kind of makes sense to me. Add in noises not getting muffled and it’s basically the nature version of an open office.


I have tent camped in all types of conditions from desert to tree line snow and I have loved it all. But I’m never ever going back to Poudre Canyon and that constant ****ing 24 hours a day wind.

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