Known simply as “the Hum” to Kokomo residents, this phenomena has plagued the “City of Firsts” since 1999, when reports of an endless, barely-audible monotonous Hum began trickling in. And not just in Kokomo.
Hundreds of cities across the country began reporting a similar rumble, described by sufferers as a large engine idling in the distance, or the rush of an underground river, or the inner ear’s drone when covering one’s ears (the flesh of your hands filters out high-pitched ambient noise, leaving only low-pitched sound).
The variety of similes used to describe the Hum aside, sufferers all agreed it was persistent and low-pitched (around 20 Hz). Quiet, but audible enough to cause discomfort, headaches, and, in some cases, vomiting and migraines. Despite the very visible effects of this phenomena, audiologists have been unable to reach a consensus on the source of the Hum, or if it even exists in the first place.
Maybe Mass Hysteria?
When contacted two decades ago, researchers considered mass hysteria the most likely cause of the Kokomo Hum. Mass hysteria is common, well-documented, and, most of all, very contagious. During the Dancing Plague of 1518, 400 people uncontrollably danced for a days at a stretch and by the time the incident ended months later, dozens of people had died from malnutrition, exhaustion, and cardiac trauma. From dancing.
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In the mid-1940s, the Mad Gasser of Mattoon (Illinois) hysteria caused citizens to become violently ill after choking on imagined odors in their homes. Conducting an exhaustive search, Mattoon police found no trace of a “Mad Gasser” and dismissed it as mass hysteria.
Probably the most infamous case of hysteria for Hoosiers was the 1978 tragedy at Jonestown, in which a drug-addled and delusion Jim Jones brainwashed nearly a thousand followers, including many from the Indianapolis area, and coerced them into committing mass suicide. It was the largest loss of American civilian lives until 9/11 in 2001.
The Kokomo Hum, however, cannot be so easily dismissed, because possible causes and the effects of infrasound (extreme low-frequency) are indisputable. Studies on the physical effects of infrasound—sound waves at or below 20 Hz—on humans have shown effects ranging from feelings of dread or fear to insomnia to gastrointestinal stress to violent nausea. This typically depends on the subject’s hearing acuity; not everyone can hear such a low-frequency noise.
Serious and Disciplined Study
At the forefront of this mystery is Dr. Glen MacPherson, whose hard work and rigid adherence to scientific standards have kept the Hum from falling into the trash bin of pseudoscience. Dr. MacPherson, former lecturer at the University of British Columbia, mathematics educator, ethnographic researcher, and curriculum advisor for UBC’s Robson Campus, is the real deal.