The French Lumberjacks Who Couldn’t Stop Jumping

“Two jumpers standing near each other were told to strike, and they struck each other very forcibly.” —George Miller Beard

In A Nutshell

In 1878, George Miller Beard, a US neurologist, was in the northern part of Maine and observed odd behavior from the French-Canadian lumberjacks who were nearby. They jumped at loud, surprising noises and would obey any order given unexpectedly, without hesitation. To this day, it is still debated whether this is a neurological disorder or whether it is simply a psychological condition.

The Whole Bushel

George Miller Beard was a Yale graduate and best known for defining neurasthenia, a disorder that is basically the fatigue, anxiety, and depression someone feels when their “central nervous system’s energy reserves have been depleted.” (Beard attributed the disorder to civilization; it’s been referred to as “Americanitis.”) In 1878, after hearing about the jumping lumberjacks of Northern Maine, Beard set off to see if there was any truth to the stories. When he arrived, he found every bit of it to be correct.

Sufferers of the disorder, or “jumpers” as Beard called them, had a number of interesting quirks. First, whenever they were startled—usually by loud or unexpected noises—they would jump. In addition, they would occasionally yell, strike others, or exhibit echolalia, a speech disorder in which the sufferer repeats a phrase, even if it’s in another language. They could also be seen suffering from echopraxia, a disorder that involves the imitation of another person’s movements.

But perhaps the strangest quirk to Jumping Frenchmen of Maine (the actual name of the disorder) is that the sufferers are highly suggestible. Beard found they would follow any command given to them as long as it was said quickly and unexpectedly. One man, if someone shouted “Strike!” at him, would slap the nearest person in the face. Others would jump on command or throw whatever they held in their hands. Sadly, but probably not surprising, the men told Beard they got tired out by “jumping” and were constantly harassed by their neighbors. (Beard noticed most of the men were uncommonly shy.)

The biggest component of the disorder, the startle reflex, could be triggered by any sudden noise or movement and, in the case of one man Beard thoroughly studied, even if the trigger was expected, the startle reflex would still occur. (He and the man went to an isolated room and Beard proceeded to lightly kick the man, triggering the startle reflex even if the man was told he was about to be kicked.) This disorder is also said to be a part of a larger group of disorders of unknown origin, similar to a Siberian condition known as miryachit, in which sufferers exhibit many of the same symptoms. Even today, there is much debate on the specifics of the disorder, including whether or not it is an actual neurological disorder or, to put it bluntly, if it is all in their heads.

Show Me The Proof


A Cursing Brain? The Histories of Tourette Syndrome
The Jumping Frenchmen of Maine is history’s most startling mental disorder

  • patrick weidinger

    Startling.

  • The Deuce

    While reading the article I was thinking of the similarities to Tourette Syndrome. After checking the sources, apparently so was Tourette.

  • Chester

    Being from Canada and having to deal with Frenchies on a regular basis i can solve this problem pretty easily…My Diagnosis…Their French… French people are weird its just how they are. They smell funny, talk funny stuff that would amuse a child or dog amuses them (jerry lewis) and they walk around with a sense of arrogance thats unimaginable, like you owe them something.

    • iamtherealgumby

      Identify yourself, Troll or Retard?

      • Chester

        Neither just a real Canadian tired of arrogant smelly Frenchies.

        • iamtherealgumby

          Oh! I see, a retard.

          • Chester

            nah just a real Canadian tired of arrogant smelly Frenchies. Im assuming you live in Queblech or are French so you wont understand, your arrogance and ignorance will not allow you to fathom a world with deodorant and hard working people.

          • iamtherealgumby

            Nope, don’t live in Quebec. I’m Canadian and I’ve never been within earshot of anyone dumbass stupid enough to actually say something like that, without the internet people like you don’t exist… so wipe those Cheetos stains off your fingers Retard and do exactly as I say.

            Reply.

          • Chester

            I dont eat no Cheetos and i tell Frenchies all the time to 1.Speak English your language is archaic and dead, 2. Stop taking my tax dollars you mooches 3. Stop crying about separating every time your bribe check is 2 minuets late 4. Use some bloody deodorant 5. Your shit stinks stop walking around like it dont. Just cause frenchies dont piss you off doesnt mean they dont piss everyone else off.

          • iamtherealgumby

            Lying bigoted retards like you never say jack shit to anyone’s face, they snivel and cower anonymously on the internet or get bitch slapped into silence. I know it, you know it, everybody knows it.
            Replace “frenchies” with any other ethnic group and everything you’ve stated is nothing less than discriminatory hate talk, yes my shit stinks but compared to yours it smells like cinnamon buns.
            I live in Canada asshole and no, “frenchies” don’t piss me off, in fact neither do Italians,Jamaicans,Chinese,Spanish or Muslims or Jews…
            Retards like you piss me off though…

          • Chester

            And using the word retard to describe someone whom you think is bigoted (when in reality is just bluntly accurate about the demeanor and hygiene of your average frenchie) isnt the exact same thing you seem to deplore…Retard isnt a racial slur but it is a bigoted derogatory word used to describe people with mental disabilities…No where in any of my statements did i make any racial slur (frenchie isnt racist, french are not a race). I live in Canada Asshole and french people piss me off, they smell, theyre way way more bigoted than i ever could (why dont you go there and try being a Jehovah witness or how about want to put an English sign in front of your store ) they are also weird. You obviously dont live in the vicinity near or adjacent to Quebec so dont speak about matters you dont understand….Just because you touch french pee pees doesnt mean you gotta like it :), my shit stinks like fresh baked bread and looks like gold cause i take pills mother fucker!! Wooooo!

          • iamtherealgumby

            Sphincter said what?

          • Chester

            Waynes World nice! Still living with your parents i see ;). Its ok one day youll be employed, or not French.

          • iamtherealgumby

            Sphincter said what?

          • Chester

            Waynes World nice! Still living with your parents i see ;). Its ok one day youll be employed, or not French.

          • iamtherealgumby

            Sphincter said what?

          • Chester

            Knob Gobblers named gumby?

          • iamtherealgumby

            Sphincter said what?

          • Chester

            8———D~~~~~~~~~~~~ your face cause your a queermo.

          • iamtherealgumby

            Sphincter said what?

          • Chester

            😉

          • iamtherealgumby

            Sphincter still makes noise;)

          • Chester

            so does your sister she squeeeeels like a pig! eeeeeeehhhhh eeeeeeeeeeh!

          • iamtherealgumby

            Sphincter said what?

          • Fraz Waraich

            Yeah! Respect..

  • Marcus A. Fish

    It sounds to me like most of the lumberjacks’ behaviors were instinctive reactions that are a result of their livelihood. If you are familiar with logging then you would know that your life depends on reacting quickly and without hesitation to sounds (Such as loud cracks, thumps, snaps, etc.) and swift movements that are the results of trees falling, branches breaking, and other events involving large weights and huge masses giving way unexpectedly and without warning. Also, and the same goes for soldiers, police officers, fire fighters, and others with inherently dangerous jobs, lumberjacks and loggers learn very quickly that their life and the lives of their fellow workers depends on following orders and commands with immediacy and without hesitation or questioning. If your foreman or a fellow worker screams at you to jump, get out of the way, or run like hell you do it and ask why later. It sounds like their behavior is simply mental and physical conditioning developed due to a stressful and dangerous profession.

  • yankeegirl1

    could the lumberjacks have suffered from mercury poisoning?? mercury and other chemicals were used in processing of lumber into paper pulp. Some mercury is still in the bedrock where mills operations once stood. look up Chlor-Alkali Superfund site