The Mystery Of Cursed Bread & A CIA Agent's Death

Pont-Saint-Esprit, France
Pont-Saint-Esprit, France

( -- For 60 years, the French village of Pont-Saint-Esprit has been famous for the events of a few days in August, 1951, when dozens of villagers were struck with unexplainable and horrifying hallucinations of fire and snakes and beasts of all kinds.

One villager tried to drown himself because he saw his “belly was being eaten by snakes.” Another jumped from a second-floor window screaming, “I am a plane.” A young boy tried to strangle his grandmother. Seventeen people died from what was assumed to be some kind of curse on the bread (Le Pain Maudit). Many others were sent to asylums.

In the video below, Le mystére du pain maudit, a man with delirium is being stilled, and a survivor of the cursed bread talks about the horror of his hallucination that snakes were coming after him. He says that he would rather have died than to experience that episode. And a descendant of the accused bakery owner walks through the bakery cellars many years after the horror of Pont-Saint-Esprit, claiming she could find no evidence of poisoned bread.

Le mystére du pain maudit. This video is in French and is 3:57 minutes long.

In 2008, a distinguished French historian, author Steven L. Kaplan published an 1,124-page history of bread in France, starting with the middle ages. But the real focus of his book, and indeed the title, is Le pain maudit: Retour sur la France des années oubliées 1945 - 1958. (Cursed bread: Returning to the forgotten years in France 1945 - 1958) Though Kaplan spends the first half of his book on the history of bread, and indeed the food industry in France, he’s just preparing the reader for what happens to the bread in Pont-Saint-Esprit.

Le pain maudit: Retour sur la France des années oubliées 1945 - 1958
Le pain maudit: Retour sur la France des années oubliées 1945 - 1958 (by Steven L. Kaplan)

Like a great crime writer, Kaplan sets the historical, cultural, and psychological scene, so that a poisoned bread could enter the scene and not be detected. Then, in minute detail, he tells the story of the “forgotten years,” of the villagers, of those afflicted by unforgettable - those who died and who survived - and of the bread and of the investigations of the bread.

Kaplin interviews the survivors, many of whom were institutionalized at the time. He interviews witnesses. Kaplan writes of the many scapegoats of the investigation, people accused of allowing ergot to pass into the rye flour. And finally, when the ergot theory was disproved, the target became a mercury that was found in a pesticide. But mercury was disproved as well.

From its thorough description by food historian Kyri Watson Claflin, Le pain maudit: Retour sur la France des années oubliées 1945 - 1958 sounds like an extremely interesting and well-told story, not just about bread, or poison bread, but about France’s historical relationship to food and how sociological and political factors influenced the food industry. (I just wish there was an English translation of the book!)

Thirty-five years after author Steven Kaplan began his research on the cursed bread, at his book’s end there were no apparent clues as to what caused the mystery of Pont-Saint-Esprit.

Kaplan’s book, you’ll remember was published in 2008. Only a year later, in late 2009, H.P.Albarelli, an American investigative reporter, published A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA’s Secret Cold War Experiments.

A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA’s Secret Cold War Experiments
A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA’s Secret Cold War Experiments (by H.P.Albarelli)

Albarelli is a seasoned writer about CIA activities. His six-year journey into the investigation of CIA agent Frank Olson’s murder led him to discover the secret of the cursed bread. Olson had been a biochemist working for the Special Operations Division of the CIA who “fell” from a 13th floor window in New York City in 1953, two years after the cursed bread incident.

What Albarelli found among CIA documents that he obtained were transcriptions of a conversation between a CIA agent and an official from a Swiss pharmaceutical company, Sandoz Pharmaceutical (now, a division of Novartis). The transcription mentioned the “secret of Pont-Saint-Esprit,” and that the cursed bread had nothing to do with mold, but with diethylamide, as in lysergic acid diethylamide(LSD). The CIA was sprinkling diethylamide into the food supply, possibly with the knowledge of some French officials.

Man showing reporter the bread that was allegedly cursed.
Man showing reporter the bread that was allegedly cursed. (via the Telegraph, UK)

Albarelli learned that it was Sandoz scientists themselves who concocted the story about ergot contaminating the rye flour that bakers used for the bread of Pont-Saint-Esprit. The story was false, but not that far from the truth, considering the strong relationship between ergot and LSD. (Ergot was found to be responsible for the hallucinations leading to the Salem Witch Trials about 25 years ago.)

Albarelli's book also reveals several other barbaric secrets of CIA covert operations during the period of the 1950s through 1970s. Why were the citizens of Pont-Saint-Esprit singled out as victims of one of the CIA’s horrific mind control experiments? Why was Frank Olson murdered? You'll have to read Albarelli’s book, which is published in English.

Explore further

Food For Life spelt bread is recalled

More information: Kyri Watson Claflin, review of Le pain maudit: Retour sur la France des années oubliées 1945 - 1958; Telegraph.Co.UK ; H.P.Albarelli's website; "LSD"

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Citation: The Mystery Of Cursed Bread & A CIA Agent's Death (2010, March 19) retrieved 21 September 2019 from
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Mar 19, 2010
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Mar 19, 2010
The CIA did use their own citizens as test subjects for biological warfare in the 1950s, the evidence has been testing on the French is more plausible Bob ;)

Mar 19, 2010
Agreed the news is worth but the selling of the books is not what I expect:
>You'll have to read Albarelli’s book, which is published in English.

Mar 19, 2010
Ah, the Olson affair -- a pop culture example of how lsd use can lead to suicide... or more of the same from intel mishaps. I'ld cry, if I weren't laughing so hard...

Mar 19, 2010
Right you are, otto. Interesting indeed, that choice of targets. I'm sure that there would have been some negotiation regarding target selection- it would have been pretty simple, I would think, to ascertain what cultural prejudice survived in the responsible minister(s). That Cathar country has been cursed for a long time, simply by virtue of it's having at one time sustained the heresy. I'm sure they would have taken the attitude that: "Afterall- if any thing does go wrong, and any harm befalls, it'll just be a bunch of filthy Cathars that pays the price..." Nasty bit of realpolitik there- like what occurs on a far more frequent basis than most would care to admit.

Mar 19, 2010
My father was hired by the Army out of med school as a neurochemical psychiatrist and he supervised the testing on servicemen at edgewood arsenal in md.

he also wrote the dsm3r definition of multiple personality disorder BTW.

Mar 20, 2010
Of course the CIA would choose France for the experiment, rather than (say) Cuba or some South American puppet regime eh? Doesn't make sense.
And if you read about the Olsen affair from non-nut sources, it looks a lot less like murder.

Mar 20, 2010
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Mar 20, 2010
writing the psych definition of mpd was not part of MKULTRA. More like an ultimate rebellion against his former employer once he realized what fascist a-holes they are. I would assume the acid experiment would surely have been MKULTRA, the military inquiry into its combat efficacy as a chemical weapon.

Mar 21, 2010
It looks like something potent is/was responsible for this peculiar 'outbreak' but is LSD really the culprit? Many of the effects described by the unwitting participants might also be generated by dosing subjects with an incapacitating agent, like BZ or a related glycolate anticholinergic. According to Wiki, BZ was first developed & tested by Hoffman-LaRoche (a French-based firm, btw) in 1951. That alone has got me wondering, since the US military 'officially' became interested in BZ in 1959.

Short of evidence for a direct link to BZ itself, traditional anticholinergics like atropine, scopolamine, hyosycamine were already being studied by the US mil in the 40's & 50's as incapacitants and 'truth serums'. The mention of 17 deaths from LSD overdose struck me as odd, I guess. Death from LSD ingestion alone is fairly rare, even in super-high doses. Also, I noted in the BZ literature, BZ use & abuse by soldiers before a battle (Agent 15-see the Wiki BZ page) has been suspected.

Mar 22, 2010
One simple question - Can any hallucinating agent actually control what you see? I mean can LSD be so specific that whoever has it sees snakes? I thought halluctination is a bit like dreams, where your thoughts and fears manifest themselves as objects.

How can this be controlled in any way?

Mar 22, 2010
it seems to me that these folks were for some reason obsessed with disseminating LSD.

i believe hallucinogens can scare a person or animal to death in the case where they cannot understand what is happening.

halllucinations may be like dreams as they are specific to an individuals mindset. a large enough dose will surely make people see and hear things.

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