A Tale of Pathological Tourism

In 1886, French gas fitter Jean-Albert Dadas was admitted to a Bordeaux hospital suffering from exhaustion. Normally he led a quiet life, he told a medical student, but occasionally he would be overcome by anxiety and headaches and then find himself in a distant city, apparently having traveled there on foot. If the local police didn’t arrest him for vagrancy he would report to the French consul, who would arrange for his travel back home.

Dadas was 26 when he arrived at the hospital, but the attacks had begun when he was 12. He’d been working as a manufacturer’s apprentice when he simply disappeared, and his brother found him in a neighboring town helping an umbrella salesman. Since then, the medical student wrote, Dadas had regularly deserted “family, work and daily life to walk as fast as he could, straight ahead, sometimes doing 70 kilometers a day.” Some journeys had taken him as far as Algeria and Moscow.

Dadas’ condition was diagnosed as dromomania or “pathological tourism.” Though they’re rarely seen today, such fugue states saw a curious vogue in France in the 1890s — and produced one memorable case in Pennsylvania.

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