Image: via NClark
Illustration of Martin Fugate and his family. Some reports say Martin was not blue but was a carrier of the methemoglobinemia gene.
If a good friend of usually normal intelligence suddenly insisted they saw little blue men, you’d be inclined to think they had lost all their faculties and would carefully hide all alcohol from sight, that or they’ve been watching too many reruns of the Smurfs. But until only recently the chance of seeing not only blue men but blue women was a very high likelihood, especially if you frequented the Appalachian Hills of Kentucky. In fact, you’d see whole families of blue people.
Image: via Wunderkabinett
Ingesting elemental silver can also turn the skin blue. This man, Paul Karason, rubbed colloidal silver on his face and skin many years ago to treat a skin condition, which made him slowly turn a bluish/grey color.
Stemming from one French immigrant, Martin Fugate, who moved to Kentucky in 1820, the blue families were to become legends in their own rights, all because of the color of their skin.
Their story came to the attention of medical researchers in the early 1980s when 9th generation Fugates (now with the surname Stacy, through marriage) gave birth to a child named Benjy. He was a dark blue color immediately after birth, which caused panic among the medical team, and after carrying out a hoard of tests, mainly for heart and lung problems, the doctors found nothing of note. The only clues to the child’s diagnosis was when the grandmother piped up, “Have you ever heard of the blue Fugates of Troublesome Creek? My grandmother Luna on my dad’s side was a blue Fugate. It was real bad in her.”
“Blue Man” Paul Karason during an interview on September 10, 2009.
Born with the condition methemoglobinemia, the Fugates and their affected descendents suffered from a rare hereditary blood disorder where there is excessive methemoglobin in the blood. The American Heritage® Medical Dictionary states methemoglobin is “a brownish-red crystalline organic compound formed in the blood when hemoglobin is oxidated either by decomposition of the blood or by the action of various oxidizing drugs or toxic agents. It contains iron in the ferric state and cannot function as an oxygen carrier.” Because the circulating blood is less oxygenated those with the disorder appear various shades of blue, depending on how seriously they are affected.
Methemoglobinemia is a recessive gene, which means it can only be passed on if both parents carry the gene. So the chances of Martin Fugate meeting and marrying someone who carried the ‘blue’ gene were pretty slim, but that’s what happened. Martin Fugate and Elizabeth Smith went on to have seven children, four of them reported to be blue.