Long before little green men were reported to be visiting Earth in flying saucers, normal sized blue people were commonplace in Perry County.  The case dates back to 1820 when orphaned French immigrant Martin Fugate claimed a land grant and settled onto Troublesome Creek, near Hazard.  While reports of the color of his skin vary, he nonetheless courted and married Elizabeth Smith, who somehow carried the rare reciessive gene that when coupled with Martin's caused 4 of their 7 children to have blue skin. 

Over the next 160 years scores of blue people were born into the Troublesome Creek area.  Many credit intermarrying for the phenomena, which has also been documented among Alaskan Eskimos and Native Americans.  The few families who lived int the area married back and forth.  Both parents didn't have to have the condition themselves, only carry the recessive gene to possibly pass it along to their children.  

It wasn't until 1960 that a cause for the blue tinted skin was found.  After generations of Fugates and their relatives often hid in shame of their appearance, a hematologist from the University of Kentucky caught wind of the blue people in the hills.  Madison Cawein made several trips down to Hazard, and finally came across a couple of these blue people in a clinic one day.  

He was just biding his time when Patrick and Rachel Ritchie came in.  "They were bluer'n hell,"  Cawein stated.  They obliged him to exam them thoroughly.  After ruling out heart disease, he thought to ask if they had any relations who were blue.  Soon the hematologist was on his way to meet other family members who suffered the same condition.  He collected blood samples from them and returned to Lexington to study them.  

Cawein suspected they were afflicted with methemoglobinemia, a rare hereditary disorder that causes excess levels of methemoglobin in the blood.  What's that?  Blue methemoglobin, is the nonfunctional form of red hemoglobin that carries oxygen in the blood.  His tests showed a complete lack of the enzyme diaphorase in the samples, confirming his hypothesis.  Their blood had accumulated so much of the blue methemoglobin that it overtook the red hemoglbin which causes the pinkish tint in caucasian skin.  

Among suggested treatments were to administer a dye, methylene blue.  He returned to Patrick and Rachel's house and gave them injections.  Within minutes, for the first time in their lives, their skin took on a normal pinkish tone.  A cure was found.

The picture below is of Martin, Elizabeth and their children. 
Hard to tell much from this, so here's an actual photo of one of the blue people.

Doesn't she have argyria, not methemoglobinemia?


Leave a Reply.