Next time you are feeling blue, maybe you should think about this family in Kentucky who have been called “real-life smurfs” because of their blue skin!
We all learned in grade school that people come in all shapes and colors, but probably no one ever told you that blue was one of them!
Like the Smurfs, the aliens in Avatar, and the X-men Mystique and Nightcrawler, the Fugate family that lived in Kentucky in the 1800s all had blue skin!
In the early 1800s, a French orphan, Martin Fugate, met this gorgeous woman named Elizabeth Smith. The two got married and settled down in the sleepy town of Troublesome Creek in the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky.
Little did they know that their family was going to go down as one of the most unique in history.
Unknown to them, both Martin and Elizabeth carried a rare, recessive gene that did not affect either of them, but it activated when they had children. The gene causes a condition known as methemoglobinemia, which results in changing their children’s skin pigmentation to appear bluish.
There can be other health issues related to methemoglobinemia, such as seizures and failure to reach developmental milestones; however, the exceedingly rare genetic condition only caused the Fugate children to take on a bluish hue. They were otherwise perfectly healthy.
Scientists explain the defect causes blood to carry less oxygen than usual. So, the blood seems darker, the skin appears bluish, and the lips purplish. The affected people also have high methemoglobin levels, a type of hemoglobin, in their blood.
So, that was why the Fugates always looked a little blue regardless of how they were feeling!
Generations of Blue People
Martin and Elizabeth had seven children, and at least four had this genetic defect. But it wouldn’t have affected the future generations if they hadn’t married within the family.
Since Troublesome Creek, where the Fugates settled, was a remote location, the family had no genuine connection with the outside world. The region did not have rail tracks or roads.
So, they had little to no choice other than marrying within the family, and as most people know, when it comes to genetic diseases, inbreeding is never a good thing!
Zachariah Fugate, the first-born son of Martin and Elizabeth, married his aunt. One of his sons married his cousin. And just like that, almost everyone in the family was marrying someone they had known all of their lives and was somehow related to.
Martin’s and Elizabeth’s other son, Levy, married his cousin and had eight children with her. One of them was a girl named Luna, and she was dubbed to be “the bluest of them all.”
The Fugates complex family tree created a small army of blue children for at least six generations and 150 years.
Researchers later found out that the Fugates weren’t the only ones with the genetic disorder. Their extended families, the Combs, Richards, Smiths, and the Stacys, all had the defect. It may likely have been because of the inbreeding.
In the early 20th century, a blue-skinned Comb visited a local hospital for a blood test. And that was when the outside world started knowing about these peculiar people.
The nurse who attended her, Ruth Pendergrass, was beyond shocked to see Comb and her blue skin. She believed Comb had a heart attack. But Comb calmly explained that she was okay, and her family had many blue-skinned people.
The last blue-skinned Fugate, Benjamin Stacy, was born in 1975 and is still alive today; however, he lost his blue tint soon after birth. Doctors attributed that to his blue-skin gene not being “fully activated,” but Stacy says his lips and tips of his fingers still turn blue when he “gets angry,” I guess making him a kind of blue, rather than green, Hulk?
The Fugates Were Not the Only Blue People
It turns out the Fugates weren’t the only blue-skinned family. In fact, throughout history, there have been several reports about blue-skinned Caucasians.
In 1942, two Irish brothers, nicknamed ‘The Blue men of Lurgan,’ were treated by Dr. James Deeny. He prescribed them ascorbic acid and sodium bicarbonate as part of their treatment. It worked temporarily, and the brothers saw their skin turn to regular shades of pink. They were Ireland’s last blue people.
Another Irish countrywoman also claimed to give birth to blue-skinned children. Her treatment plan included cabbage. She swore that her children turned pink when they ate cabbages and turned blue again when they stopped consuming them.