The Fugates were a family that lived in the Kentucky hills and earned their names as “The Blue Fugates”. They were also known as the “Blue People of Kentucky.” This is because the entire family had blue skin, which later research suggests was due to a genetic abnormality that resulted in a blood disorder named methemoglobinemia. This disorder still exists today, and indeed the skin of a person with the disorder tends to appear tinged with blue.
For 150 years, the Fugate family lived in Kentucky sealed off from the rest of the world. Because of this they passed on their blue skin to their following generations. This genetic disorder of the family was only discovered in the middle of the 20th century. By that time, many of the family members with the disorder had already died.
The research conducted on the surviving family members proved valuable in understanding how genetics work and how traits are passed onto direct descendants. But the story of the Blue Fugates starts in 1820, with the marriage of Martin Fugate.
Martin Fugate in 1820
Martin Fugate was a French orphan who married a woman named Elizabeth in the year 1820. They settled in a place named Troublesome Creek, Kentucky. Coincidentally, they both carried the recessive met-H gene, the genetic disorder that is the cause of blue skin.
Martin and Elizabeth had seven children, out of which four had blue skin. Martin and Elizabeth were not blue themselves, and didn’t experience any symptom of this genetic disorder. Therefore, they were shocked to see that their children were blue.
Troublesome Creek was very isolated and had no roads or railways until 1910. Therefore, the parents had no explanation or knowledge about the cause. As the only family living nearby, and given the isolation, Martin was almost certainly related to Elizabeth. The intermarriages continued and continued to deliver blue-skinned children. The locals named them “Blue Fugates.”
Martin & Elizabeth’s son, Zechariah, got married to his aunt or sister, also called Elizabeth. Zechariah and his wife were not blue-skinned, but when their children got married to his younger siblings, they produced blue children of their own. With this interbreeding, the family continued passing this genetic disorder to their generations.
Due to this strange mutation, the families of other communities did not want to marry into the Fugate family. There was a cloud of fear that their children would also turn out to be blue. With passing time, the descendants of the Fugate family left the town and moved to a different area. A new population and people moved into this place, and Fugates got the chance to meet and marry other people with different genes. This significantly decreased the possibilities of their children turning out to be blue or having the recessive met-H gene.
The Search for a Cure
In the early 1960s, two descendants of the Fugate family, Rachel and Patrick Ritchie, sought out doctors for a cure. They met with Doctor Madison Cawein III. They explained to the doctor that they were embarrassed by their blue skin. The doctor ran the tests on the couple and observed high levels of methemoglobin in the blood.
He gave methylene injections to the patients with the intention to cure them. Both of them were injected with it, and their skin color turned normal in a short span of time. They were both desperately happy at this simple solution, and started to consume more of these methylene pills to ensure that the blue color never returned to their life.
The Last of the Fugates Family
Benjamin Stacy is the last known family member of the Fugate family. He was born in the year 1975 and was a very deep blue color. Everyone panicked at the hospital by seeing Benjamin’s skin color and the severity of the disorder.
Benjamin’s father said that the last family member before Benjamin to have blue skin was his grandmother, Luna, who had dark blue-colored skin for her entire life. Benjamin, by way of contrast, did lose his dark blue color within the next few weeks.
Doctor Cawein died in 1985, but his research, blood samples, and family charts left behind clearly documented these recessive diseases that can create chaos if both parents carry a defective gene.
Most of the Fugate family members, across the generations, lived in good health even with this genetic mutation. As per the reports, some of the people have also lived till their 90s. As of now, the record suggests that there is no Fugate with blue skin anymore.
Top Image: Blue skin can be caused by methemoglobinemia. Source: Eno1 / Adobe Stock
By Bipin Dimri