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Real-life blue people existed — thanks to years of inbreeding

It’s a different sort of “blue blood.”

The idea of blue-skinned people may seem relegated to Smurf Village and other fictional places; however, one rural Kentucky family actually sported sapphire skin due to a rare condition sparked by generations of inbreeding. Their shocking account was detailed in a 1982 article by the University of Indiana’s Cathy Trost, called “The Blue People of Troublesome Creek,” published in Science 82 magazine.

The tale of these Appalachian “Avatars” first gained mainstream attention in 1975 after Benjamin “Benjy” Stacy was born with dark blue skin, ABC News reported. Doctors were so alarmed by the baby’s peculiar pigment that they had him transferred to the University of Kentucky Medical Center, located 116 miles away from his hometown of Hazard in the Bluegrass State.

Despite testing him for two days, physicians remained flummoxed by the infant’s blue hue. That’s when Benjy’s grandmother chimed in, inquiring if they’d ever heard of the “blue Fugates of Troublesome Creek?” Meanwhile, relatives described great-grandmother Luna Fugate as “the bluest woman I ever saw.”


A family portrait of the Fugate family of Troublesome Creek, Kentucky.
A family portrait of the Fugate family of Troublesome Creek, Kentucky: “We guess you could call them the blues.”

As it turned out, the “cyanotic” (a term for blue discoloration) tot was a descendant in a long line of Smurf-skinned Kentuckians dating back to 1820 when French orphan Martin Fugate moved to Eastern Kentucky and met Elizabeth Smart.

Despite not being related, the lovebirds carried the gene for methemoglobinemia, a super-rare condition that occurs when red blood cells contain abnormal levels of methemoglobin — a form of hemoglobin that can’t carry oxygen to tissues. Due to this lack of oxygenation, sufferers are often blue-skinned with purple lips and chocolate-colored blood. Their appearance is like that of Violet Beauregarde from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” — post-blueberry incident.


The Fugates suffered from methemoglobinemia, a rare genetic condition that occurs when red blood cells contain abnormal levels of methemoglobin — a form of hemoglobin that can’t carry oxygen to tissues -- causing one's countenance to turn blue.
The Fugates suffered from methemoglobinemia, a rare genetic condition that occurs when red blood cells contain abnormal levels of methemoglobin — a form of hemoglobin that can’t carry oxygen to tissues — causing one’s countenance to turn blue.

Lo and behold, Smart gave birth to seven kids, four of whom had a cobalt countenance. As the methemoglobinemia gene is recessive, it wouldn’t have affected future generations, except that the Fugates started marrying within their own clan. Experts say they resorted to incest due to extreme isolation: Eastern Kentucky didn’t have roads and railroads wouldn’t reach it until the early 20th century, AllThatsInteresting.com reported.

“When they settled this country back then, there were no roads,” said Dennis Stacy, a Fugate descendant told Science 82 of this stagnating gene pool. “It was hard to get out, so they intermarried.”

Elizabeth and Martin’s son Zachariah married his auntie and the Fugates bred with other cousins, as well as descendants from other families such as Combs, Smith, Ritchie and Stacy.

It wasn’t too long before their familial Blue Man Group was formed. A now-viral pic dated to the early 20th century shows the Fugates sporting eerily azure visages like old-timey “Avatar” cosplayers.


Along with being inherited, methemoglobinemia can be caused by exposure to certain chemicals.
Along with being inherited, methemoglobinemia can be caused by exposure to certain chemicals.

This congenital Blue Man group was originally formed in 1820 when French orphan Martin Fugate moved to Eastern Kentucky and met Elizabeth Smart. Despite not being related, both carried the blue genes.
This congenital Blue Man Group was originally formed in 1820 when French orphan Martin Fugate moved to Eastern Kentucky and met Elizabeth Smart. Despite not being related, both had “blue” genes.

According to Science 82, the bluest of the bunch was Luna Stacy, the child of Levi Fugate and his first cousin, Hannah Richie.

Nurse Carrie Lee Kilburn described the woman as “bluish all over” with lips “as dark as a bruise.”

Despite their oddball appearances, the citizens of Troublesome Creek backed the blue, with one Fugate fan claiming, “They looked like anybody else, ‘cept they had the blue color.”

Nonetheless, by the early 1960s, the family had come to resent their indigo appearance — which they saw as a scarlet — or violet? — letter denoting their history of inbreeding. Two Fugates even approached Madison Cawein, a hematologist at the University of Kentucky’s medical clinic at the time, to try and remedy their condition. He said they were so bothered by their looks that they wouldn’t “even come into the waiting room.”


As the blue genes were recessive, the Fugates would've been normal-colored had they not resorted to inbreeding.
As the blue genes were recessive, the Fugates would’ve been normal-colored had they not resorted to inbreeding.

Fortunately, after diagnosing their methemoglobinemia, Cawein was able to cure their affliction by — wait for it — using more blue. The good doctor specifically administered them methylene blue dye — which helps the body convert methemoglobin to hemoglobin like an ultramarine vaccine. Within minutes of ingesting it, the Fugate’s cerulean skin turned pink, effectively ridding the cobalt-colored clan of the blues.

Meanwhile, Benjy Stacy, the last known living Fugate descendent who reportedly resides in Alaska, lost all of his azure colorations by age 7, suggesting that he received his “blue” genes from just one parent.

However, his lips and fingertips still reportedly turn blue when he gets cold or angry.

This article was originally posted by The New York Post.

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