The Strange Story of the Blue People of Kentucky

How scientists figured out the story of the Fugates

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted Feb 26, 2012 1:11 PM CST

(Newser) – America is home to people of all colors: White, black, and… blue? Strange but true: ABC News this week unearthed a story from 1982 about a family of blue-skinned people that once lived deep in Kentucky. The blue people first came to the fore when a baby named Benjamin Stacy was rushed to the hospital in 1975 with skin described as "as blue as Lake Louise." But the boy's grandmother was unconcerned about the disease, saying the boy looked like the "blue Fugates of Troublesome Creek."

That fascinated hematologist Madison Cawein III, who, in his words, went "tromping around the hills looking for blue people." Sure enough, he found some who were "bluer'n hell," and concluded that they had a rare, hereditary disease called methemoglobinemia, which makes it difficult for hemoglobin to carry oxygen to the skin. It's a recessive trait and rare, so it's unlikely to occur often—unless there's inbreeding involved, as was the case with the Fugates. Benjamin Stacy's father once showed a reporter his family tree, remarking: "If you'll notice, I'm kin to myself."

The Fugates did not look like this.
The Fugates did not look like this.   (AP Photo/20th Century Fox, File)
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