Blue People in Kentucky: The True Story of the Fugate Family with Blue Skin

Updated on August 3, 2017
A sketch of Martin Fugate and his family, in Troublesome Creek, KY.
A sketch of Martin Fugate and his family, in Troublesome Creek, KY. | Source

A (Healthy) Blue Baby

“Have you ever heard of the Fugates of Troublesome Creek?”

This simple question by a knowing grandmother solved a riddle for a little boy born blue.

When little Benjamin “Benjy” Stacy was born in a small hospital near Hazard, Kentucky, he was the picture of health. He was also very, very blue. So blue, in fact, that his skin was the deep purple color of a plum. His doctors were alarmed by the child’s color, and immediately sent him by ambulance to a hospital in Lexington, Kentucky.

Little Benjamin was subjected to an enormous variety of tests in an attempt to explain the startling blue color. While he did not appear to be in any distress, doctors began to set up a blood transfusion for the tiny baby. That was when his grandmother decided to speak up:The boy’s father explained that his paternal grandmother Luna was also blue – and apparently was quite healthy in life.

Benjy’s blue color started to fade a bit over the next few weeks, and as he grew the only remaining traces of blue coloration were in his lips and nails – the color was particularly noticeable when he became cold. The doctors came to the conclusion that Benjy had inherited a rare gene found in the Appalachians – a gene which turned entire generations of one family blue.

French Orphan Martin Fugate: The First Blue Man in Kentucky

In 1820, Martin Fugate and his wife Elizabeth Smith moved onto the banks of Troublesome Creek, a beautiful area in Appalachian Kentucky. There is no official recording as to whether Martin was actually blue, but he and his wife both carried a recessive gene that would turn their son Zachariah Fugate a startling blue color. Martin and Elizabeth had seven children: four of them were blue. Since the gene causing the blue coloration is recessive, the family had a 25% chance of having a blue child with each pregnancy if Martin and Elizabeth were carriers. If Martin was blue, the odds would have increased to 50% for each child, as Martin would have carried two copies of the recessive gene.

Since the Appalachian region was rural and isolated, inter-marriages occurred. Fugate descendents married other Fugate descendents, concentrating the “blue gene” over the generations.

Luna Fugate, little Benjy’s great-grandmother, was one of the bluest Fugates known to the Appalachian region. Luna was described as being blue all over, with lips the color of a dark bruise. Although blue, she was entirely healthy, and had 13 children in her 84 year span of life.

The blood on the left has a bluish tinge, due to excess amounts of methemoglobin. The blood on the right is normal.
The blood on the left has a bluish tinge, due to excess amounts of methemoglobin. The blood on the right is normal. | Source

What Caused the Blue Skin Color?

Scientists, of course, were quite intrigued as to the cause of the blue skin tone among the Fugate family. In the 1960’s, a young hematologist named Madison Cawein traveled to the region, with an aim to cure the blue people of their skin color. The doctor hiked through the Appalachian hills, on a mission to find the famous blue people of Kentucky.

He finally found a family willing to participate in her study of the condition, and ruled out any heart or lung condition as the cause of the blue skin. Apart from being blue, the people were entirely healthy.

Dr. Cawein began to suspect a rare condition which causes a blue form of hemoglobin to circulate in the blood. The condition is called methemoglobinemia, which is caused by large circulating amounts of methemoglobin – the methemoglobin is not harmful, but large amounts of the non-functional hemoglobin will tint any tissue containing a blood supply blue.

The first family to volunteer for research, Patrick and Rachel Ritchie, did not want to be blue. Dr. Cawein did several tests to find the cause of the methemoglobinemia, and found the Fugate family was missing an enzyme called diaphorase, an enzyme that converts the methemoglobin back into functional hemoglobin. As the Fugate family’s methemoglobin could not be reconverted into the normal hemoglobin molecule, the blue methemoglobin began to build up and become very obvious in the pale skin of the affected family members.

An Ironic Cure for Blue Skin

One way to convert blue methemoglobin back into red hemoglobin is to use a dye called methylene blue. Ironically, a blue dye could change the blue color of the affected blood into a normal red color. Ascorbic acid is another method of treating the condition.

Of course, it was a tad difficult to convince the blue people of Kentucky that a blue dye would cure the condition: Patrick and Rachel volunteered to try the treatment.

A simple injection of the dye caused a stunning color change: within minute, Patrick had gone from blue to pink. Having found a way to cure the blue skin color, Dr. Cawein left the people with a supply of methylene blue pills – the pills must be taken on a continual basis, since the body eliminates the dye on a regular basis.

Since the dye also tints the urine blue, some of the older mountain people thought the blue color of their skin was literally “pouring” out of them.

As coal trains and other modern highway connectors began connecting Troublesome Creek with the rest of the nation, people began leaving the area. The gene is no longer concentrated, and the chance of intermarriage between two gene carriers is remote. Still, the possibility does exist – as the parents of little Benjy Stacy proved.

The gene found in the Fugate family is from a line of French Huguenots, whose descendents settled into Kentucky, Ireland, and Finland.

Methylene Blue: it turns blue people pink.
Methylene Blue: it turns blue people pink. | Source

What Became of Benjy Stacy?

The little boy born blue has grown up. He attended Eastern Kentucky University, married, and lives a perfectly typical life in Fairbanks, Alaska. Other than an occasional worried comment from unknowing friends about the color of his lips or fingernails, there is little outward sign of the methemoglobinemia.

Types of Congenital Methemoglobinemia

One form of congenital methemoglobinemia is caused by a deficiency in NADH cytochrome b5 reductase. It has several types, which vary in severity of the symptoms:

Type I: This type is limited to the red blood cells, and causes a blue color.

Type II: The enzyme is deficient in all tissues, and devastating systemic effects are seen – mental retardation, a small head size, and other central nervous system problems are severe. The child will also present with a blue color.

Type III: The entire blood cell system is affected, including platelets, white blood cells, and red blood cells. Fortunately, this variant does not cause any medical problems (other than a blue skin color).

Type IV: This type only affects the red blood cells, and causes a chronic blue color. No other medical problems are associated with Type IV.

The majority of methemoglobinemia cases are caused by an acquired problem: the person has been exposed to oxidizing drugs, toxins, or chemicals. In the case of acquired methemoglobinemia, the patient must be monitored for low blood oxygen levels and anemia, as the amount of circulating normal hemoglobin may be reduced to extremely low levels.


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    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 6 days ago from Western New York

      Methemoglobin can give a gray or blue cast to the skin - it is interesting you have run across a person in Tennessee with the condition, Vickie! "Blue skin" can also be caused by colloidal silver ingestion, so some people have an acquired condition rather than genetic.

    • profile image

      Vickie Turner 6 days ago

      In the summer month's my husband and I like to walk around flea markets.. One that we go to in Tenn. has a blue lady. First time I have ever seen a blue person and it's true about the color of them changing. Sometimes she's gray looking or a darker blue.

    • profile image

      mystery 11 days ago

      I think this is absolutely fascinating!! I wish I could meat a blue skinned person.

    • profile image

      phs 12 days ago

      this is cool and a little bit sad at the same time

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 4 weeks ago from Western New York

      Since the Appalachians are not isolated as they once were, the trait has largely disappeared, Ronnie. It is a fascinating vignette from early American life. With modern medical therapy, the Methemoglobinemia can be treated. Methylene blue is an effective treatment for most cases.

    • profile image

      Ronnie 4 weeks ago

      I feel so sad for this family and any others that have to live with this genetic trait. To think that anyone, and in this case, an entire family had to live in isolation and feel that badly about their appearance breaks my heart. I am very interested in the reaction by some in society, and how they are able to cope. I dearly hope that they find people who will embrace them and find them as beautiful as they are blue or whatever color they are. Hopefully our society will learn to see the wonders of people, no matter how they look, or whatever problems they battle. Good luck to all of them.

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 7 weeks ago from Western New York

      It is a genetic trait (methemoglobinemia) which tints the tissue blue. It is an interesting condition and caused a lot of curiosity when this family was first discovered!

    • profile image

      Hannah 7 weeks ago

      This is soooooooooooo crazy how can this happen?

    • profile image

      Shelly C. 2 months ago

      This is one of the most fascinating things I have ever read in my entire life.

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 3 months ago from Western New York

      Hello, Delilah - I am not sure I understand your question. Are you asking where the genetic basis for the first person with methemoglobinemia came from? Generally, a trait like this appears due to a spontaneous mutation. As it is a recessive trait, it may lie within a population and not be observed due to the rarity and the necessity for two people carrying the gene to have children for the phenotype to be demonstrated. In the case of rural Appalachia, the isolation from other communities allowed the gene to concentrate within the local population. As the area is no longer isolated, the trait is no longer observed with any frequency.

    • profile image

      delilah 3 months ago

      how was the first blue person

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 5 months ago from Western New York

      There is no record as to whether Martin was blue - the only "image" is the one available through public licensing and was colorized subsequent to the reports of the family. If Martin was blue, their children would have had a 50% chance of displaying the blue phenotype. If he was not blue (a carrier), the odds remain at 25%.

    • profile image

      Ellie Small 5 months ago

      "the family had a 25% chance of having a blue child with each pregnancy."

      Wrong. Since Martin was blue himself (see picture), the family would have had a 50% chance of having a blue child with each pregnancy.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 5 months ago from Philippines

      Very interesting article. The fact that you took a scientific approach to it made it most credible. Voted up.

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      BULLYBOI 7 months ago

      Can i join the family, already got rid of my blue baby....

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 8 months ago from Texas

      Hello Leah, I am back to re-read this fascinating article about the Blue People of Kentucky.

      Blessings my friend

    • profile image

      Dakota Fugate 8 months ago

      im benjamins 4th cousin.

    • profile image

      Karen Collins 9 months ago

      I live right in the area of Kentucky that you all are speaking of that this blue family is from...actually just within 15 mile of troublesome creek and I have never seen the blue family..actually never even heard about them until my sister said a blue man came into her place of business the other day.At first I thought everybody was making a joke about it and the more I read I realized they weren't joking so I googled blue people in Ky and found this article..Im 55 yrs old and had never heard about blue people in my hometown in my life and have lived here all my life.Goes to show just because its a small town doesn't mean everybody knows everybody ..Also goes to show they arent talked about and made fun of for their condition.Which is a very good thing...

    • profile image

      Wendy Grace 9 months ago

      I live in Ky and oddly enough I was in a local hospital for several

      Days got friendly with a nurse and this blue people topic came up he said without skipping a best its from incest. I don't believe that anymore. Hope he sees this article.

    • profile image

      kowgirl 9 months ago

      I wonder if that is where they get the song Blue Moon of Kentucky from or the saying once in a blue moon?

    • profile image

      caden chaffee 10 months ago


    • profile image

      Tori D 15 months ago

      Your page is very informative, but you don't have all of the information on this 'condition'. You are lacking the type that my family and I have. We have type M, and there is no cure for it. The blue dye that you keep on saying is a cure for it, really isn't. The people in my family who have this, have tried it before and it will confirm us "normal" looking for a few short minutes and then we return to our normal blue state. It is caused by a mutation in our red blood cells that cause us to only be able to 'carry' 50% of the oxygen as everyone else does. Many of my family have volunteered (including myself and my younger sister when we were kids) to let doctors study us and our blood disorder. My sister and I were seen by many doctors and specialists at U of M, and have quite a bit of knowledge about our blood disorder and how unique our type is to our family. I'm almost always surprised when I come across a doctor who has previous knowledge of it before they meet me, but almost all of them think that I don't know what I'm talking about and try to put me under one of the other types and ignore me on it.

    • Gaurav Oberoi profile image

      gaurav oberoi 23 months ago

      Wow what a fascinating hub. Thanks for sharing.....

    • darciefrench profile image

      Darcie French 23 months ago from BC Canada

      Krishna was blue too :)

    • LynetteBell profile image

      LynetteBell 23 months ago from Christchurch, New Zealand

      What an interesting article. Thanks.

    • cfin profile image

      cfin 23 months ago from The World we live in

      In the Irish language the term for black people is "Daoine Gorm", which translate directly as "blue people". It was a term of respect. I wish the world had more colours. Purple people would be nice!

    • m abdullah javed profile image

      muhammad abdullah javed 23 months ago

      It's amazing. First of its kind in the world, the details with regard to the change of color and there by its cure is a worth read. Thanks for sharing. leahlefler

    • RGraf profile image

      Rebecca Graf 23 months ago from Wisconsin

      I've heard of these for years as my father's family is from there. Just recently I knew they were Fugate's. I'm related to Fugates in Western Kentucky.

    • Ameraka profile image

      Evelyn 23 months ago from Wisconsin

      Awesome. I've never heard of this. It's cool that it's not a harmful condition. And I thought only aliens were blue! (haha)

    • kittythedreamer profile image

      Nicole Canfield 23 months ago from the Ether

      This is super interesting...I'd never heard of this before in my life. Great article. So well explained too.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 23 months ago from England

      I know I have read this before, but its so interesting! lol! blue people, well whoever would have thought it?

    • Priya Barua profile image

      Priya Barua 23 months ago

      Very interesting. Concise and well written. Loved the article.

    • Kimberleyclarke profile image

      Kimberley Clarke 23 months ago from England

      What an amazing article! Reminds me of the colloidal silver stories, of people turning blue. Fascinating, thank you!

    • tony55 profile image

      femi 23 months ago from Nigeria

      Fascinating stuff, i have heard of blue babies but not blue adults. Nice writing style very captivating.

    • Jasmeetk profile image

      Jasmeet Kaur 23 months ago from India

      interesting..Never saw anyone with blue skin.

    • shanmarie profile image

      shanmarie 23 months ago

      I think this popped up as a featured hub somewhere. It caught my attention because I know a blue lady. She uses oxygen and I have assumed whatever her health condition is, the blue is a result of that. I've never asked. But now I am curious.

    • profile image

      Nancy Coleman 23 months ago

      According to my Fugate family genealogy, Martin was not a French orphan but a 4th generation Fugate and was my great, great,great, great, grandfather. The Fugates in this area came here from Russell Co, VA. This article was written about 50 years ago and people should stop photoshopping the old photographs. It is an interesting story but old and not so sensational as it used to be yet people keep dredging it out of the internet and putting ridiculous photos with it. A while back I saw my great grandparents photo(and I have a copy) with them dyed all blue. We Fugate descendants are a little tired feeling like the rest of the world is making fun of us for a medical condition. Go ahead and discuss it if you wish but please quit putting up those doctored up pictures because there are people dumb enough to believe everything on the internet is true.

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 3 years ago from Western New York

      The genetic trait has largely disappeared due to shifting demographics as the area became less isolated. It is an interesting phenomenon, though, Tim!

    • TimArends profile image

      Timothy Arends 3 years ago from Chicago Region

      Blue people in the bluegrass State… I guess it makes sense! I went to Berea College and it tries to cater to people of all ethnicities but I didn't see any blue people while I was there!

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 4 years ago from Western New York

      Southern-Style, it is interesting, isn't it? I was fascinated when I heard about this condition.

      Melbel, I agree - I love learning about historical events that aren't typically covered in textbooks.

      Emmanuel, I suppose they should add "blue" to the saying.. though in this case the color is not due to ethnicity, but to a medical condition.

      Thanks for the comments, carlajbehr and Jenn-Anne. I found the condition to be interesting, too!

      Billyj, it is so fascinating that you are related (by marriage) to this family. The condition is inherited, so I am sure there will be sporadic cases here and there. Since the area is not geographically isolated anymore, I suspect that the incidence will decrease with time.

    • profile image

      billyj 4 years ago

      Crazy stuff, but I have an aunt by marriage who is related to this family. Some of her siblings have the blue tinge.

    • Jenn-Anne profile image

      Jenn-Anne 4 years ago

      Very interesting and well-written story! I had heard of these people before but never heard what caused the problem. Thanks for sharing - voted up!

    • carlajbehr profile image

      Carla J Behr 4 years ago from NW PA

      Crazy interesting - well-written and well-researched! Voted up.

    • Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

      Emmanuel Kariuki 4 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

      Very very enlightening! Never heard of blue people except green when people say 'black , white yellow or green' to metaphorically say all races included - shared!

    • melbel profile image

      Melanie Shebel 4 years ago from New Buffalo, Michigan

      Wow! What a strange condition! I've never heard of this. I love learning about rare/strange events in history. Awesome hub, thanks for sharing!

    • Southern-Style profile image

      Southern-Style 4 years ago from Nashville, TN

      And here I just thought they were some dye hard Wildcats fans. Great hub keep up the good work!

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 4 years ago from Western New York

      I love interesting snippets from history that never make it into the history books, Shyron - the blue people in the Appalachians have always struck my fancy. I am glad you enjoyed the article!

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 4 years ago from Texas

      My dear friend Au fait suggested that I read this hub, I was not disappointed. This is facinating. I had never heard of blue people before.

      Voting you up and will share!

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 4 years ago from Western New York

      The people with the condition were so shy and embarrassed about their blue skin - I found it ironic that the cure for the condition was a blue dye. Ascorbic acid would work, too, but it isn't nearly as interesting as the blue dye. Thanks for the comment, Sharkye11!

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 4 years ago from Western New York

      Thanks, Au fait. I can only imagine the doctor's surprise when little Benjy Stacy was born with blue skin! It is a fascinating genetic condition.

    • Sharkye11 profile image

      Jayme Kinsey 4 years ago from Oklahoma

      This was a fascinating read. I can't believe I have never heard of this in all my weird medical research. You did an excellent job with the layout--I even read it aloud to my husband (who hates hearing me read anything aloud) and he was really fascinated!

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 4 years ago from North Texas

      Very interesting. I have never heard of this before. Voting you up and will share this hub with my followers.

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 6 years ago from Western New York

      Thanks, Kris! I have always found the "blue people" fascinating - though the population has thinned out and there is a treatment for the disorder, it must have been a shock when the first researchers stumbled across entire families with blue skin!

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 6 years ago from Indiana

      I first heard about this during my grad school studies - it's very fascinating in many ways. You did a nice job of presenting the medical history behind it as in interesting story - very nice!

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 6 years ago from Western New York

      It is interesting, isn't it? When I first heard about the condition, I thought it had to be a myth. Once I learned about the blood disorder at the root of the blue skin color, it made a lot more sense. I can only imagine how shocked the people were that a little blue dye cured the condition!

    • jamterrell profile image

      jamterrell 6 years ago

      This hub really makes me read the entire story. Very interesting.I really never thought of blue people. I though they were only a myth. Great information. Really feels good to know about these unique creatures.

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 6 years ago from Western New York

      The people are real - though it is caused by a blood disorder which is correctable. So there really isn't a "race" of blue people, but rather a group of people which inherited a condition which alters the hemoglobin in their blood - which turns them blue! Strange, yes, but true!

    • profile image

      naturalsolutions 6 years ago

      Are they real? I think blue people unbelievable.

      But that picture shows that blue people do really exist. thanks for your hub, now I have a little bit of knowledge about them.

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 6 years ago from Western New York

      Thank you, Alladream74 - it is interesting that the methylene blue dye treated the condition: the people being treated could hardly believe such an ironic "cure!"

    • Alladream74 profile image

      Victor Mavedzenge 6 years ago from Oakland, California

      A very interesting read. Fascinating to see how they treated the condition.

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 6 years ago from Western New York

      A lot of people think the "Blue People of Kentucky" are a myth, but it is a real condition! I have a friend with a family member that worked in the silver mines and acquired a blue tint to his skin, but that is obviously quite different than the genetic condition. Apparently, the number of people showing the blue skin has dropped dramatically - it would be hard to find anyone today. For one thing, the genetic pool has been broadened, and for another... the treatment is very simple and effective!

      It must have been very interesting to teach in Appalachia - we live in Western NY, but I have never really been to the Appalachians. It would be an interesting place to live!

    • Stacie L profile image

      Stacie L 6 years ago

      yes I've heard of them and met some descendants of them,who are not blue.

      I was a teacher in the hills back in the 80's and saw things I never thought I would see;

      having grown up in suburban NY that is.;-)

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 6 years ago from Western New York

      I have a feeling that the word "methemoglobinemia" would simply send most nosey questioners packing! There aren't many people walking around with the (congenital) condition, since it is easily treated - but there are people with acquired forms (from silver mining, etc.) that live with a blue tint to their skin!

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 6 years ago from the short journey

      I've heard of some interesting replies to caring/nosey questions, but to be able to say, "I have methemoglobinemia" would be a mouth full! Very interesting read.

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 6 years ago from Western New York

      I LOVE Margaret Atwood. The first work I read was "The Handmaid's Tale," and I loved it. I have read the Oryx and the Crake, and had forgotten about the perfect blue people in the novel (it has been a while - I think I read the book about 10 years ago). Thanks for the reminder - I need to read The Year of the Flood - haven't read that one yet.

      I have a thing for dystopian futures - I'm pretty sure there is something tweaked in my brain, lol!

    • Gary Shorthouse profile image

      Gary Shorthouse 6 years ago from Reading, UK

      I agree with all the comments - very fascinating indeed.

      Have you ever read any Margaret Atwood? I think she is one of the best authors of our time.

      In her pre and post apocalyptic books 'Oryx and Crake' (2003 - Booker Prize finalist) and 'The Year of the Flood' (2009), Crake, a genetic engineer, creates a race of (perfect) blue people with which he intends to repopulate the world after normal humans have been wiped out by a virus he also engineered.

      Put like that it sounds weird, but they are a great read.

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 6 years ago from Western New York

      Good luck finding them! With the methylene blue treatment and the dispersion of the Fugate descendents into the general population, finding anyone with a blue skin tint would be difficult today - but you never know!

    • Jo_Goldsmith11 profile image

      Jo_Goldsmith11 6 years ago

      this is something interesting to read. I live in Kentucky and I will keep an eye out for "blue people". Take care..voted up..interesting! :)

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 6 years ago from Western New York

      It is really fascinating, isn't it? I guess Dr. Cawein had a difficult time finding the family at first - he would see a "blue person" on a hill, but if he approached, they would always run away. Most were embarrassed about the blue skin color (not knowing it really was a medical/genetic condition).

    • Hyphenbird profile image

      Brenda Barnes 6 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

      Just when I think I have heard it all..........

      Well thanks for this very interesting Hub. I am just amazed.

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 6 years ago from Western New York

      I remember hearing about this phenomenon back in my genetics class (ages and ages ago) - I thought it might make an interesting hub. Thanks for the compliments!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Extremely interesting hub! Amazing that the blue dye affects the skin tone reverting it back to a normal color. Thanks for this hub about the blue people in Kentucky. Up and interesting!

    • Esmeowl12 profile image

      Cindy A. Johnson 6 years ago from Sevierville, TN

      I agree with Scribenet. Very interesting.

    • Scribenet profile image

      Scribenet 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      It is interesting what you learn on Hubpages! Thank you for an interesting Hub!