CAPTAIN FRED WALTERS and Other Blue People

CAPTAIN FRED WALTERS and Other Blue People

Skin tone is often a hot social topic. The conversations surrounding the perceived rights of ‘visible minorities’ has long been a heated one. However, what if your skin color placed you in a tiny minority? A tiny and very blue visible minority.

The most famous of the blue people were the Fugates family. The blue Fugates weren’t a race but rather an excessively tight-knit family living in the Appalachian Mountains. The patriarch of the clan was Martin Fugate, who settled along the banks of Troublesome Creek near Hazard, Kentucky, sometime after 1800. His wife, Mary, is thought to have been a carrier for a rare disease known as hereditary methemoglobinemia. Methemoglobinemia, in short, is a disease that causes blood to carry less oxygen which makes the skin of a Caucasian person display a bluish appearance due to the lack of oxygen. It is usually a recessive condition however the Fugate family intermarried with another clan, the Smith’s, and someone in that family carried the same recessive gene. Because of the small size of the community the family continued to inbreed and the family continued to display the unusual color trait well into the 1960’s.

Argyria is an extremely rare condition caused by the ingestion of elemental silver, silver dust or silver compounds and the most dramatic effect of argyria is that the skin is colored blue or bluish-grey. The most famous person with argyria was Captain Fred Walters. Walters was born in England in 1855 and was a captain in the British army before a degenerative neural condition, locomotor ataxia, prompted his retirement. Treatment for his condition included the ingestion of silver and that regular ingestion caused Captain Walters to turn blue. He subsequently traveled to the United States in 1891 and began a freak show career exhibiting himself for profit.

As time went on Walters allegedly increased his silver intake in an attempt to turn himself as blue as possible. For awhile, he was successful and his deep blue pigmentation resulted in more fame. However his heart eventually grew weak from the constant poisoning and gave out on August 20, 1923. He left behind a wife and a young daughter and his autopsy results, performed in Brooklyn, remain the most spectacular case of silver poisoning on record.

image: Captain Walters.

Author, researcher and an expert of the odd, J. Tithonus Pednaud has been chronicling bizarre history and highlighting the lives of those born exceeding different for over a decade.

19 Comments

  • Reply May 28, 2007

    M

    The taking of silver to turn blue isn’t unlike the victorian habit of consuming arsenic to turn whiter. I wonder if anyone ever at so many arsenic crackers that she died.

    Do you have any idea whether the Captain’s family know he was injesting silver when he died?

    • Reply June 16, 2013

      Penelope Ley

      I was looking for info on Fred Walters when I read your comment about whether his family knew he was taking the pills. As far as I was always told, no one in the family knew about the pills until after he died. He was my nans uncle but sadly when he went to america they lost touch.

  • Reply May 31, 2007

    Anonymous

    the arsenic was put on the skin to make it whiter not ingested.

  • Reply December 31, 2007

    fufylays

    I found this page from a link of anything else, but need to say: AMAZING design, I luv it, very distinguished and unique, congratulations!

  • Reply February 24, 2008

    Anonymous

    I saw this man who put silver in water and rubbed it on his skin making him blue.

  • Reply May 20, 2008

    Anonymous

    The Blue People actually lack diaphorase, the enzyme that breaks down methemoglobin into hemoglobin, the disproportionate amount of methemoglobin present gives the bluish cast, but it is strictly a condition of pigment and does not deprive the person of oxygen.

  • Reply October 1, 2008

    Me

    Paul Karason was on Oprah in February and made himself blue….

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23030062/

  • Reply November 28, 2008

    ritchie

    i had family that was blue and if you know anything more about the blue people from kentucky

  • […] death its a scary way to become famous.  You would think he might learn a lesson from the story of Captain Fred Walters who had a sideshow career at the turn of the century.  He tried to become as blue as possible and […]

  • Reply May 12, 2009

    siera

    They were diagnosed with methemoglobinemia, which was later found to be caused by the non-existance of diaphorase. Reasearch was done by Dr. Madison Cawein, a hematologist. Though he discovered that the blue people of troublesome creek had methemoglobinemia, he found out from extensive clue-hunting. A report was written by E. M. Scott’s article, which stated that the enzyme (diaphorase) was not found, and that is was a simple recessive trait. However, though Scott’s speculations furthered the solving of the mystery of the blue people of troublesome creek, it was Dr. Cawein who thought of the rather simple and straightforward cure: an injection of Methylene blue came to mind. Cawein used the fact that the body has its own way of processing methylene, and, in doing so, solved the mystery of the blue people of troublesome creek.

  • […] the advent of antibiotics, silver nitrate and colloidal silver were used as antiseptics. Captain Fred Walters was prescribed silver as a remedy for locomotor ataxia, a degenerative neural disease. It  turned […]

  • Reply August 24, 2009

    ann

    Hi, I have a simular card in my possesion. I was wondering what the value is. Can somebody help me please as I can’t find a price on internet. Thanks!

  • Reply April 10, 2010

    Sue Rowbotham

    Captain Fred Walters travelled with Buffalo Bill’s show in England in 1903. The Gloucestershire Echo’ reported that Walters claimed to have been born and to have gon to Grammar school in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England, when the show visited the town on 30 Jun 1903.

    Any more information about Walter’s connection with Cheltenham would be appreciated.

  • Reply June 28, 2010

    ANONYMOUS

    yall al dumb 4 arguing over this crap.

  • Reply July 25, 2010

    Gilbert

    @Anonymous: No one’s arguing, and you’re the only dumb one here. Also, your spelling sucks.

  • Reply August 7, 2010

    Libby

    I find it ironic that Google runs ads for colloidal silver on this page, LMAO!!! You take enough of that stuff, you’ll turn blue :0)

  • Reply March 3, 2011

    Chrissy

    This is crazy, I am a “Fugate” and my grandmother’s maiden name is Smith!

    • Reply June 16, 2013

      Penelope Ley

      hi, I have just seen your post about your mothers maiden name being Smith.

      I don’t know if this helps at all but Fred Walters was my nan’s uncle.
      Her maiden name was Lucy Elizabeth Manby, but she married George Henry Smith, so became Lucy Elizabeth Smith.

      Don’t know if that helps at all.

      Pennie Ley

  • Reply August 15, 2014

    LOUIS CYR

    Smurfs?

Leave a Reply