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.