Kentucky grows its blue grass and has grown a few bluegrass musicians as well. Bill Monroe, an honorary Kentucky Colonel, sang about the Blue Moon of Kentucky. Most people have heard of these, but fewer know that this southern state has been home to blue people.
Stories about blue people living in the area around Troublesome Creek, Kentucky spread slowly. Eastern Kentucky had no rail service until 1912, and the trains would not reach Troublesome Creek for decades after that. A blue complexion suggests a blood disorder, and in 1960 Madison Cawein, a haematologist, decided to investigate. He gained a local assistant in Ruth Pendergrass, a Hazard, Kentucky nurse who had encountered the blue people.
Cawein had heard of blue people elsewhere; specifically, some were said to live among remote Native communities in Alaska. He suspected methemoglobinemia, a rare hereditary blood disorder. Carriers have limited amounts of the enzyme diaphorase, which reduces the amount of oxidized iron in the blood. The condition can result in bluish blood, and a resulting blue complexion. A recessive condition, methemoglobinemia only manifests when carried by both parents. His studies with several members of remote families—all carrying or connected to the surname Fugate-- confirmed his hypothesis. Cawein eventually provided the people he studied with methylene blue tablets, which counter the effects of the deficiency and temporarily turn the blue people pink.
The specific lineage of the blue people remains clouded, though it has been traced to someone named Martin Fugate. At this point, history becomes confused. Two Martin Fugates lived in the area in the early 1800s, and both are involved in the ancestry of the family. Uncertainty exists as to which one originally carried the blue gene. In any case, a man named Fugate who carried the recessive condition married a woman with the same condition. The remote nature of the region led to a certain amount of inbreeding, resulting in the spread of the blue line.
In the 1980s the show That’s Incredible! reportedly sent a film crew to the region. Although Cawein had been received with hospitality, the tv crew allegedly fared less well, and were sent away without footage.
As the area grows less remote, the blue people disappear. Benjamin Stacy, born in 1975, stands among the last of the unusually-colored line. He caused a minor emergency when he was born blue; as he grew older, his skin took on a more typical hue, though his extremities, his lips and his fingernails retain their bluish coloring. He has written:
The color of my lips and finger nails usually draws some attention, but mostly out of concern for my health or curiosity. I have had no major health problems related to the disorder and simply try to live an average life in spite of being "blue."
Cecil Adams. "Is there really a race of blue people?" The Straight Dope July 24, 1998. http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a980724.html
The Blue Fugates. http://www.geocities.com/luvacuzn6/BlueFugates.html
Benjamin Stacy. Letter to Science. http://www.people.virginia.edu/~rjh9u/benstacy.html
Cathy Trust. "The Blue People of Troublesome Creek." Science 82. November, 1982. http://www.people.virginia.edu/~rjh9u/blkysc82.html