People come in all colors - to an extent. Still, you wouldn't expect to see a human with naturally blue skin, but that's the case for the Blue Fugates. Who are the Blue Fugates? The title refers to members of the Fugate family of eastern Kentucky, particularly those who lived in the early- to mid-20th century. And according to firsthand accounts, the title is no exaggeration.
Why did the Fugates turn blue? The short answer has to do with a genetic mutation arising from inbreeding. The longer answer has to do with recessive genes and bizarre happenstance. If the Fugates hadn't lived in such a rural area, their condition might not have become so pronounced.
Blue skin is often seen as something not quite human, from the Scottish Blue Men of the Minch to the Hindu god Krishna. But the Fugates are mortal, and however wild they may seem, these facts about the Blue Fugates of Kentucky are nothing but the total truth.
The Fugate family first settled in Kentucky in 1820. Martin Fugate and his wife, Elizabeth Smith, came to Troublesome Creek, an out-of-the-way region of Appalachia. According to family stories, Martin Fugate was blue himself. Even if this wasn't true, his offspring ended up with an unusual appearance: his son Zachariah was born with blue skin, and so were three more of their seven children.
Due to the isolated nature of the community, the Fugate's neighbors knew about the "blue people," but few outsiders did.
So, where did that blue color come from? The Fugates had a genetic defect that resulted in a condition called methemoglobinemia, which means their blood didn't carry as much oxygen around the body. This makes the blood darker, which in turn causes the skin of Caucasians to appear blue, and their lips to look purple. In addition, arterial blood looks chocolate-brown rather than red.
People with methemoglobinemia have higher levels of methemoglobin in their blood; they may have 10-20%, versus the average person's less than 1%. The Fugates' very blood was different from that of their neighbors.
Martin Fugate and his bride, Elizabeth Smith, both carried the same recessive gene that causes methemoglobinemia. It wouldn't have affected future generations of Fugates - if they hadn't married within the family, that is. The Fugates lived in an isolated area, which limited their options. Zachariah Fugate, one of the first known Blue Fugates, married his aunt; one of their sons married a close cousin. In turn, one of their children married another cousin.
It makes for a confusing family tree marked with plenty of blue individuals. As one of the family members quipped, "I'm kin to myself."
At the end of the 19th century, a man named John Stacy attended church one Sunday in eastern Kentucky. He spotted a young woman, and apparently liked what he saw. The two courted, got married, and had 13 children. The woman was Luna Fugate, and according to lore, she was bluest Blue Fugate of them all.
According to a local nurse, "The bluest Fugates I ever saw was Luna and her kin. Luna was bluish all over. Her lips were as dark as a bruise. She was as blue a woman as I ever saw."
Interestingly enough, Stacy himself refused to say whether his beloved wife was blue.