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February 27, 2024 9 mins

Two colorful stories to inspire your curiosity about the world around you.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:04):
Welcome to Aaron Manke's Cabinet of Curiosities, a production of
iHeartRadio and Grimm and Mild.

Speaker 2 (00:12):
Our world is full of the unexplainable, and if history
is an open book, all of these amazing tales are
right there on display, just waiting for us to explore.
Welcome to the Cabinet of Curiosities. Every family has its quirks.

Often these little idiosyncrasies are passed down through the generations.
It could be a distinctive smile shared by a group
of siblings, a unique saying that originated with a great grandparent,
a superstition that's persisted for centuries. Whatever the curious trait
may be, it unites the family and represents their shared history.
The same could be said for the Fugate family of Kentucky,

only their cork was much more than curious. It was
completely inexplicable. The story begins with Martin Fugate, a French
orphan who emigrated to eastern Kentucky in eighteen twenty. Martin
claimed a land grant in a remote area known as
the Troublesome Creek. It got its name because the hunting
trail that ran alongside the creek was overtaken by large trees, vines,

and rocks, making it nearly impassable or troublesome. Very few
people lived there, but it was what Martin could afford,
so he built a life in the rough environment. Soon
he met Elizabeth Smith, an American woman with red hair
and porcelain skin. They got married and had seven children,
and this is where the few gates odd Cork became apparent.

Three of Martin and Elizabeth's children looked perfectly normal. They
had pale skin, just like their mother. But the other four, well,
they were not white, and they weren't any other recognizable
human shade either. They were blue, and I don't mean
slightly blue tinted, I mean bright, cartoonish, and impossibly indigo.
The few other locals who lived near Troublesome Creek said

that they were an I quote, bluer than Lake Louise.
According to local legend, Martin himself was also blue. And
while we have to take two hundred year old stories
with a grain of salt, it would certainly make sense
if the family patriarch was indigo colored. His children's hue
was slightly less shocking. Still, the obvious question was what
on earth was going on with the so called Blue Fugates. Well,

Seeing as this was the mid eighteen hundreds, medical science
wasn't exactly equipped to find the answer. People in Troublesome
Creek and the surrounding communities thought that the family had
some kind of curse. Very few people were willing to
marry into the family. Often few Gates married their cousins
or their aunts. This led to even more Blue babies
being born. Still, despite their social isolation and restricted genepool,

they seemed to be relatively healthy. By the nineteen hundreds,
there were dozens of Blue Fugates and they were living
well into old age. Whatever curse they had, it wasn't
shortening their lifespan. But nevertheless, the family continued to be
the subject of judgment and gossip. In nineteen sixty, nearly
one hundred and fifty years after Martin Fugate moved to
Troublesome Creek, rumors about the Kentucky's Blue Family reached a

man named Madison Coween. Luckily, though medicine had advanced in
that last century and a half, Madison was a young
doctor at the University of Kentucky, and specifically, he was
a hematologist or a doctor who specializes in studying blood.
When Madison heard about the blue Fugates, he wondered if
their oddskin color could be the result of a blood disorder.

So he went to Troublesome Creek and he met with
a few of the members of the family himself. He
took blood samples, and then he ran some tests. What
Madison found was both groundbreaking and surprisingly simple. The blue
Fugates had a disorder called met haemoglobinemia. You see the Fugates'
skin turn into go because their blood lacked an enzyme
called diaphrays. The enzyme helps process hemoglobin, which is a

protein that contains iron. When hemoglobin isn't processed correctly, a
person's blood oxygen level can drop dramatically. So the few
Gates had an abnormally low blood oxygen level. It wasn't
enough to cause any noticeable health problems, but it was
enough to turn their skin bright blue. Luckily, doctor Madison
Coeen found an existing treatment within the medical literature. He

injected the feu gates with a chemical ironically known as
methylene blue. It counteracts the enzyme deficiency and helps the
body process hemoglobin. Within seconds of the injection, the fugates
indigo hue faded to white. Madison gave the family a
pill version of the methylene blue, which they could take
daily to maintain their quote unquote normal skin. The story

of troublesome creeks isolated indigo family is a curious one. Indeed,
luckily the fugates medical mystery was salt, and these days
they don't feel nearly so blue. Historically, emperors are not

the kindest or most compassionate people. That was certainly true
of Caligula. In the four years that he ruled over
ancient Rome from thirty seven to forty one CE, Caligula
gained a reputation as a psychotic and bloodthirsty ruler. If
you don't believe me, here's a tale to prove it.
According to a Roman historian, in the year forty CE,
King Ptolemy of Mauritania came to Rome for a visit

with the imperial court. Shortly after meeting, Caligula had the
man executed. Why simple King Ptolemy had worn a purple cloak. Now, obviously,
having a man assassinated for his wardrobe choices was not
the most reasonable action, but Caligula was never known for
his logical thinking, and in ancient times the color purple

was truly to die for. That was a color pun
by the way, So let me into some history to
help you understand it. You see, the specific shade of
King Ptolemy's cloak was called Tyrian purple. It was a lush,
jewel like hue that glittered in the sun and deepened
with age. Tyrian purple dye was so rare and so
prized that it costs more than three times its weight

in gold. It was also completely disgusting to make. Authentic
Tyrian purple dye came from only one place, the mucus
secreting glands of a few species of sea snails. The
dye that kings and emperors coveted was literally derived from
snail slime, and the process went something like this. Sea
snails would be harvested from the coast and quickly transported

to a nearby facility. They were then killed and their
mucous glands were collected. To give you an idea of
the scale here, making a single gram of dye required
mucus from over eight thousand snails, so manufacturers had their
work cut out for them. Once the mucus was collected,
though it was treated in a number of ways, including aging,
exposure to sunlight, and adding acid and heat. Eventually the

slime was transformed into a glittering purple powder. Now, I
guess this wouldn't be that gross if you can ignore
the fact that hundreds of thousands of snails had to
die to create a handful of purple powder. But the
real clincher was the smell. One ancient Egyptian text noted
that men who worked in Tyrian purple dyeing factories had
hands that smelled like rotten fish. The tel mood actually

gave a woman the right to divorce her husband if
he took work in one of these snail dye factories.
The stench alone was enough to break.

Speaker 1 (07:31):
Up a marriage. But the worst part was even after
a fabric had been dyed and washed, the scent could
persist for months. Just imagine a castle full of royalty
all smelling like rotting snails. Given these gross origins, it's
kind of surprising that Tyrian purple became the color of royalty.
But those who wore it weren't thinking about animal rights

or how bad their clothing smelled. They were thinking about
what the color represented. It told everyone that they could
afford to buy a dye that cost more than gold,
which brings us back to Caligula, the murderous Roman emperor.
When he saw Ptolemy wearing a Tyrian purple cloak, he
interpreted it as a sign of aggression, as if the
king were trying to signal his own superiority, hence the

reason that Caliguila had the man assassinated. Luckily, today, purple
is no longer a color worth killing over. An eighteen
fifty six and eighteen year old British chemist named William
Henry Perkin accidentally discovered a way to create synthetic dye.
It was the first of its kind, and it was
just slightly lighter than Tyrian purple. He called it mauve. Suddenly,

the shade that had been reserved for royalty became widely available.
Even so, traditional dye methods still do exist. One factory
in Wojaca, Mexico, produces authentic Tyrian dye to this day.
Just like in ancient times. It'll run you thousands of
dollars for a single gram and it'll probably stink up
your entire house. But there has been at least one

improvement in dye production. Over the last two thousand years,
the Wahaca Factory has discovered a way to extract mucus
from c snails without killing them. Now they can probably
say no snails were harmed in the making of this color.
I hope you've enjoyed today's guided tour of the Cabinet

of Curiosities. Subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts, or learn
more about the show by visiting Curiosities podcast dot com.
The show was created by me Aaron Mankey in partnership
with how Stuff Works. I make another award winning show
called Lore, which is a podcast, book series, and television show,
and you can learn all about it over at the

Worldoflore dot com. And until next time, stay curious.

Aaron Mahnke's Cabinet of Curiosities News

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