The following piece was collected at a dinner table with a group of girls out celebrating a friend’s birthday. One of the girls, the “Informant”, was discussing an upcoming trip to visit her brother at West Virginia University. Laughing, the Informant launched into a story of the “West Virginia Blue People”, a story about a genetic condition the resulted from intermarriage.
Informant: “So, what my brother told me is that there’s a story that there are people in the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia, near the campus I guess, and there is skin is blue. It’s blue, and their people have always had blue skin because of all the intermarrying and incest. So you can tell if someone is a product of incest if their skin is blue! Sometimes, it can be really faint though, so you have to look closely at their lips or fingernails. Apparently, it shows more easily when they’re cold!”
The Informant learned this information from her brother, when he returned home after his first semester at school. From California herself, the informant was very curious to hear about what the people of West Virginia were like. She remembers the story very easily, most often humorously, because she remembers the manner in which her brother told her. He recounted how, after hearing the story for the first time, he and his roommates would make a show of continuously checking to see if their other friends’ lips or skin ever looked blue. Finding it ridiculous herself, the Informant told me that she still enjoys being a part of the joke.
My first reaction to this story was wondering whether there was a scientific reason, or condition perhaps, that acted as a precursor to this belief of a skin condition that was a result of incest. Upon further research, I saw that the original story was based on a specific family that was said to be suffering from blue-tinted skin. Researchers believe this to truly be the case, a result of the family suffering from a genetic condition called methemoglobinemia, which is an excess of methemoglobin in the red blood cells of the body. This condition does, in fact, cause blue-tinted. Hearing this story and conducting some research of my own led me to believe that people love to come up with their explanation for things they cannot explain, no matter how perplex.