Hello, Lovelies! Welcome to this week’s blog episode featuring Phineas Gage! Below you will find Rebecca’s notes, some fun YouTube Videos, and some fun images Rebecca found that the had to share. 😀
Thanks to (again) Sam O’Nella for the inspiration:
Bonus vlog brother video:
Jack and Beverly Wilgus were collectors of vintage photographs and had in their collection a daguerreotype (old photograph taken using a process that involved a silvered plate and mercury vapor) of a young, disfigured man.
The photograph was believed to be taken in the 19th century. The man in the picture was believed the man had encountered a whale since he was holding a harpoon-like object in the image.
The couple had the image on display in their home for years. In December 2007, the couple decided to share the image on Flickr and title it “One-Eyed Man With Harpoon”.
One Flickr user contacted the couple, commenting that the man probably isn’t a whaler as he wasn’t holding a harpoon in the picture.
Another user saw this picture and said “hey… This might be the only surviving photo of Phineas Gage.”
Don’t Play with Blasting Powder
Born in 1823, Phineas P. Gage led either an uneventful life or didn’t bother keeping a journal cause he doesn’t pop up again until 1848.
At the age of 25, Phineas was working as a railroad foreman in Cavendish, Vermont, and on September 13, 1848 made a really good attempt at receiving the Darwin Award.
Phineas worked for the Rutland and Burlington Railroad company as a foreman. Part of his job involved coordinating blasting out rock to make way for new rail lines. This part of the job required knowledge in geology and trigonometry (insert statement about how trig is the most useful of the maths).
So not only did Phineas have to be a pretty clever dude, but he also had to handle his crew who was described as a “gang of Irishmen” who basically needed all the supervision since they enjoyed things like brawling, shooting, and drinking. Phineas had good people skills though, so his crew liked him.
Blasting out the area involved, not only creating basically schematics of where to drill holes that were a couple inches wide and a few feet deep, but also being able to place them along natural joints and rifts to make the job easier.
Once these holes were drilled, blasting powder was placed into the hole and tamped down typically with a crowbar. Since Phineas was kinda a big deal, he had his own tamping device made by a local blacksmith. The tamping device was basically a javelin, weighed 13.25 lbs, was 43 inches long, and tapered from a diameter of 1.25 in (the end used for tamping) to a point.
Any guesses on where this is going.
One day while tamping Phineas ignored the OSHA guidelines for “tamping blasting powder into the earth with a long metal spike” (which wouldn’t be a thing until 1971), and, I can only assume, looked down into the hole above the spike.
One source I found stated the incident happened around 4:30 PM, near quitting time. Either Phineas wasn’t paying attention as he was telling his rowdy group to behave or his assistant forgot to put the ever important sand into the hole before tamping.
Either way, the blasting powder ignited.
The earth, acting as a barrel, shot the tamping spike, which was currently acting like a bullet, up into the bottom of Phineas’ left cheek, through his brain, and out the top.
Funny: one source said the Tamping iron decided to reverse thrusters (ahem)
The rod reportedly landed 25 feet away, stuck into the ground like a pin, and was coated in a great mixture of blood and what was described as a greasy substance. (Brain juice, it was brain juice)
An important fact to remember is that between Phineas’ left cheek and the top of his head is his brain.
After impact, Phineas fell backwards onto the ground… but maintained consciousness. He twitched a little bit, was able to speak, and eventually got up and walked to the nearest oxcart to seek medical attention which was an hour away.
They apparently made a stop at Phineas’ hotel, during which Phineas talked with passersby with bone sticking out the top of his head.
He eventually made it to the doctor, and, upon seeing the doctor, Edward H. Williams, Phineas deadpanned “Here’s business enough for you”.
The doctor did his thing, which included assessing the situation and asking repeatedly “Are you SURE it went through your head?”
Dr. Williams had the following to say about Phineas:
“I first noticed the wound upon the head before I alighted from my carriage, the pulsations of the brain being very distinct. Mr. Gage, during the time I was examining this wound, was relating the manner in which he was injured to the bystanders. I did not believe Mr. Gage’s statement at that time but thought he was deceived. Mr. Gage persisted in saying that the bar went through his head… Mr. G. got up and vomited; the effort of vomiting pressed out about half a teacupful of the brain, which fell upon the floor.”
One source noted that the “treatment” Phineas received was a doctor putting “important” bits of the brain back in while discarding the “unimportant bits”. (could not verify but for that time it tracked.
Phineas was eventually transferred to Dr. John Martyn Harlow, who initially described the aftermath of the incident as “one gore of blood”.
Phineas remained conscious for the remainder of the evening and didn’t want to take in visitors since he was convinced he’d be back at work in a day or two. (he bled for a couple days after the incident)
Shocker, Phineas developed an infection, and spent September 23 – October 3 in a semi-comatose state. After this Dr. Harlow noticed that, while Phineas distinctly remembered the incident and knew how much time had passed since, Phineas had trouble doing things like counting money.
Phineas eventually moved back in with his parents. The next year Dr. Harlow went to visit him. Other than losing vision in his left eye (shocker) Phineas seemed to be doing very good. Phinease even held jobs such as farm work and even being a stagecoach driver in Chile.
He even spent a bit touring with Barnum, tamping iron in hand, as a curiosity.
Harlow had the following to say after the incident:
“Previous to his injury, although untrained in the schools, he possessed a well-balanced mind, and was looked upon by those who knew him as a shrewd, smart businessman, very energetic and persistent in executing all his plans of operation. In this regard, his mind was radically changed, so decidedly that his friends and acquaintances said he was ‘no longer Gage.'”
More popular reports state that Phineas couldn’t hold down a job after the incident and became and angry and raging alcoholic. More realistically, Phineas’ cognitive function was greatly affected, and was described as more childlike.
Phineas died on May 21,1860, at 36 after suffering from many seizures.
Today, Phineas’ skull, tamping iron, and a mask of his face made while he was still alive are at the Warren Anatomical Museum on the Harvard Medical School Campus.
It’s estimated that Phineas sustained injuries mostly to his left frontal lobe, which could affect emotions and decision making. People are still studying what happened to Phineas since his incident played a role in scientists determining that maybe the frontal lobe has something to do with personality.