24 July 2009

Phineas Gage: wonders are always fascinating

A daguerreotype made public last week is believed to be the only known image of Phineas Gage (1823-1860).

Gage was a 25-year-old foreman, fit and well-regarded. His crew were digging a railroad bed near Cavendish, Vt. Late on the afternoon of Sept. 13, 1848, he wielded a specially made iron - it measured 3 feet 7 inches long and weighed 13 pounds - to pack blasting powder into rock.

An explosion erupted. “And we think the tamping iron went all the way through the skull - like a missile,’’ said Dr. Ion-Florin Talos, a researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
A close examination of the object clutched by the man in the picture shows an inscription matching the engraving on the tamping iron, which reads in part, “This is the bar that was shot through the head of Mr. Phineas P. Gage.’’

He has had enduring fame as the index case of an individual who suffered major personality changes after brain trauma. As such, he is a legend in the annals of neurology, which is largely based on the study of brain-damaged patients.

“It’s kind of a wonder,’’ Dr. Talos said, “and wonders are always fascinating.’’

From the Boston Globe.

Another fascinating account of the case appears at Neurophilosophy.

1 comment:

Matthew L Lena (Boston) said...

Researchers such as Malcolm Macmillan and I hope readers can contribute to a fuller picture of Phineas Gage by helping with topics such as those listed below. Many are not on Gage directly, but rather people or places related to him. FOR MORE INFORMATION including how these relate to Phineas, please visit www.deakin.edu.au/hmnbs/psychology/gagepage/PgQuestn.php .

Information might be in letters and diaries; medical and business records; town, police and court files; local newspapers; or in the archives of churches, hospitals and literary, professional, historical and genealogical societies. We especially hope organizations will search their one-of-a-kind materials not published in book form.

IN CHILE (1852-60): We want to know about Drs. William and Henry Trevitt, Masonic lodges, Methodist churches, and English-language newspapers, schools and businesses. Do you know anyone who can help with such things?

IN NEW ENGLAND (1848-54): Can you find newspaper or diary accounts of Phineas’ accident, of his travels exhibiting himself and his “iron,” or of his reported preaching at Methodist revivals in Sterling, Mass.? In Concord, NH records of the Abbot-Downing coachworks could identify “three enterprising New Englanders” who may have set up the coach line for which Phineas drove in Chile; in Hanover you might discover Phineas’ duties at Currier’s Inn, or a Dartmouth professor who met him; and somewhere in Wilton may be the papers of Henry Trevitt.

IN CALIFORNIA (1860- ): Where is the missing undertaker’s ledger showing where Gage died? What can you discover about Dr. William Jackson Wentworth (Alameda Co.) or the papers of Joseph Stalder (d.1931)? Are you descended from Phineas’s nieces/nephew Hannah, Delia, Mary, Alice, or Frank B.Shattuck? Can we learn more about Frank at the School for the Deaf?

IN OHIO (1860- ): Can you find anything about Henry Trevitt’s time at Starling Medical College in Columbus, Prof. J.W. Hamilton, or William Trevitt’s papers?

ANYWHERE: If you are related to the Cowdrey, Davis, Ames, or Kimball families, are you also related to Phineas’ doctor, John Martyn Harlow? Do you know of ship passenger lists (Boston, New York, Chile, Panama, S.F.) that might show Gage family movements? Do you have Gold Rush ancestors who stopped in Valparaiso, Chile? And of course, letters mentioning Gage could have gone anywhere.

There are more clues in Stillwater and Northfield, MN; Santa Clara, San Rafael, and S.F., CA; Cavendish, Castleton, Woodstock, and Burlington, VT; Lebanon and Enfield, NH; Albany, NY, Buda, IL, the National Library of Medicine, and other places. At www.deakin.edu.au/hmnbs/psychology/gagepage/PgQuestn.php are details on how you can help by following such clues. Your help or inquiries to malcolm.macmillan@unimelb.edu.au will be very much appreciated.

We would be pleased to assist teachers (in New England, S.F., even Chile?) in creating a class project involving students’ search for family papers or local lore about Gage.