Jack and Beverly Wilgus have had this daguerreotype for 30 years. They assumed it was a whaler holding the harpoon that blinded him. But someone who saw the image recently suggested it was Phineas Gage, a railroad worker who survived an iron rod piercing through his skull in 1848. Gage's resulting personality change led to a new understanding of neurology.
This is the only known image of Gage.
[Phineas] Gage was the 25-year-old foreman of a construction gang on Sept. 13, 1848, preparing a railroad bed outside Cavendish, Vt. As usual, he was using a pointed iron rod -- 3 feet, 7 inches long and 13 1/4 pounds -- to tamp gunpowder and sand into a hole drilled in the rock. But on that day, the mixture exploded, sending the rod through his left cheek and out through the top of his head.A piercing image of Phineas Gage
It was successfully removed and, to the surprise of physicians, Gage lived 11 more years, dying after a series of increasingly violent convulsions. His story is a showpiece in neurology texts and folklore because of his survival and the abrupt changes in his personality.
Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. Come and hear Mark speak at the ALA conference in Chicago on July 1.