Ludlow, VT Blasting Powder "Crowbar" Accident, Sept 1848

Phineas Gage

As Gage was doing this around 4:30 p.m., his attention was attracted by his men working behind him. Looking over his right shoulder, and inadvertently bringing his head into line with the blast hole, Gage opened his mouth to speak; in that same instant the tamping iron sparked against the rock and (possibly because the sand had been omitted) the powder exploded. Rocketed from the hole, the tamping iron?—?1 1?4 inches (3.2 cm) in diameter, three feet seven inches (1.1 m) long, and weighing 13 1?4 pounds (6.0 kg)?—?entered the left side of Gage's face in an upward direction, just forward of the angle of the lower jaw. Continuing upward outside the upper jaw and possibly fracturing the cheekbone, it passed behind the left eye, through the left side of the brain, and out the top of the skull through the frontal bone

Despite nineteenth-century references to Gage as the "American Crowbar Case"] his tamping iron did not have the bend or claw sometimes associated with the term crowbar; rather, it was simply a pointed cylinder something like a javelin, round and fairly smooth.

The end which entered first is pointed; the taper being [eleven inches (27 cm) long, ending in a ?1?4-inch (7 mm) point] ... circumstances to which the patient perhaps owes his life. The iron is unlike any other, and was made by a neigh­bour­ing blacksmith to please the fancy of its owner.

The tamping iron landed point-first some 80 feet (25 m) away, "smeared with blood and brain".

Gage was thrown onto his back and gave some brief convulsions of the arms and legs, but spoke within a few minutes, walked with little assistance, and sat upright in an oxcart for the 3?4-mile (1.2 km) ride to his lodgings in town. About thirty minutes after the accident physician Edward H. Williams, finding Gage sitting in a chair outside the hotel, was greeted with "one of the great understatements of medical history".
When I drove up he said, "Doctor, here is business enough for you." I first noticed the wound upon the head before I alighted from my carriage, the pulsations of the brain being very distinct. The top of the head appeared somewhat like an inverted funnel, as if some wedge-shaped body had passed from below upward. 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.

By November 25 (10 weeks after his injury), Gage was strong enough to return to his parents' home in Lebanon, New Hampshire, traveling there in a "close carriage" (an enclosed carriage of the kind used for transportation of the insane).Though "quite feeble and thin ... weak and childish" on arriving, by late December he was "riding out, improving both mentally and physically", and by February 1849 he was "able to do a little work about the horses and barn, feeding the cattle etc. [and] as the time for ploughing came [i.e. about May or June] he was able to do half a day's work after that and bore it well." In August, his mother told an inquiring physician that his memory seemed somewhat impaired, though slightly enough that a stranger would not notice.



Phineas Gage accident 1848

This entry in the History of Ludlow, Vermont (1949) is an excellent example of how the story of Phineas Gage tends to get garbled in retellings. Every detail is a little bit wrong, including his name. The 1907 History of Rockingham by Lyman Hayes also has some warped facts. Since the 1990's, when interest in brain research grew, there are more-carefully researched accounts. The discovery of a post-accident photo of Phineas P. Gage in 2009 has further increased interest in his story. Thanks for providing this transcription.