Skip navigation

Biloxi Herald, October 10, 1891. At last, some hard scientific data on this here blue gum phenomena. Which has to be real, because Yankee newspapers refer to it and most Southerners believe in it.
The persistent association of the BGN with hydrophobia (rabies) is interesting. It’s as if the BNG is a vector for rabies but doesn’t get the disease himself (and BGNs do seem to be exclusively male so far.)
So one BGN can neutralize the menace of another–I wonder what the therapeutic protocol there is? And they’re are skilled conjure men to boot. Blue gumminess is starting to sound less like an inherited condition and more like a form of magic. There’s a witch-hunting element to this phenomena, except the BGN is sort of maybe more like a werewolf than a witch. Actually they’re more snake-men than wolf-men. (Paging Elsie Venner!)

This raises an interesting point. So far I haven’t found any news stories about BGNs prior to 1890. Implicitly the blue-gum mystique had no antebellum currency among white people. And you can see why slave owners would not care to invest in it: Who wants to buy shares in a rank superstition that writes off one’s precious $700 investment as a lemon due to the color of its gums? Post-emancipation, of course, white people can get on board with what seems to have originated as a black folk belief, because none of them have an individual stake in the black person accused of packing blue gums.
Yeah, see? The Colonel owns a blue gum, but that fact doesn’t really seem to become salient until after emancipation.
I guess one way to get at this issue would be to find out if BGNs were bought and sold at a discount during slavery days. Or maybe slave traders had tricks to temporarily bleach or dye the tell-tale purple gums. (As with horses, dental inspection was always a crucial part of the inspection of pre-owned human property.) (And that’s assuming that the gum-color thing is objectively true in relation to the accused. But I betcha any black person who bit someone in a fight could find themselves recategorized as BG lickety-split no matter what their mouths looked like inside. Especially if the wound went septic, as all bite wounds are subject to do.) (And please, nobody say ‘Did you know that a dog’s mouth is cleaner than a humans?‘ at this point. Because I’ll be all like, ‘Yeah, plus we only use 10% of our brains and ‘No two snowflakes are alike‘ until your head explodes all Scanner-like from boredom or credulity.) (Melynda, what do you think of this new convention of punctuation I’ve implemented here. Too DFW?)

Oh well, the grandson of a planter. Gotta be on the level then.
As in the case of witchcraft, BG status would confer certain advantages on its possessor. You can see why a guy with blue gums might want to play along if it gave him power to intimidate and kept him out of fights. Plus you could name your own price when selling your magical healing powers to the victims of other blue gums. It could have been a vocation of sorts. A dangerous one, granted, but a vocation none the less.


  1. BGN: The Legend of Jim Tombs would make an excellent graphic novel or low-budget horror/blacksploitation movie. “Tony Todd. Ken Foree. And Ice-T. In Blue Gum! The Legend of Jim Tombs.

    I’d buy that DVD.

  2. I was thinking there might also be a major role for The Notorious BGN.

  3. The rabies allusion immediately made me think of Tea Cake.

    Also, I’m pretty sure it’s not physiologically possible to hold your breath until you die. Once you pass out, your breathing reflex kicks back in and you return to normal breathing.

    • The rabies allusion immediately made me think of Tea Cake.
      Yeah, me too. I was wondering whether Hurston the folklorist ever had anything to say about the BGN thing.

      Also, I’m pretty sure it’s not physiologically possible to hold your breath until you die. Once you pass out, your breathing reflex kicks back in and you return to normal breathing.

      Yup. I’d say it was rubbish were the tale not told in good faith by the son of a planter.

  4. Speaking of 10% of our brains , did you know that it takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile? ‘Stroo. Guy I work with says so ….all the @&%$#ing time. Personally , I prefer as thorough a workout as possible.

    • Remember: it takes 16 muscles to frown but only 6 to jam your thumb into his eye.

  5. The punctuation is appealing, under the circumstances–albeit more Terry Pratchett than DFW to my thinking. But this is an error in the right direction.

  6. Errors in the right direction–best I can hope for.
    This Pratchett fellow: you recommend?
    I’ve got Elsie Venner on order from the library. Can’t wait.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: