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Monadnock Moment No. 176
Era 4: Expansion and Reform - 1800 to 1860
The Amazing Case of Phineas Gage
During the late 1840s a railroad was built from Bellows Falls to Burlington, Vermont to connect with the Cheshire Railroad and other rail lines to Boston. During construction near Bellows Falls an accident occurred that was viewed as one of the most remarkable cases in medical history.
In September of 1848, Phineas Gage was supervising some rock blasting to clear the way for the railroad. Gage was powdering a hole when, assuming his assistant had placed sand over the blasting powder, he dropped his tamping iron in the hole to pack the powder. The sand had not been applied, however, and the iron rod caused a spark that ignited the powder and shot the rod from the hole as if fired from a gun. Gage was leaning over the hole. The 3 ½ foot, l ¼ inch diameter rod entered his cheek, passed behind his left eye, through his brain, and exited through the top of his head. Gage was knocked flat by the blast, but was able to sit up and talk after a few minutes. He was taken home and attended by a doctor. Gage was able to walk on his own and told the doctor he hoped he wasn't hurt too badly. Exertions caused hemorrhaging and the loss of additional brain matter, but Gage soon began to heal.
The case became known far and wide and Gage traveled to Boston several times to visit specialists. On one such trip he stopped at the Keene depot and exhibited his tamping rod to several local residents. The accident caused blindness and paralysis of the eyelids, but Phineas Gage lived a normal life before passing away nineteen years after his accident.