Face of Phineas Gage Revealed

Almost a full century and a half after his death, the face of one of the most famous cases in Psychology’s history has been revealed. As the well-known story goes, Phineas Gage was a railway worker who survived having a tamping iron that was 3.8 feet in length enter under his left eye and exit from the back of his skull in 1848 (for more info, see here). Until now, our only “image” of Gage has been his skull and the infamous tamping iron (pictured right).

It turns out Gage’s image has been right under our noses in the collection of Jack and Beverly Wilgus, photograph collectors from Maryland. As the two describe on their recently launched website, “Meet Phineas Gage“, the image has been in their collection for 30 years but had been identified as a whaler holding a harpoon – until a comment on the online photo site Flicr questionned the accuracy of the caption. As the Wilgus’ explain:

We gave it a name and had a story we told about it. We called it “The Whaler” because we thought the pole he held was part of a harpoon. His left eye (we have flipped the picture since the daguerreotype is a laterally-reversed mirror image) is closed so we invented an encounter with an angry whale that left him with one eye stitched shut.

The account of their discovery of the actual individual in the image is also available on their site (here) and a publication is forthcoming in the August 2009 issue of the Journal of the History of the Neurosciences (“Face to Face with Phineas Gage”, vol. 18, no. 3, p. 340-345).

(*Note that as of July 16th the server hosting the “Meet Phineas Gage” site is “having difficulties” and you may need to reload the page or return to the link later to view the image*)

A big thanks from AHP to Jason Goertzen, recent graduate from the York HT program, and PsyDir News for bringing this story to our attention!

*UPDATE: The Flicr-located image of Gage is available here*

About Jennifer Bazar

Jennifer Bazar is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto and Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care. Her research focuses on the history of psychiatric institutionalization.

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