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For that boss-level werewolf, you don't want any old silver bullet...
March 18, 2013 1:29 PM   Subscribe

Long before the Blue Man Group, there was the Blue Man. Captain Fred Walters of the British Army contracted argyria after taking silver nitrate to treat locomotor ataxia. He took more deliberately to deepen the blue tone, and became a sideshow performer with Barnum and Bailey. In 1924, suffering from shortness of breath, he checked into Bellevue in New York City, where he died. His autopsy revealed that the cause of death was pneumonia, and that his muscles, internal organs, and brain were all tinted blue. By extracting the silver from different parts of his body, city toxicologist Alexander Gettler extrapolated that Walters had 3.5 oz. of silver in his body. His co-workers had a bullet cast from the extracted silver, presenting it to Gettler "just in case he ever had to analyze a vampire."

That final link is to an excerpt from The Poisoner's Handbook by Deborah Blum.

(Argyria and Deborah Blum previously on, ahem, the blue)
posted by Zed (44 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
I was biking to work one day when I passed a guy sitting at the beginning of the bike path. He looked bluish and I stopped to find out if he was hypoxic or taking colloidal silver. He seemed pretty pleased that I knew about colloidal silver. He wasn't super blue, but it was definitely apparent to the passerby.

Then there's always methemogobinemia and the Blue Fugates. Might have seen some people with this when I worked at NIH, but it could have been more colloidal silver/silver nitrate guys.
posted by sciencegeek at 1:38 PM on March 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Arrested Development jokes please queue on the left.
posted by Naberius at 2:05 PM on March 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


Also see Stan Jones the Montana politician.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 2:08 PM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have to go to a local "freaky foods natural health" outlet near my house to get xantham gum, used for baking. They have colloidal silver on display. I make it a point to tell the woman behind the counter that she's selling dangerous bullshit. It's always a fun conversation.

"I'll take the usual. I see you're still selling dangerous bullshit. How's your family?"
"It has antibiotic properties. They're good, thanks. Credit or debit?"
"Debit. No, it doesn't, it's snake oil bullshit. Can I get a small bag?"
"Sure, here you go. See you later."
"Thanks, bye."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:15 PM on March 18, 2013 [26 favorites]


They say my sister had a bluish tinge when she was born and had to be "rubbed" back to normal colour...dunno more but now curious to find out.
posted by infini at 2:21 PM on March 18, 2013


See, this is why I gave up on a career in fiction.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:26 PM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hypoxia (i.e., not getting enough oxygen) can also cause bluish skin and sometimes newborn infants experience hypoxia.
posted by Zed at 2:28 PM on March 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


In the case of the silver nitrate, I assume exposure to light caused it to deposit more in the skin than elsewhere.

Wonder if you could go into a dark or red lit room, take some silver nitrate, wait til it was absorbed, project an image onto your skin, wait a couple of days for the silver to get out of your system or be deposited elsewhere, then come out with essentially a permanent photographic tattoo.
posted by jamjam at 2:32 PM on March 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


I always thought silver bullets were for protection from werewolves, not vampires.
posted by Mercaptan at 2:33 PM on March 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Does the first (Google books) link go to an actual excerpt talking about Captain Fred Waters? All I'm seeing is a blurb and a few reviews for American Sideshow. (I'm in Ireland, if Google books links are country-specific).
posted by Azara at 2:33 PM on March 18, 2013


This happened to me once with an otherwise fairly solid friend I didn't expect this from at all.

"Have you ever heard of colloidal silver?"
"The shit that turns ya blue, right?"
"Nooooo, it doesn't do that at ALLLL it is a gift from GOD and I want you to try some and here have a slightly disturbing jar of water that feels a little greasy somehow and GIFT FROM GOD also keep it out of the light."
"Uh. Thanks?"

I left the jar, wrapped in plastic, inside a closet. Maybe I'll go check it one day and see that aliens have sprouted. I sure as hell am not putting that stuff in or on me.

What happens if someone with argyria has to take a MRI? Is it spread out enough that there isn't an effect, or is there a danger of that Magneto in X2 scene, but with silver instead of iron?
posted by cmyk at 2:33 PM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


"(Stan Jones) loss in 2006 was his most significant, when he challenged incumbent Republican Conrad Burns and Democrat Jon Tester, and received 3 percent of the vote."

Guess that would be enough to permanently... tarnish your image.
posted by hal9k at 2:35 PM on March 18, 2013 [12 favorites]


So Captain Fred Walters was trying to treat symptoms for syphilis, right? I'm reading on Wikipdeia that locomotor ataxia is "a symptom of tabes dorsalis, which is a key finding in tertiary syphilis." So I can't help to think that the dementia that can often go along with that would make turning oneself blue and into a side show act into a relatively good idea.

I'd assume so but am surprised I didn't see it theorized anywhere.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:36 PM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Considering that silver is nonmagnetic and nonresponsive to magnetism, I think that having argyria means you don't need to worry about being inside a Magnetic Resonance Imager.
posted by mephron at 2:37 PM on March 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'd assume so but am surprised I didn't see it theorized anywhere.

...I was surprised Walters didn't have a Wikipedia entry and has so little web footprint -- I expected it would be straightforward to find info on him without resorting to a Google Books link.
posted by Zed at 2:42 PM on March 18, 2013


The silver bullet detail is what makes this story.
posted by immlass at 2:50 PM on March 18, 2013


My mother-in-law had me over for a demonstration/sale of "Miracle antibiotic towels" so-called because they had silver in them, and silver's magical antibiotic properties meant you never had to use soap to clean your counters, just wet the magic towel. The demonstration included rubbing raw chicken on a surface then wiping it with said magic towel, then using an e.coli test strip to show that Magic Towel worked!

Of course, quickly wiping up chicken germs pretty much works with any very absorbent towel, and they didn't apply the e.coli strip to the towel itself. I would like to see that towel tested after several raw chicken cleanups and days of letting stuff grow in it; oddly, that didn't seem to be something they tried.

It was supposed to be more healthy, see, because you don't use Evil Chemicals to clean anymore. Just Magic Towel.

Made me want to go home and bleach my whole house out of spite.
posted by emjaybee at 2:54 PM on March 18, 2013 [12 favorites]


Silver nitrate helps your body develop.
posted by benzenedream at 2:55 PM on March 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Remember, kids: Just say no to dragées.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:57 PM on March 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


They say my sister had a bluish tinge when she was born and had to be "rubbed" back to normal colour...dunno more but now curious to find out.

Happens all the time, the kid just wasn't breathing yet. I bet she started screaming and crying and turning a healthy pink after a few seconds.

Both my boys were born bright purple.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:12 PM on March 18, 2013


It may be slightly more complicated than that, CPB.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:20 PM on March 18, 2013


The silver bullet detail is what makes this story.

I will agree that making a vampire-killing bullet out of the silver that poisoned one of your patients is an extremely interesting component to the story, but the fact that the silver was stripped from a man that it'd turned bluer than Babe the Blue Ox is the part of the tale that I think I'll be gravitating towards.
posted by item at 3:21 PM on March 18, 2013


Tangentially related: The Poisoner's Handbook by Blum was among the most fabulously entertaining nonfiction books I've ever read. I want a TV series based on it so, so badly. "One's an idealistic but inexperienced young doctor determined to root out corruption in the Prohibition Era coroner's office! The other's his loyal chemist sidekick determined to track down mysterious toxins using the hottest newfangled science! Together, they fight crime!"
posted by nicebookrack at 4:20 PM on March 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I always thought silver bullets were for protection from werewolves, not vampires.

When monster fighting, I default to a wooden stake through the heart. As Terry Pratchett pointed out, it also kills monsters that aren't vampires.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 5:04 PM on March 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


It might be a personal thing, but I've always figured that silver for werewolves makes sense since silver is related to the moon. Thus by that token vampires should be weak to gold, which is associated with the sun.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 5:19 PM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I always thought silver bullets were for protection from werewolves, not vampires.

I'm sure there's a really good book somewhere in WorldCat about how book and film Dracula and the film The Wolfman all but calcified huge numbers of tangled, ever-shifting myths.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:09 PM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I want a TV series based on [The Poisoner's Handbook] so, so badly.

Weirdly, North American TV producers are not irresponsible enough to make this series.
posted by sneebler at 6:29 PM on March 18, 2013




[pedant]

diamagnetic

[/pedant]
posted by Existential Dread at 8:23 PM on March 18, 2013


When monster fighting, I default to a wooden stake through the heart. As Terry Pratchett pointed out, it also kills monsters that aren't vampires.

You could say the same thing about silver bullets.
posted by 445supermag at 8:55 PM on March 18, 2013


Actually, that's an interesting point. A cursory Google search didn't find any information on argyria interfering with MRIs from reputable sources. A diamagnetic compound would not respond to magnetic fields in a detectable way, and so would be invisible to an MRI. However, that blue color suggests a metal-ligand charge transfer complex, which could potentially be paramagnetic. If so, that could affect the MRI in some way.

Upon further searching, it looks like the blue color comes from silver sulfide and silver selenide (Ag2S and Ag2Se). I'm guessing those are diamagnetic (too lazy to look up/do the molecular orbital diagrams) so probably not an issue.
posted by Existential Dread at 8:56 PM on March 18, 2013




I'm more than a little distressed to find out about the dragées. Say it isn't so!
posted by Space Kitty at 11:13 PM on March 18, 2013


[The Poisoner's Handbook]

Weirdly, North American TV producers are not irresponsible enough to make this series.


Ha! Pull the other one, it has got bells on.

But no, The Poisoner's Handbook is not literally a how-to guide, though the chapters are arranged by poison. It's a scientific history of the NYC coroner's office with our heroes exactly as descriped. CSI: New York Jazz Age: None of Us Has Any Idea What We're Doing.

Government: "Go go grain-alcohol prohibition!"
Citizens: "Alcohol is great! This is a bad idea!"
NYC Coroners: "Alcohol is a deadly poison. This is still a bad idea."
Government: "What could possibly go wrong?"
Coroners: "Well, there's always wood alcohol—"
Citizens: "Did you say alcohol? Go go wood alcohol stills!"
Coroners: "—wood alcohol, which makes people go blind and die horribly."
Citizens: "AGH WE'RE BLIND MURBLE MRRBLEGKKKK"
Government: "WHAT IS THIS MYSTERIOUS AND DEADLY WAVE OF DEATH SWEEPING DEADENINGLY ACROSS THE NATION?!"
Coroners: "We'll meet you all at the morgue."
posted by nicebookrack at 11:52 PM on March 18, 2013


I thought that only colloidal silver accumulated in the body in any notable quantities, and that dragées and other edible silver were OK because they're in macroscopic chunks that pass through the body largely unchanged.

Are there any negative effects of silver ingestion besides blueness?
posted by fermion at 11:55 PM on March 18, 2013


Well, at some point your organs become more valuable to other people than they are to you.

I don't mean to get heavy or anything.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:18 AM on March 19, 2013


When monster fighting, I default to a wooden stake through the heart. As Terry Pratchett pointed out, it also kills monsters that aren't vampires.

You could say the same thing about silver bullets.


Silver bullets don't exactly grow on trees. Wooden stakes on the other hand...
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:33 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Man, that would be an awesome episode of Warehouse 13 -

"Something has been stalking and sickening circus performers - nothing seems to be able to stop it!"
"Take this with you. It's the Blue Man Bullet."
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:36 AM on March 19, 2013


Also, wooden stakes imply the vampire, with all of it's speed and strength and changing into a bat or wolf and such, will stand still while you hammer a table-leg into it with a four-pound sledge.

Silver bullet, you hide and then shoot 'em in the back. Or, better yet, homebrew a claymore mine with some C4 and a few drawers full of ritzy flatware.

Come to think of it, the Blue Raja from Mystery Men would be kind of a badass in a vampire/werewolf scenario.

"We gotta deal with him, Suki - he's forked three of my lieutenants... No, that's forked with an "r". Not as fun."
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:47 AM on March 19, 2013


emjaybee: "My mother-in-law had me over for a demonstration/sale of "Miracle antibiotic towels" so-called because they had silver in them, and silver's magical antibiotic properties meant you never had to use soap to clean your counters, just wet the magic towel. The demonstration included rubbing raw chicken on a surface then wiping it with said magic towel, then using an e.coli test strip to show that Magic Towel worked!

Of course, quickly wiping up chicken germs pretty much works with any very absorbent towel, and they didn't apply the e.coli strip to the towel itself. I would like to see that towel tested after several raw chicken cleanups and days of letting stuff grow in it; oddly, that didn't seem to be something they tried.

It was supposed to be more healthy, see, because you don't use Evil Chemicals to clean anymore. Just Magic Towel.

Made me want to go home and bleach my whole house out of spite.
"

But... But...

Bleach is TAAAAAKHHZIK!
posted by Samizdata at 6:18 AM on March 19, 2013


mephron, you and your logic, bein' such a wonder-killer.
posted by cmyk at 1:33 PM on March 19, 2013


Are there any negative effects of silver ingestion besides blueness?

According to the sources cited in the wikipedia article linked above:
[Argyria and related conditions] "are not life-threatening conditions but cosmetically undesirable.” This view is supported by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and other authorities.
posted by Zed at 1:42 PM on March 19, 2013


I am creeped out that Gettler's co-workers apparently thought it was reasonable to harvest the silver from Captain Walters' body and cast it into a bullet for the purposes of a jest with their co-worker.

I imagine — spelled, I fucking hope — that they would have balked at stealing gold fillings from the body (even if, as in this case, nobody profited financially from it). But somehow this was different.

Ugh.
posted by Lexica at 9:23 PM on March 19, 2013


The silver had been extracted to answer the question of legitimate medical interest of just how much silver Walters had in him. It's not the case (according to Blum's account) that anyone had harvested the silver with any intent other than to measure it.

The bullet idea came after they had the extracted silver.

Certainly there's room to question the propriety of making a bullet instead returning it to his wife as part of his remains, but it's not the case that anyone looked at Walters' corpse and said "we totally have to pull enough silver out of this guy to make a bullet 'cause that would be awesome."
posted by Zed at 11:36 PM on March 19, 2013


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