I have known about Phineas Gage since I was in high school in North Carolina, thanks to a really old copy of Ripley’s Believe It or Not that we used to have around the house.
Phineas Gage was a 25-year-old construction foreman from Lebanon, New Hampshire (which is now the shopping hub for this area, since it has all the major big-box stores). In 1848 he was working in Cavendish, Vermont, blasting away rocks so they could lay down the railroad there. One of these blasts went terribly wrong. It sent a 3.5-foot iron rod–which Gage had used to tamp down the gunpowder–flying right through his left cheek and eye and straight up through his brain. But the man didn’t die. In fact he recovered in very little time and lived for 12 years afterward, although his personality changed considerably; he became so unreliable that the railroad had to let him go, and he held down various jobs in Hanover, Chile and California before he died of a seizure in 1860.
I found out about the Phineas Gage monument in Cavendish recently when I bought The New England Grimpendium: A Guide to Macabre and Ghastly Sites. That book has given me fodder for many more trips I hope to take up here (it’s got a section on the H.P. Lovecraft stuff in Providence, which is a must). When I saw “Phineas Gage,” and realized how close Cavendish was, I set out on a lovely, scenic drive toward my somber destination.
I finally found the extremely detailed monument in a green space beside the road in this tiny town. (Not much there but a gas station and a fire house.) It’s so detailed, in fact, that I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story.