I probably need to apologize in advance for this item. There are several red flags that suggest that this is all hokum, with a tinge of racism.
HAIR IN THE HEART
A Physician’s Astonishing Story.
In looking over a hotel register in Chicago, a reporter saw the name of a prominent Southern physician whom he had formerly quite well known. He is resident of a Southern capital. To detail the talk of the evening is certainly not the intention of this brief article. The desire is to call attention to a curious freak of nature, instanced in the person of a young negro woman, who died of an ailment that, in its anteobit bearings, baffled the skill of science. The doctor is willing to vouch for the truth of his narration: “I am aware,” said he, in relating the circumstance, “that what I am telling you seems contrary to reason, and would be reckoned by many, if not an absurdity, at least a phenomenon that needs scarcely be credited. It was five years since that I was called upon to attend a bright mulatto woman, said to be suffering from cancer. I gave her my very best attention, and, as the awful destroyer was but in the incipiency of its force, I cut it out, and succeeded in saving the woman’s life. The wound healed, and to all appearances was uninterfered with.
Two years later the woman was one day seized with violent contortions, when she was apparently in the enjoyment of the very best of health, and fell to the floor crying out that there was a needle piercing her heart. In a short time the pain subsided and she was immediately restored to her normal condition, experiencing no unpleasant results from the incident. But the fits became more frequent and two months from that day were of daily occurrence. I had been summoned, but I could not make out the peculiar disorder. I found it was foreign to anything of the kind that had ever come under my notice as a practitioner. I called in some brother professionals, and we held a long consultation, attempting to diagnose the case. All our efforts were in vain. Finally, to make a long story short, the girl died in the midst of one of her paroxysms. It was decided to hold a post-mortem examination of the body, as it was believed there would be some interesting revelations. The girl had always complained of a pain in the heart, though there were no evidences of heart disease. At the time of the first attack she said a needle was penetrating her heart. We concluded, naturally enough, that the heart was in some manner the seat of the ailment. We accordingly cut it out, and here is the remarkable part of the story: Running transversely through the upper right corner of the heart was a filiform something which upon close examination, proved to be a coarse black hair. Tracing this with the utmost care, we found that one end led into the lung of the unfortunate girl, while the other led up toward the armpit of the left side. What prompted me I do not know, but I looked to the old cancer wound, which was left of the left breast nearly under the arm. I there found a hair growing into the wound. It had grown out an inch above the place where the cancer had been and in attending to that affliction the hair had been inducted into the wound. It had, by some almost impossible process of nature, gone on growing toward the vitals of the woman until it pierced her heart, and began coiling in her lungs, producing a hemorrhage of the latter. We took the hair out in three parts, and upon measurement it proved to be twenty-three feet in length. I have written this astonishing case up, and design publishing it shortly, with several medical disquisitions upon it from some of the ablest pens in the South.”
Kalamazoo [MI] Gazette 6 August 1878: p. 3
The story begins, as so many fake stories do, in a hotel lobby. No names or locations are given. There is the obligatory disclaimer about “contrary to reason.” If those ablest pens in the South ever took up this case, it doesn’t seem to have appeared in any medical journals. The references to the patient’s race may be to reinforce the alien nature of this death. A “coarse black hair?” “Twenty-three feet?” Is it even possible for a hair to grow inward, let alone pierce a heart and coil in the lungs? Is this just a variant on legends of dead hair growing after death, filling the coffin with a corpse-sized hairball?
I previously told of the hair-raising Miss Penelope Stout of Kentucky, who grew multi-colored hairs from her thumbnails in the 1880s. That story was said to have been proven to be a hoax shortly after Miss Stout was studied by some doctors at Lexington. Should this clipping have been swept into the trash immediately? Comb your files for firstname.lastname@example.org