Vertus Wellborn Hardiman (March 9, 1922 – June 1, 2007)

Vertus Wellborn Hardiman (March 9, 1922 – June 1, 2007)

Hardiman was born in Lyles Station, Indiana. Lyles Station began in 1927, is known as one of the earliest Black settlements in the United States, and the Hardiman family was among the first to migrate to the area. In 1928, Vertus attended the local elementary school, Lyles Consolidated School. The parents of 10 children at school were approached by county hospital officials. The parents were told that there was a new treatment for dermatophytosis, a fungal infection commonly known as “ringworm.” What the parents didn’t know was that the children were actually part of a human experiment on extreme radiation, probably chosen because they lived in such an isolated location, and probably because they were all Black. The children were exposed to high levels and many were left with disfiguring scalp scars and head trauma. The effects of the experiments were mostly hidden from the townspeople of Lyles Station. Many of the children wore wigs and hats to cover up the results of the experiments. Hardiman was physically affected the worst by the radiation. As a result he experienced a slow dissolving of the bone matter of his skull for the rest of his life. The ensuing deformed head and gaping hole at its top were disguised by a succession of hats, toupees, and wigs. Every day of his life he spent an hour changing bandages and dressing the wound. He died at age 85.

 

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