The enigma of Kaspar Hauser began on May 26,1828 when a teenage boy dressed in shabby clothes stumbled into the town of Nuremberg, Germany. No one knew it yet, but this strange boy would come to dominate local folklore and confound historians for decades.
The youth held a letter addressed to a Captain von Wessenig. The letter explained that the boy had been given into the custody of the anonymous author on October 7, 1812; that the author had taught the boy to read and write and instructed him in Christianity; and, most bizarrely of all, that he had never allowed the boy to leave his home. The boy was in Nuremberg now to become a “cavalryman, like his father was,” and, Captain von Wessenig could either shelter the boy–or, eerily–hang him.
The boy was in possession of another letter, supposedly written by his mother to his former guardian. This later stated that the boy’s name was Kaspar Hauser, that he had been born on April 30, 1812, and that his father, a cavalryman, was dead. That both letters appeared to have been written in the same hand would lead some to conclude that Kaspar had written them both himself.
At the time, however, Kaspar was brought to the authorities. When asked questions, he grew distraught, and could only replied with, “I don’t know!” and “I would like to be a rider the way my father was!”
To make things stranger, upon inspection, the police found that the soles of Kaspar’s feet were tender, as if he’d never walked any real distance on them. The bone structure of his knees was abnormal, indicating he had spent most of his life sedentary. When he was offered food, he could not take anything but bread and water. Despite these problems, Kaspar appeared to be in good health. Furthermore, although he couldn’t speak very much, when he was given paper and pen he could write his name very well.
The police housed him in a tower for the next two months, during which time more of the strange boy’s story was revealed, as he began to speak more freely.
Kaspar claimed that he had been confined to a small “cage,” which allowed no light, and that he was given only bread and water by a man he never saw. Sometimes, he said, the water tasted bitter and would make him fall asleep: when he awoke he would be dressed in clean clothes and his hair and nails would be cut.
The man who imprisoned him taught him how to write his name and told him that he was to go to “the big village” and be a cavalryman, like his father. Sometime after this, Kaspar, with the mysterious man’s guidance, made his way to Nuremberg.
As Kaspar’s celebrity grew, rumors began to circulate that he was actually the Prince of Baden, swapped at birth with a dying baby by the Countess of Hochberg to assure that her own sons would succeed the throne. Other rumors spread claiming that he was an imposter and a fraud. The public was captivated by this enigmatic boy.
On October 17 1829, the first of many bizarre events that would befall Kaspar occurred. Supposedly, a stranger dressed in black entered the home of a university professor with whom Kaspar was living with at the time, and slashed Kaspar’s forehead while he was in the outhouse.
Reports of the stranger were contradictory, and, despite an extensive search by the police, no perpetrator was ever found. Some believed this further proved that Kaspar was a royal–the stranger might have been sent to warn Kaspar against ever trying to claim his true heritage–but others believed Kaspar might have made the whole thing up to gain attention.
Kaspar passed through several more homes and guardians over the years, though one element remained consistent: Kaspar was bizarrely accident prone, always getting hurt in one way or another. He also developed a reputation, as his many caretakers attested, as a liar and a trickster. Those with whom he came into contact usually came to dislike and distrust the strange boy, and, eventually, to denounce him as a fraud of some sort.
The final strange event in Kaspar’s life came in 1883, when he was living with a schoolmaster in the city of Ansbach. On December 14, he returned home with what would turn out to be a fatal chest wound. Kaspar claimed he had been stabbed by a stranger, who first gave him a purse containing a letter.
The letter, upon inspection, turned out to be a sort of cypher, composed in mirror writing. It read,
“Hauser will be able to tell you quite precisely how I look and from where I am. To save Hauser the effort, I want to tell you myself from where I come _ _ . I come from from _ _ _ the Bavarian border _ _ On the river _ _ _ _ _ I will even tell you the name: M. L. Ö.”
Despite Kaspar’s insistence that the letter had been given to him, authorities noted spelling and grammatical errors in the letter consistent with Kaspar’s own writing: furthermore, the letter was folded in a triangular fashion, just as Kaspar would fold his own letters. By the time Kaspar succumbed to his injury on December 17, some believed that he had inflicted the wound upon himself as well as written the note, possibly to reignite public interest in his case.
Kaspar was buried in Ansbach, under a headstone which reads, in Latin,
“Here lies Kaspar Hauser, riddle of his time. His birth was unknown, his death mysterious. 1833.”
Though Kaspar’s life had ended, interest in debunking his odd life did not. Several medical studies carried out in the years following his death concluded that Kaspar’s wound could definitely have been self-inflicted. A psychiatrist asserted that a child who had indeed endured Kaspar’s feral upbringing, as the boy described it to the police, would have been severely mentally stunted–completely unlike Kaspar, who grew to be extremely mentally competent. In addition, numerous historians denounced the possibility of Kaspar being a prince as utterly ridiculous and unfounded.
Today, Kaspar Hauser is generally considered to be a fraud, from his fabricated story about his early life, to his “murder” at the hands of a mysterious stranger. Still, the mystery surrounding this bizarre boy persists. Why were Kaspar’s legs and feet so malformed? Where had he really come from? What was he trying to achieve in presenting himself as a sort of wolf-boy? It seems we’ll never really know the truth behind the confounding case of Kaspar Hauser, the boy with no origin.
Featured image: Wikimedia Commons