Kaspar Hauser

ON 26TH MAY 1828, a strange, teenage boy stumbled up to the gates of Nuremberg. He had a strong build. light curly hair, a pale complexion, and moved as if he was drunk. A local shoemaker, Georg Weickmann, approached the boy to see who he was, but the lad only said, ‘I would like to be a rider the way my father was.’ He handed Weickmann an envelope addressed to the Captain of the fourth squadron of the sixth regiment of the Light Cavalry. The shoemaker took him to the captain, who opened the letter. It explained that the boy had been left with a poor labourer who had kept him locked inside all his life. But the boy was now ready to serve in the king’s army. The cavalry captain questioned the boy, but the only words he said were, ‘don’t know’, ‘take me home’, and ‘horse’. He could also write the name ‘Kaspar Hauser’. In the end, the captain put the boy in the local prison but the jailer took pity on him. The jailer’s children began to teach him to speak, write and draw. He seemed to have no concept of behaviour; had no facial expressions; could not understand the difference between men and women; was happy to sleep sitting up; acted like a baby or infant child and was particularly happy in the dark.

In July 1828 a local magistrate suggested to Nuremberg’s authorities that it would be best for Hauser to be taken out of the jail and placed in the custody of George Friedrich Daumer, a university professor and psychologist. Daumer helped Hauser change into a normal young man, but also kept a record of the strange boy’s behaviour. Daumer realised the extent of Hauser’s amazing heightened senses. He could read in the dark, hear whispers from extreme distances and discern who was in a pitch black room simply by their smell. Unfortunately, as his awareness and education about the world around him increased, these extraordinary abilities waned. By early 1829, Hauser had learnt enough to be able to write his autobiography. In it he revealed that he had been kept in a cell 7ft long, 4ft wide and 5ft high by a man whose face he never saw. He slept on a straw bed, and when he woke there would be water and bread for him to eat. Sometimes the water would taste odd, and he would pass out only to find himself cleaned and groomed, wearing with a fresh set of clothes when he awoke. One day the man came to Hauser’s cell door with books and taught him to read a little, write his name, and repeat the rudimentary phrases he pronounced on his public arrival. The next day, Hauser and his captor began a three day journey which culminated in his appearance at Nuremberg. Hauser’s autobiography opened the door to a new terror. In October 1829 a stranger dressed in black came to Daumer’s house and tried to kill Hauser with a knife. Lord Stanhope, an English aristocrat and friend of the ruling Baden family, then struck up a friendship with Hauser, and gained guardianship of the boy from the city of Nuremberg. Stanhope quickly lost interest and placed the boy in the town of Ansbach under the care of a Dr Meyer. Meyer disliked the boy and became a hard and mean-spirited tutor. On 14th December 1831, Hauser went to a local park to meet a man who had promised to reveal details about his mother’s identity. They met, and the stranger motioned as if to give Hauser a wallet, but as the young man leant forward, he was stabbed in his side. He died three days later aged just 21.

The suspicion developed that Hauser was actually a Baden prince and son of Stephanie, Grand Duchess of Bavaria. Certainly many of the Bavarian aristocracy had such suspicions, and King Ludwig of Bavaria even wrote in his diary that Hauser was the ‘rightful Grand Duke of Baden’. The theory is that Stephanie and Karl of Baden had Hauser in 1812, but Karl’s stepmother, the Duchess of Hochberg, switched him at birth with a sickly peasant child. The ill baby soon passed away and subsequent boys sired by Karl with Stephanie also died young. Karl himself died in strange circumstances, and on his deathbed said he believed that he and his boys had been poisoned. Karl’s throne then went to his stepbrother, the Duchess of Hochberg’s son Leopold. It is an unprovable theory. All we definitely know is that in a peaceful countryside churchyard there is a gravestone that reads:

‘Here lies Kaspar Hauser, riddle of his time. His birth was unknown, his death mysterious.’

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