Today might be the birthday of Kasper Hauser. I say ‘might’ because of the great mystery surrounding his sudden appearance in the town of Nuremberg in 1828. The boy carried with him two letters. One addressed to the captain of the 4th squadron of the 6th cavalry regiment, Captain von Wessenig. The anonymous author said that the boy was given into his custody as an infant on October 7th 1812 and that he instructed him in reading, writing and the Christian religion, but never let him “take a single step out of my house”. The letter stated that the boy would now like to be a cavalryman “as his father was” and invited the captain either to take him in or to hang him. The second letter seemed to be from his mother to the person who had written the first. It stated that his name was Kaspar, that he was born on 30 April 1812 and that his father, a cavalryman of the 6th regiment, was dead. Both letters were in the same handwriting and it is now generally supposed that Kasper had written both of them.
When spoken to he would only repeat the words “I want to be a cavalryman, as my father was” and “Horse! Horse!”. He seemed physically healthy but intellectually impaired and he soon became the subject of much curiosity. He would eat no other food but bread and water.
People generally assumed that he had been raised half wild but Kasper proved to be a quick learner and later he was able to tell a different story of his previous life. He said that for as long as he could remember he had been kept in a small darkened cell with a bed of straw and two horses and a dog carved from wood to play with. Each morning he found bread and water next to his bed. Sometimes the water would taste bitter then he would sleep for longer and wake to find his straw had been changed and his hair and nails had been cut. He said that, not long before his release, he had been visited by a man who concealed his face. He had taught Kasper to walk, to write his name and to repeat the words “I want to be a cavalryman, as my father was.” but he didn’t know what it meant.
Kasper was given into the care of a schoolmaster called Georg Friedrich Daumer, who found out that he had a talent for drawing. That’s one of Kasper’s drawings on the left. Daumer also conducted some odd experiments on him, including some sort of magnetic experiments. Some believed, at that time, that the body was full of magnetic humours that could be drawn about to some effect, but more of that next month when it will be Franz Mesmer’s birthday. Kasper claimed that the north pole of the magnet made him feel as though his stomach was being drawn out and that he could feel a current of air coming from him. The effects of the south pole, he felt less keenly, but said that it blew upon him.
Kasper suffered a number of mysterious wounds. The first, he claimed had been inflicted by the man who had visited him in the cellar whilst he was captive. On October 17th 1829, he was found in the cellar of Daumer’s home with a severe wound on his forehead. He claimed he had been attacked whilst sitting on the privy. The trail of blood showed that he had first fled to his room before climbing through a trap-door into the cellar. This has led to speculation that he inflicted the wound on himself with a razor that he afterwards took back to his room before hiding in the cellar. Kasper was taken to another house where he was kept under guard, but later suffered another wound to the side of his head. He claimed he had been standing on a chair, reaching for a book, when he fell, knocking down a pistol on the wall which had gone off. Both of these incidents happened shortly after Kasper had been accused of lying, which was something that he did frequently.
In 1831, an English nobleman took an interest in Kasper Hauser and gained custody of him. His name was Philip Henry Stanhope who was half brother to the adventuring Lady Hester Stanhope, who I wrote about in March. Stanhope had Kasper removed to Ansbach but, although he continued to pay for his upkeep, concluded that Kasper was a fraud. On 14th December 1833, Kasper returned home with a deep stab wound in his chest. He claimed that a stranger had stabbed him then given him a bag. After a search, a violet purse was found which contained a folded note written in mirror writing. This is what it said:
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.
The note was folded into a triangular shape, in a way that Kasper always folded his own letters. It also contained one grammatical and one spelling error that were typical of him. Also, although he seemed keen for the purse to be found, he never asked what was in it.
Kasper died from his wound three days later. No one really knows what happened. His death was as mysterious as his sudden appearance. Some accused Stanhope of being complicit in his murder. Others, that he stabbed himself to gain attention. Some have speculated, as they did in his lifetime, that he was the son of the Duke of Baden, who had been switched at birth so that someone else could inherit his title. Recent DNA tests have proved inconclusive but the story is an unlikely one. Probably, we’ll never know Kasper’s back story but he has inspired numerous works in print and on film, including Werner Herzog’s ‘The Enigma of Kasper Hauser’ which is where I first came across him back in the 1980s.