Sunday, April 12, 2009

Kaspar Hauser: The Mysterious Boy of Nuremberg

In May 1828, a boy of about 16 years was found walking on the streets of Nuremberg in Germany. He was looking for a high-ranking military official, Friedrich von Wessenig, who transferred him into police custody when the two eventually met. Attempts to establish the boy's origin proved unfruitful, since he had a very limited vocabulary. However, he showed knowledge of money, could write the name “Kaspar Hauser” and was able to say a few prayers. Additionally, he demonstrated some limited reading skills.

Portrait of Kaspar Hauser when he was first found.

An anonymous letter "from the border of Bavaria" carried by the boy stated that he wanted to “become a cavalryman, just like his father”. Another letter, allegedly written by his mother, gave his date of birth as April 30th, 1812.

He ended up living under the care of a prison guard, Andreas Hiltel. Little by little, Kaspar revealed a shocking story: prior to his release, he spent all his life in a dark cellar, where he only received water and bread to live.

Kaspar Hauser's real origin has never been determined conclusively. An attempt on his life happened on October 17th, 1829. Kaspar was found with a bleeding cut on his head. He survived and later said he had been attacked by a masked man.

An alleged second attempt occurred on December 14th, 1833. He reported that an unknown man gave him a bag and stabbed him in the chest. Kaspar Hauser died three days later. There are, however, doubts whether Kaspar Hauser really was attacked – it is believed the wound may have been self-inflicted.

A statue in Nuremberg.

Influenced by those events, theories and rumors about his real origin started. One theory posited that he was, in fact, the hereditary prince of Baden, who was born not long after Kaspar Hauser's stated birthday. Officially, the prince of Baden died a few days after his birth, but proponents of this theory claim that he was exchanged with a dying child and survived – as Kaspar Hauser. Then, as the theory goes, the physical attacks against him were attempts to cover up the real story. DNA studies carried out recently remained inconclusive.

On the other hand, there are opinions that Kaspar Hauser invented his story, even going as far as staging his abandonment on the streets of Nuremberg. Alternatively, some have suggested an exaggerated account was constructed by using leading questions.

Evidence cited for this version is that Kaspar's physical health was too good considering the circumstances described. However, it is still very likely he did not have much contact to other people and, as a result, developed a mental deficiency.


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