The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser

On May 26, 1828, a young man appeared on the streets of Nuremberg, Germany. He was a stranger and, though the boy appeared to be around sixteen years and in good physical health, he was seemingly intellectually impaired. He was babbling, incoherent, and confused. Concerned citizens took him to local authorities who discovered a note on him, addressed to the captain of the 4th squadron of the 6th cavalry regiment, Captain von Wessenig, which read: 

Von der Bäierischen Gränz

daß Orte ist unbenant 


“From the Bavarian border 

The place is unnamed 1828.”

The letter was purported to have been written by a laborer, into whose hands the boy was given as infant, back on October 7, 1812. The man claimed he had that he had taught him to read, write, and understand the basics of Christianity, but also claimed he had never let the boy “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.

Also on the boy’s person was found another letter, this one supposedly from the boy’s mother, left with the laborer who’d raised him. In it, the woman claimed the child’s name was Kaspar and that he had been born on April 30, 1812. His father was a now-deceased cavalryman of the 6th regiment.

For his part, the boy himself–Kaspar–had a limited vocabulary, only saying the words “I want to be a cavalryman, as my father was” or “Horse! Horse!” Upon questioning, it was discovered he could, indeed, read and write a little, but further inquiries into his past only resulted in frustrated tears. Unsure what to do, authorities had him held as a vagrant, though it wasn’t long before his story spread and throngs of the curious began to visit him in his cell in Nuremberg Castle.

During this time, both the mayor and law enforcement tried to extract more information from Kaspar, trying to ascertain who this mysterious “feral child” could be. At first, he would speak very little about his past, but he soon began offering snippets. He claimed to have spent his life in solitary confinement in a darkened cell with only a straw bed to sleep on and, for toys, two horses and a dog carved out of wood.

During his time in Nuremberg Castle, Hauser would only accept bread and water, saying it was all he had been offered during his confinement and, thus, all he needed to survive. When pressed about the laborer who’d been his caretaker, he said he’d never met the man; the first human being he’d ever met, he said, was a man who visited him not long before his release. The man took great care not to reveal his face to him, but taught him to write his own name by leading his hand. After learning to stand and walk, Hauser was brought to Nuremberg. The stranger allegedly taught him to say the phrase “I want to be a cavalryman, as my father was” (in Old Bavarian dialect), but Hauser claimed that he did not understand what the words meant.

As more and more information leeched from his cell, gossip began to swirl about Kaspar Hauser’s true identity. Many believed him to be the prince of Baden, child of Charles, Grand Duke of Baden, and Stephanie de Beauharnais, who was believed to have died in October 1812. Because Charles had no natural-born son, the line of succession went to his uncle, Louis, and then, later, Louis’s half-brother Leopold. Rumor had it that Leopold’s mother, the Countess of Hochberg, had kidnapped Charles’s son and replaced with a dying infant, in an effort to secure the succession of the throne for her own sons. Kaspar Hauser, many believed, was that kidnapped son. Still others believed he may have been the misplaced son of Hungarian nobility.

Hauser was eventually adopted by the town of Nuremberg and money was donated for his upkeep and education. He was given into the care of Friedrich Daumer, a local schoolmaster, who was charged with teaching the boy, not only various educational subjects, but also the basics of civilized life.

And that’s when things started to get weird. Or, rather, weird-er.

On 17 October 1829, Hauser was found in the cellar of Daumer’s house bleeding from a newly cut wound on the forehead. He claimed he had been assaulted while sitting on the privy. The hooded assailant had threatened him with the words: “You still have to die ere you leave the city of Nuremberg.” Hauser related he recognised the speaker as the man who had brought him to Nuremberg.

Curiously, however, the blood trail led from the privy to Hauser’s bedroom and then, rather than alert his caretakers, he had gone downstairs and climbed through a trap door into the cellar. Alarmed officials called for a police investigation and protection for Nuremberg’s most famous resident. The alleged attack on Hauser also fueled rumors about his possible regal ancestry. Others, however, questioned whether Hauser had inflicted the wound himself to arouse pity or attention. Even Daumer himself had begun to remark on the boy’s tendency to lie.

Hauser was transferred into the care of Johann Biberbach, a municipal authority. Less than six months later, in April 1830, a pistol went off in Hauser’s room at the Biberbachs’ house. Hauser was found bleeding from a wound to the right side of his head. The boy soon revived and stated that he climbed on a chair to get some books, the chair had fallen, and then, while trying to find a handhold, he had by mistake torn down the pistol hanging on the wall and caused the shot to go off. Yet again, there were doubts about the authenticity of his story; many believer Hauser had, once again, staged the accident for attention or deflate an argument that had arisen between Hauser and Biberbach (supposedly over Hauser’s incessant lying). Whatever the case, Hauser was transferred to the house of Baron von Tucher, who would also eventually complain of Hauser’s “exorbitant vanity and lies.”

Eventually, in late 1831, a British nobleman, Lord Stanhope, took Hauser into his custody. His interest in the boy, however, was born less out of genuine care and more out of a desire to finally get down the bottom of Hauser’s mysterious origins. Stanhope spent a great deal of money researching the boy’s past, even going so far as to take Hauser on two trips to Hungary, hoping to jog his memory. Not only Hauser recognize nothing in the country, meetings with the country’s nobility offered no definitive identification of the boy’s heritage. Frustrated–and believing Hauser to be a liar–Stanhope abandoned the boy into the care of a schoolmaster named Johann Georg Meyer in December 1831, though he continued to pay for his living expenses and promised to come back one day and take Hauser to England.

Meyer disliked Hauser immediately, and the sentiment was quickly returned. On 9 December 1833, the two, by all accounts, had a horrific argument. Lord Stanhope was to visit soon, and Meyer was threatening to reveal the truth about Hauser’s lies and bad behavior to his benefactor. Five days later, on 14 December 1833, Hauser came home with a deep wound to his left breast. According to him, he had been lured to the Ansbach Court Garden, where a stranger stabbed him while giving him a bag. When police searched the Court Garden, they found a small violet purse containing a pencilled note that 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.”

Hauser died of the wound three days later.

But, even before then, police were already questioning his story. Tipped off by inconsistencies in his story, police began to take a closer look. The note in the purse that was found in the Court Garden contained a spelling error and a grammatical error, both of which were typical for Hauser, who, on his deathbed, muttered incoherently about “writing with pencil”. Although Hauser was eager that the purse be found, he did not ask for its contents. The note itself was folded into a specific triangular form, in the way in which Hauser would fold his letters, according to Mrs. Meyer. Police suspected that he had wounded himself in a bid to revive public interest in his story and to persuade Stanhope to fulfill his promise to take him to England, but that he had injured himself more deeply than planned. Others, of course, only saw it as further proof of Kaspar’s mysterious, possibly royal, heritage–he had been killed off to keep his identity a secret.

So who was Kaspar Hauser? A long-lost royal prince? Or an attention-seeking habitual liar?

The world may never truly know.

Hauser was buried in the city cemetery in Ansbach, where his headstone reads, in Latin, “Here lies Kaspar Hauser, riddle of his time. His birth was unknown, his death mysterious. 1833.” A monument to him was later erected in the Court Garden, the site of his murder/unintentional suicide (depending on which side you believe) which reads Hic occultus occulto occisus est.

Its meaning?

“Here lies a mysterious one who was killed in a mysterious manner.”

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