The Kaspar Hauser Mystery (Part 1)

On May 26, 1828 (Easter Monday), two men were talking together in the Unschlittsplatz near Nuremberg's New Gate when they were approached by a teenaged boy.  By all accounts, he was a fresh-complexioned boy of about seventeen years of age and dressed like a peasant.  Although remarkably Kaspar short for his age, there was nothing else notable about him except for his dusty clothing and general appearance of having walked a long way.  After asking for directions to New Gate Street, he pulled a letter out of his pocket  addressed to "the Captain of the Fourth Squadron of the Schmollischer Regiment, Neue Thor Strasse (New Gate Street), Nuremberg".  One of the men, a shoemaker named Weichmann, offered to take the boy there as he was heading in that direction.  Along the way, they chatted briefly and Weichman assumed he was just a stable boy based on the Low Bavarian dialect that he used to speak.  After introducing the boy to a regimental corporal, Weichmann went on his way.

After being taken to Captain von Wessenig's house, the boy gave his name as "Kaspar Hauser" and the groom allowed him into the house to await the Captain's return.  Asked where he came from, Kaspar replied that he "must not say" and then burst into tears.  He claimed that he had been forced to travel day and night and the groom, touched by his story, offered him food and a place to sleep.  When the Captain  came home, he opened the Kaspar's envelope which contained two letters, both unsigned.  The first letter was by a "poor day-labourer with ten children of my own" which said  that Kaspar Hauser had been brought to him as an infant on October 7, 1812 by a woman who asked him to raise the child.  The letter further stated that he had raised the boy as best he could, teaching him reading and writing, and finally sending him off to become a soldier (the woman had said that he was a soldier's son).  The second letter was apparently written by the boy's mother and simply stated that he had been baptized and given the first name of Kaspar.  Except that the boy was the son of a Schmollischer trooper, there was no other information.  The Captain couldn't find out anything more from the boy and, not being particularly interested in his story, sent him to the police as a runaway.  The police, not knowing what else to do with him, threw him into a prison cell.

For the next two months, the boy was relatively well treated in prison.  Although he could write his name "Kaspar Hauser", he had difficulty responding to many of the questions asked of him due to his limited vocabulary.  Although his jailors noted that Kaspar was more sharp-witted than he appeared to be, rumours grew about the "half-wild man" imprisoned in the local castle tower. Along with curiosity seekers who wanted to see the "wild man", Kaspar received visits from doctors, scholars, and groups of women bringing him toys and other presents.  Since Kaspar was assumed to be an idiot, these visitors had no hesitation about discussing his case in his presence, along with all sorts of fanciful theories about his origins.  Whether or not hearing these stories inspired Kaspar in his later claims is anybody's guess. 

As Kaspar became more at ease with his imprisonment and frequent visitors, he related an amazing story.  He said that he had spent his entire life in a cell that was six or seven feet long, four feet wide, and five feet high.  The cell was so small that he wasn't even able to stand upright and he lived in almost perpetual darkness since the cell's two small windows had been boarded up.  He had been in the cell as long as he could remember and had only learned to write his name by tracing the letters on paper that had been left in his cell.  Eventually, the man who had first left the paper in his cell brought him a prayer book and taught him how to read a few words.  Eventually, he had been taken out of the cell and told that he would be taken to be a soldier like his father.  Based on his story, he somehow learned to walk and understand what the man said to him surprisingly quickly despite having little previous exposure to language.  The envelope that he later gave the Captain was placed in his hands and he was eventually sent on his way to Nuremberg. 

In November of that same year, Kaspar Hauser repeated his story before a specially appointed Commission of magistrates in Nuremberg (but not under oath).  The fact that he able to walk and speak despite having been kept in one cell all his life with no exposure to language or physical exercise was hardly questioned.  In fairness, some of his defenders explained away the inconsistencies and suggested that Kaspar had been confused in some of the details in his story.  During attempts to cross-examine him or get him to expand on his story, Kaspar would often complain of headaches or deny that he had ever said what he had been heard to say. 

Kaspar Hauser's story became widely believed and made him an object of sympathy throughout Germany.  Although some skeptics questioned the details of the case (and suggested that the letters in his possession were written by the same person), they were discredited.  Doctors who examined him concluded that he was an "animal man" who had been shut away from other people and was only now learning to live as a human being.  Although other cases of feral children (including Victor of Aveyron) were relatively well-known, Kaspar Hauser's case seemed to be unique.  Not only were his eyes acutely sensitive to light, but loud noises including thunderstorms and regimental bands upset him greatly.  He also had an amazing sense of smell and was repelled by the scent of any kind of flower.  His body was covered with old scars on his head and legs which were believed to be the marks of early physical abuse and he preferred to drink only water(he never learned to enjoy drinking wine or beer).

In the meantime, police scoured the country trying to find any trace of Kaspar's origins.  Nobody matching his description was ever found and no missing person's reports that might have established his true identity ever turned up.  By July 1828, Kaspar Hauser was formally adopted by the city of Nuremberg and an annual pension was approved for his maintenance.  Kaspar Hauser was formally placed into the care of George Friedrich Daumer, a schoolmaster and philosopher who tried to educate him.  Daumer had already begun educating Kaspar in his cell and had noted his amazing progress in learning to read and write.  This education didn't go smoothly though and Daumer complained about the steady influx of visitors who were interfering with his pupil's lessons.  The visitors were stopped but Kaspar was still free to go out and socialize, especially since he had become the darling of Nuremberg society. 

Continue to Part Two.

 

           

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