Kaspar Hauser: Feral Child or Scheming Codger?

Kaspar Hauser painting by Johann Friedrich Carl Kreul (Image via Wikimedia Commons)
Kaspar Hauser painting by Johann Friedrich Carl Kreul (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1828, an alleged feral child named Kaspar Hauser was discovered in Nuremberg, Germany.

Here are a few things you may not have known about Hauser and feral children.

Feral children are those that are isolated from human contact at an early age and have little to no understanding of human behavior, culture or language. The vast majority of true cases of feral children are the result of abusive parents. The most famous tales, those of children raised by animals, are usually fictional, as in the case of Mowgli from “The Jungle Book,” or fraudulent, as is likely the case with Kaspar Hauser.

Hauser was around 16 years old when he was discovered on the streets of Nuremberg. He was carrying two letters, one from an anonymous author who said he had kept the child prisoner for the first 16 years of his life, and that the boy was to join the cavalry. The letter was addressed to the captain of a cavalry unit, who was asked to either take the boy in or hang him. The other letter was allegedly from the boy’s mother. It contained the boy’s name, his birthday, and the fact that his father had died. Both letters were written in the same handwriting.

The boy could read a little, was familiar with money and knew a few prayers, but seemed to have a very limited vocabulary.

He was able to recount his life story to the mayor of the town. He said he was confined to a six-foot by three-foot cell with only straw bedding and two small wooden toys. Bread and water would show up while he was sleeping, and he said sometimes the water would taste bitter and cause him to sleep heavily. After waking, he would discover his hair and nails had been cut and the straw bedding replaced. Just before he was released, he said a man who wouldn’t show his face taught him to write his name and to say that he wanted to be a cavalryman.

The wild tale led to rumors that he was of royal blood. The rumors said that he was the hereditary prince of Baden, who was switched with a dying baby shortly after birth. The switch was said to have occurred to allow another branch to the family to take the throne.

Hauser moved from one caretaker’s house to another. Each of them found the boy had a tendency to lie. His one-time patron described him as “a smart scheming codger, a rogue, a good-for-nothing that ought to be killed.”

That’s exactly what happened less than a year later. Hauser was found with a stab wound on the left side of his chest. He claimed he had been lured to the site and had been stabbed by a stranger who was giving him a bag. A small bag containing a cryptic note written in mirror writing was found at the scene of the stabbing. The note was folded in a particular way that Hauser folded his letters and it contained spelling and grammar errors that were typical of Hauser.

It’s believed that he wounded himself in an attempt to rekindle public interest in his story, but stabbed himself more deeply than he had planned. He died three days later.

His death led to claims that he had been murdered to prevent his royal origin from being discovered.

Modern medical experts largely agree that the story of Kaspar Hauser was a lie. He would not have been able to survive on just bread and water for 15 years. He also wouldn’t have been able to understand the concept of language, much less learn to speak one. A psychiatrist named Karl Leonhard concluded that Hauser was a “pathological swindler” with a ‘hysterical make-up” and a “paranoid personality.”

DNA tests conducted in 2002 were not able to exclude a relationship between Hauser and the House of Baden, but the similarities are so common among Germans that it doesn’t prove the existence of a relationship either.

Our question: What European capital is named after a mythical feral child?

Today is National Day of Healing in Australia, Independence Day in Guyana and Georgia, and the Crown Prince’s Birthday in Denmark.

It’s unofficially National Paper Airplane Day, World Redhead Day, and National Blueberry Cheesecake Day.

It’s the birthday of actor John Wayne, who was born in 1907; astronaut Sally Ride, who was born in 1951; and “South Park” co-creator Matt Stone, who is 45 today.

Because our topic happened before 1960, we’ll spin the wheel to pick a year at random.

This week in 1990, the top song in the U.S. was “Vogue” by Madonna.

The No. 1 movie was “Bird on a Wire,” while “The Stand” by Stephen King topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.


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