• A short-form journal for the wandering interneteer
  • Issue 3
 
 
 

T

he 26th May, 1828, was a major holiday and the streets of Nuremberg were almost empty. Between four and five o'clock in the afternoon, Georg Weickmann, a shoemaker who lived in Unschlitt Square, noticed a strange boy of between fifteen and eighteen years old, dressed in coarse peasant clothes and walking strangely as if drunk.

The shoemaker approached him and the boy held out a sealed envelope addressed 'To the Honourable Captain of the Cavalry of the Fourth Squadron, of the Sixth Regiment of the Light Cavalry in Nuremberg.' On seeing the address Weickmann took the stranger to the Guard Tower in front of the New Gate, to find out where the captain lived, and then on to the captain's house.

When they arrived at the address, they found that the captain was not home, and were asked to sit and wait on the garden furniture near a small shed. The servants offered him food and drink, but the boy spat out the beer and sausage given to him as if he'd never tasted such things before.

In the end he accepted a meal of plain black bread and water, and ate as if starved, though he didn't seem to know how to use his fingers properly. The boy appeared to be in extreme pain and wept continually, pointing to his feet. Weickmann and the servants tried to talk to him, but the only answers they got were 'I don't know', and 'I would like to be a rider the way my father was.' Finally, thinking him some sort of wild man, they put him in the stable, where he immediately fell asleep. When Captain Wessenig arrived home, he was told the news of the strange visitor and demanded to see him at once.

There was some difficulty in waking the boy from his deep sleep, and, when he finally awoke, he was spellbound at the captain's uniform. But like everyone else the captain could get no sense from the boy, and, thinking there was nothing he could do, sent him to the police station.

At the station the police questioned the young stranger again, but all they got was the same 'don't know' or 'take me home!' He showed practically no reaction to anything, behaving as if in a trance, and was perfectly happy when a policeman gave him a coin to play with, saying 'Horse! Horse!' One of the policemen then had the idea of giving him a pen, ink and paper and telling him to write. To everyone's surprise he wrote the name Kaspar Hauser, 'in firm, legible letters.'

Kaspar was about four feet nine inches tall, had light brown curly hair, and was stocky with broad shoulders. His skin was very fair and delicate, though he didn't have a sickly complexion, his hands were small and soft, and his blistered feet showed no signs of ever having worn shoes. He had a wound on his right arm and, according to some sources, also a vaccination mark, probably suggesting an upper-class origin.

He was wearing a round felt peasant's hat lined with yellow silk, an old pair of high-heeled half boots that didn't fit, a black silk scarf, a grey cloth jacket, a linen vest, and grey cloth trousers. He was carrying a white and red checked handkerchief with the initials K.H. embroidered in red, and some rags decorated with blue and white flowers, a (possibly) German key, a small envelope containing gold dust (!), and prayer beads made of horn. He also had some printed religious texts in his pockets, including a spiritual manual entitled 'The Art of Replacing Lost Time and Years Badly Spent', a cynical title in view of what was later found out about his history.

Confinement in the tower

Kaspar was soon handed over to a policeman and locked in the upper floor of Vetsner Gate tower, under the guard of a sympathetic and inquisitive jailer, Andreas Hiltel. To make sure there was no deception on Kaspar's part, a physician was ordered to monitor the boy and the jailer was to observe him secretly. Hiltel's eleven year-old son and three year old daughter became good friends with Kaspar, and the son taught him the alphabet and how to draw, and 'virtually taught him to speak' in the words of the jailer.

After a few days Kaspar was moved to the lower floor of the tower where the jailer and his family lived. Here the jailer soon noticed some strange things about the boy. His facial expressions were limited to an innocent smile, and he was not embarrassed at being bathed by the jailer and his wife, seeming not to understand the differences between the sexes. He later said he told the difference between men and women by the kinds of clothes they wore. The boy seemed perfectly happy to sit alone in his cell motionless and mute, with his legs stretched out in front of him. When he did attempt to walk he was unsteady on his feet, like a small child learning to take its first steps.

The letters Hauser was carrying were examined by the authorities. One letter was 'From the boarder of Bavaria', and written in simulated Bavarian dialect. It stated that the writer was sending the captain a boy who would like to faithfully serve his king in the army. The boy had been left with the writer, 'a poor day labourer', on 7 October, 1812. The boy's mother had asked the labourer to bring the boy up, but with ten children of his own, he already had enough to do.

The letter went on to say that the boy had always been confined to the house, and that if the boy's parents had lived, he might have had the chance of a good education, as he was a quick learner and could do anything after being shown once. The labourer also said that he had already taught the boy to read and write and that 'he writes my handwriting exactly as I do.' It finished strangely and menacingly: 'If you can't keep him, you will have to butcher him or hang him up in the chimney.' It was unsigned, but dated 1828.

The second letter, apparently the one given to the poor labourer along with Kaspar, was dated 1812, and claimed to have been written by the boy's mother. It said that the child had been born on 30 April,1812, and baptised Kaspar, but the labourer should give him a second name himself. Kaspar's father was dead, apparently, and had been a cavalry soldier, so when the boy was seventeen the labourer was to take him to Nuremberg to the Sixth Cavalry regiment - which his father had belonged to. The writer was 'a poor little girl' who couldn't feed the boy. When the letters were studied closely, it was discovered that they were probably written by the same hand, with the same ink and on the same kind of paper. Kaspar was unhappy at first in his strange new environment, and cried frequently for the first week or so. A royal forensic physician's diagnosis was that the boy was not insane or dull-witted, but had been forcibly removed from all human and social education. He also noted an abnormality of the bone structure of his knees, perhaps from only rarely having stood up. It was also noticed that Kaspar was far more comfortable at night and was even able to see in the dark.

This all seemed to prove what the letter had said, that most of Kaspar's life had been spent confined indoors with very little, if any, contact with other people or with the outside world.

His diet continued to consist of water and black bread, as he was unable to stomach anything else. Other things about the boy attracted attention. He was always very gentle, kind and completely trusting, and could not bear harm coming to even the smallest insect. His reactions were as if he was seeing life for the first time. Delighted at the bright light of a candle, he burnt his hand when he attempted to touch the flame, and began to scream and cry in pain. When a mirror was put in front of him, he tried to touch his own reflection and looked behind it to find the person he believed was hiding there. Any shiny object would grab his attention and he cried like a baby when he wasn't allowed to have it.

At first Kaspar had no conception of humans or animals; he knew of nothing apart from 'boys', meaning himself and the man who'd always been with him, and 'horse', the toy he'd played with. He called all animals 'horse', but, although he liked light coloured animals, he was very afraid of dark colours. In the tower he was given some toy horses, which he became very attached to and played with for hours in his room, taking no notice of what went on around him.

Soon, however, he began to tire of these inanimate toys and started to draw, hanging the pictures on the walls of his small room.

Public interest in the mysterious youth grew daily and crowds assembled to gaze as he ate and slept. Many thought, since he could hardly walk, could speak only a few strange sentences, and was able to hear but not understand what was said to him, that he must be a feral child.

Daumer's Guardianship

Among the visitors who flocked to see Kaspar was the famous magistrate and criminologist Anselm Ritter von Feuerbach. He visited him in on 11 June, 1828, and noted Kaspar's fondness for bright and shiny objects, especially women's clothes and soldier's uniforms, and also his sensitivity to light. Von Feuerbach also noted that there was no movement of the boy's facial muscles, and that his eyes stared blankly into space. At that time Kaspar could only make himself understood with difficulty and always spoke of himself in the third person - 'Kasper very good' rather than 'I am very good', and spoke to people in the third person -'Mister Colonel' for example, rather than saying 'you'.

The authority's investigations into Kaspar drew a blank; no one knew who he was or where he'd come from. The boy himself was not well physically, and was often depressed by the numerous visitors and new sensations he was bombarded with. Feuerbach felt Kaspar would die or go insane if he remained in the tower, so together with the Mayor, Binder, they decided that Hauser needed a guardian and a family.

So, on 18 July, 1828, he was placed in the care of a university professor - George Friedrich Daumer, who had a reputation for his work in education and philosophy, and had been impressed with Hauser when he visited him two weeks after his arrival. Daumer studied Kaspar and kept a diary of the time he spent with him.

By August 1828 Kaspar had adjusted somewhat, he could express himself and make himself understood, and he could now tell the difference between living and lifeless, organic and inorganic things. Under Daumer's guidance Kaspar developed into a healthy, intelligent, and in many ways normal young man, who quickly learned the German language, though he always spoke it with a foreign accent. He also developed a sense of humour and wrote letters and essays, and mastered the art of riding a horse within a few days, riding for hours without stopping, to the wonder of the local cavalry.

Kaspar still had many peculiarities. He was sensitive to colours, his favourite being red, especially bright red, he disliked black and green and had little interest in nature because of this. In fact he disliked the view of trees and plants at Daumer's house, though he was upset when a boy hit a tree with a stick thinking it was hurt. But he was capable of amazement at nature - the first time he saw the star-filled night sky he was enraptured.

By September, he had developed psychologically enough to be curious about his former mental state; he could not imagine how he could not have wondered, when in his prison, about other living beings and life in the in the world outside the cage, or even where the bread and water came from. He began writing his autobiography, and this was news enough to be announced in several newspapers. He also began to eat meat for the first time and his strength gradually improved. It was the opinion of those who met him that Kaspar was remembering language rather than learning it for the first time, so it was surmised that he must have been imprisoned somewhere between the ages of two and four.

Daumer learnt a lot more about Kaspar's extraordinary abilities, developed as the result of being brought up under such abnormal conditions. The boy proved to have extraordinarily developed senses. His sight and hearing were unusually acute, and he could hear a whisper from across the room. He could see in the dark, and demonstrated this by reading aloud from the Bible in total blackness, and he distinguished colours, even dark colours such as blue and green, in the dark. At dusk he could already recognise the constellations in the sky when a normally sharp sighted person could only distinguish a few stars

But there was a negative side to this. Any loud sounds would cause him convulsions, and bright light caused him extreme pain. The smell of coffee, beer or any other strong drink in the same room, would make him vomit, and the smell of wine was enough to make him drunk. Apart from the few smells he was used to, most smells were repulsive to him, especially tobacco and flowers. So sharp was this sense of smell that he could identify trees by the scent of a leaf, and different people by their individual scent in the dark. He also had a photographic memory which helped him in learning to read, write and draw and play the piano.

More peculiar was his extraordinary sensitivity to electricity and metals. He would suffer extreme pain during a thunderstorm because of the static electricity in the air. Dr Daumer also discovered that Kaspar was able to distinguish between various metals merely by holding his hands above the cloth that covered them, he did this by identifying the various strengths with which the metals 'pulled' at his fingertips. In the autumn of 1828, after visiting a warehouse filled with metal, Kaspar rushed out saying that the metal had been pulling on his body from all sides.

Magnets also caused strong responses in him, the north and south poles giving him distinctly different feelings as well as different colours. When Daumer pointed the positive side of a magnet at him he clasped his chest and pulled out his vest saying 'It is dragging me, there is a draught coming out of me.' Though the negative part of the magnet had less of an effect, it still caused a reaction in him, he said it was blowing on him. However, towards the end of December 1828, this sensitivity to metal gradually disappeared, as did his other unusual attributes, as he acquired more 'practical' knowledge of the world. By now Kaspar's extraordinary story had made him famous not only throughout the city but across Europe, and he became affectionately known as 'The Child of Europe'. He had hundreds of visitors - lawyers, doctors, teachers, public officials - and many were sure he was someone unique; articles were published about him and speculations about his origins were rife.

                                                                                        
					

First Assassination Attempt

Whether it was because newspapers carried reports of Hauser's autobiography, which he would proudly show to his visitors, or because he was becoming a public figure across Europe, on Sunday 17 October 1829, while Daumer was out walking, a stranger dressed in black entered a small outhouse at Daumer's house where the boy was sitting alone, and attacked him with a butcher's knife, wounding him in the forehead. The blow was probably aimed at the throat, but Kaspar ducked and diverted it. He then fainted, and was later found lying unconscious in the cellar, where he had hidden from the man in case he returned. While in delirium after the attack Kaspar muttered in broken sentence: 'Why you kill me? I never did you anything. Not kill me! I beg not to be locked up. Never let me out of my prison - not kill me! You kill me before I understand what life is. You must tell me why you locked me up!'

Soon he managed to recover, and said that his attacker had been wearing a black silk scarf covering his whole head, and a black hat. He later told the police that the man had told him 'You must die before you leave the city of Nuremberg.' He said it was the low, quiet voice of the man who'd kept him imprisoned. The same well dressed man was apparently seen washing his hands in a water trough not far from Daumer's house. About four days after the attack, a man answering Kaspar's description of his attacker impatiently asked a woman in the town about the condition of Hauser; he then read an official notice of the crime on the town gate, and quickly departed.

Five days after the attempted murder, shortly after the death of the reigning Grand Duke of Baden, a wealthy English aristocrat, Philip Henry - Lord Stanhope, a friend of the Baden family, arrived in Nuremberg. It seems he tried to visit Hauser but it was not possible. Behind the scenes Stanhope was gathering all the information he could on the boy. The news of the attack soon spread and caused an uproar. Some people asserted that it must have been an assassination attempt, probably organised by the Duke of Baden, according to some Kaspar's real father, and that Kaspar was the rightful prince of Baden. But though the police organised a thorough search, no assailant was ever discovered to fit the description.

However, for many people the initial novelty of having the strange boy amongst them, and paying for his upkeep, was wearing off. It was even suggested that there had never been an attacker, and that the boy had inflicted the wounds himself and made up the story to gain attention. But the attack had a very damaging effect on Kaspar's psychology, and the wonder for the world gradually left him. The town council decided that there was a serious threat to his life, and he was moved, in January 1830, from the care of Professor Daumer's, who had by now become ill, to the care of a wealthy businessman Herr Bieberbach, where two policemen were assigned to guard him. But there were problems between Frau Bieberbach and Kaspar, putting the boy into even more emotional confusion, and he was not happy there. Six months later he was moved again, this time into the care of Baron Von Tucher, his legal guardian, who did a great deal to restore the boy's emotional and physical health.

Lord Stanhope

In May 1831, Stanhope returned and began to visit Kaspar regularly. He showered him with gifts and compliments about his supposed royal parents, and publicly made extravagant promises about taking him to England, to his home at Chevening Castle, Kent. Unfortunately, this had the effect of cutting Kaspar off from Tucher and other people who really wanted to help him. Soon Stanhope and Hauser became close friends, and the English Lord provided money to the city for the upkeep of the boy. He also applied to the city authorities to become the boy's guardian, and the request was granted. One peculiarity of Stanhope's intense interest in Hauser is that he never once mentions him in his letters home to his family of this period, of which there are many.

But Stanhope soon became bored of Kaspar, and on 10 December 1831, obtained permission to leave him in the town of Ansbach, about fifty miles away from Nuremberg, to be tutored by his friend Dr Meyer. Kaspar was unhappy and lonely in Ansbach, Meyer was mean-minded and distrustful, a strict schoolmaster who shouted at him for not concentrating on his lessons, and told him constantly that he was telling lies.

Meyer was determined to make Kaspar into a devout Christian and threatened him with damnation if he didn't follow his religion. After a while Kaspar relented and was confirmed in the Christian faith by Pastor Fuhrmann. Stanhope left Ansbach on 9 January 1832, promising to adopt Kaspar and bring him over to England. But they never saw each other again.

Stanhope actually went to see Stephanie, the Grand Duchess of Baden, at Mannheim. She wept when she read it and was desperate to meet Hauser. Stanhope said he would arrange for them to meet, but he never did. While staying with Meyer Hauser began working as a copying clerk in a law office. On December 9 Meyer and Hauser had a big argument, Meyer saying that Kaspar had been behaving oddly the whole of December. On 11 December Kaspar said he had to meet a friend to watch the boring of the artesian well in the park, the gardens of the disused palace.

The Assassination

On the afternoon of 14 December, Kaspar left his work at noon, and after lunch went to his spiritual guide Pastor Fuhrmann. He told Fuhrmann that he was meeting a young lady friend, but instead went to the park.

Hauser later said he was tricked into going alone to the deserted gardens with the promise of information about his mother. He waited by the artesian well, but no one came, so he went across to a monument in the park, where a man was waiting for him. They walked together in the freezing cold for a while, then the man made as if to give Hauser a document and suddenly stabbed him in the side, puncturing his lung and piercing his liver, and then ran off.

Kaspar managed to stagger into the house saying 'man . . . stabbed . . . knife . . . Hofgarten . . . gave purse . . . Go look quickly . . .' But Meyer was not convinced of the seriousness of the wound and did not call a doctor immediately. Later the police searched the park but couldn't find the weapon, but did find a black wallet or purse. Inside the wallet there was a note written in mirror writing. It said:

'Hauser will be able to tell you how I look, where I came from and who I am. To spare him from this task I will tell you myself. I am from . . . on the Bavarian border . . . My name is MLO.' Police questioned Hauser, wondering why, when there had been a previous attempt on his life, he had gone to the gardens alone. Kaspar couldn't identify his attacker, all he could tell them was that a workman had brought him a message which told him to go to the park as someone had news about his mother.

When he got there, a tall, bearded man in a long, black cloak had asked him if his name was Kaspar Hauser. When Kaspar nodded, the stranger handed him the wallet or purse and thrust a knife into his ribs at the same time. As Kaspar lay dying he said, enigmatically: 'Many cats are the death of the mouse,' and finally: 'Tired, very tired, still have to take a long trip.'

He died on 17 December, at 21 years of age. A huge reward was offered by the king of Bavaria for information leading to the arrest of his killer, but nothing was ever found out.

Meyer had always been suspicious about Kaspar and it seems to have been him who started the rumours about Hauser's death being suicide. Soon others began to suspect Kaspar's story. Only a single set of footprints was found in the snow at the park, and they were Kaspar's; people suggested that Hauser may have stabbed himself in a despairing cry for attention. Stanhope later said, in his book written three years after Hauser's death, that it was accidental suicide, and that Kaspar was an imposter who got trapped in the role and was forced to keep it up for years, and made comparisons with the English impostor princess, Caraboo. But the physician who performed the autopsy, Dr. Friedrich Wilhelm Heidenreich, thought that due to the size of the wound, Kaspar could not have done it himself.

Strangely, Stanhope had actually written a last letter to Hauser, from Munich on 16th and 17th December, and postmarked on the 25th, when he must already have known of what had happened, and probably also knew that Kaspar was dead. Local newspapers carried the story from the day of Kaspar's death on the 17th, and the Munich newspapers from the 20th onwards. Was he trying to show, if questioned later, that he wasn't involved in the murder?

On 26th December Stanhope visited the prince of Öttingen-Wallerstein, Bavarian minister of the interior, and tried, unsuccessfully in the end, to convince him Hauser was a fake. He also went to the trouble of meeting with all of the people in Nuremberg who had seen Kaspar in his first few days in the city, including Daumer, and getting them to change their stories to say that Hauser had invented the whole thing. He also visited other public figures throughout Europe saying Hauser was a fake who'd committed suicide.

Kaspar was buried in a quiet country churchyard where his gravestone read:

'Here lies Kaspar Hauser,
riddle of his time.
His birth was unknown,
his death mysterious.'

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Words by Brian Haughton for SO & SO.

A project by Alasdair Monk.


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