feral child

The Unsolved Mystery of Kaspar Hauser 

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Kaspar's Past Life

Kaspar Hauser - Unsolved mysteryAs Kaspar's vocabulary grew details of his disturbing past life emerged. In his Autobiography, written in 1829 (published in Masson's book - see Sources), he writes that he had grown up in a tiny 'cage' 6 or 7ft long, 4ft wide and only 5ft high. With the two windows boarded up, there was hardly any light, and he never saw the sun. The ceiling consisted of two large pieces of wood, pushed and tied together. He was never allowed out, and the entrance was guarded by a low locked door. He had a straw bed to sleep on a dirt floor, and a woollen blanket, and there was a round hole or bucket where he could relieve himself. He never saw his jailer as he always approached him from behind in the darkness, insisting Kaspar's back was turned. According to Hauser, he never slept lying down, but rather sitting with his back vertical and his legs straight out in front.

Each morning he found a jug of water and a piece of bread at his side; sometimes the water had a bitter taste and sent him to sleep, and he awoke to find his clothes had been changed and his hair and nails cut. On these occasions the water probably contained opium; Hauser later confirmed this when a drop was put in water by his doctor for him to drink, and he said it tasted just like the water in his cage. 

While imprisoned he was given two white wooden horses, a wooden dog, and some red ribbons to play with. Like a young child he believed the animals to be alive and talked to them as if this was the case. Even after months in Nuremberg he did not understand that these animals were not real. He never saw any other human beings or heard any sounds of life while imprisoned. But he said he was never sick and only felt pain once, when he made too much noise and his jailer hit him with a stick. The scars from this blow on his right elbow were still there when he was examined in Nuremberg. 

There are problems with Kaspar's story. Its difficult to believe someone could survive on such a diet of bread and water for any length of time, unless of course he wasn't kept imprisoned for anywhere near the length of time people later thought. He himself had no idea how long he was in the cage, or indeed of time in general. But he said he was always content because nobody hurt him.

One day, the jailor, whom Kaspar called 'the man', came into his cell barefoot and poorly dressed. He gave Kaspar some books and told him he must learn to read and write, and go to his father who was a rider, and then he too would become a rider. Kaspar learnt how to read a little, to write his name, and say 'I want to be a soldier as my father was.' He was also taught how to stand up, and warned never to try and get out of the door of his room, as God would be angry and punish him.

One night, the man appeared and told him he was going to take him away. Kaspar didn't want to go but was again persuaded with promises of seeing his father and becoming a rider as he was. The man lifted Kaspar onto his back and carried him outside, and they travelled until daybreak. Kasper, assaulted by the light and the new smells, fainted, or was given opium again to make him sleep as he travelled. Later on the man put Kaspar down, and taught him to walk, which was difficult for him as he was barefoot and his feet were tender. On the third day the man made Kaspar change clothes and taught him a couple of prayers, and once again told him he would be a rider like his father. The food they ate on the journey was bread and water, as in his prison. Hauser was told to look only at the ground while he walked so as to keep from falling, this meant that he didn't see the surroundings as they travelled. As they drew near to Nuremberg, which the man called the 'big village', Kaspar was given the letter for the captain and told to go to the big village, the man saying he'd follow later. 

So Kaspar walked on alone into Nuremberg and finally arrived at the gate where he met the shoemaker. 

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. 

Copyright 2002 by Brian Haughton. All Rights Reserved

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