The Mysterious and Tragic Life of Kaspar Hauser
He came from nowhere and became one of the greatest mysteries of 19th century Germany. On May 26th, 1828 he appeared in the streets of Nuremberg. For the next five years he was a source of speculations and the root of many troubles. This is the tragic story of Kaspar Hauser.
Two Strange Letters
He appeared in the streets of the German city as a teenager. He would not say who he was, but he carried a letter with him. This letter was addressed to the captain of the 4th squadron of the 6th cavalry regiment, Captain von Wessenig. The letter had been sent "From the Bavarian border / The unnamed place / 1828".
The author of this letter stayed anonymous, but it said that the boy was given into the writer’s custody as an infant on October 7, 1812 and that he taught him how to read, write, and about the Christian religion. Another part of the letter was shocking because the person who took care of the boy wrote that he was never allowed to enter his guardian’s house. The writer also recommended that the boy should become a cavalryman as his father was. Captain von Wessenig was obliged to decide what to do with the boy, it was written that he could choose to take him in or hang him.
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What is more surprising, was that there was another short letter with the boy (which appeared to have been written by his mother or a prior caretaker.) This letter explained that the name of the boy was Kaspar, that he was born on April 30, 1812, and that his father, a cavalryman of the 6th regiment, was dead. The analysis of both letters proved that they were written by the same hand… It is also possible that “Kaspar” wrote both of them.
Kaspar Hauser’s Life with the Jailer
Kaspar Hauser by Friedrich Carl Kreul. ( Public Domain )
Kaspar was approached by a shoemaker named Weickmann, who took the boy to the house of Captain von Wessenig. It was later said that Kaspar was familiar with money, could say some prayers and read a little, but he answered few questions and his vocabulary appeared to be rather limited. Kaspar seemed obsessed with becoming a cavalryman.
He spent two months in Luginsland Tower in Nuremberg Castle in the care of a jailer named Andreas Hiltel. During that time, he was in good physical condition and could walk well. He was approximately 16 years old and appeared to have an excellent memory and he learned things quickly. But there was something about the young man’s habits which surprised everybody - he refused all food except bread and water.
Contemporary painting of Kaspar Hauser. ( Public Domain )
Searching for the Truth about Kaspar's Roots
The first idea about Kaspar's origins, which comes from 1829, said that he was a prince of Baden who was born September 29, 1812. According to history this boy officially died on October 16, 1812 - but some people believed that he had been stolen as an infant in the interests of a junior branch of the Baden House.
If this were true, Kaspar’s parents would have been Charles, Grand Duke of Baden, and Stéphanie de Beauharnais, cousin by marriage and adopted daughter of Napoleon. Charles had no surviving male progeny. In this situation, his successor was his uncle Louis, who was later succeeded by his half-brother, Leopold.
The Grand Duchess Stéphanie. ( Public Domain )
In 1876, Otto Mittelstädt presented the evidence against this theory based on official documents. He explained details about the prince's emergency baptism, autopsy, and burial. Mittelstädt asserted that the Grand Duchess was too ill to be permitted to see her dead baby in 1812.
The people who apparently saw the baby were his father, grandmother, and aunt, with the 10 Court physicians and the nurses. In 1951 the letters of the Grand Duke's mother were published. These gave more details about the child's birth, illness, and death.
The second theory was that the boy was only a waif and an impostor, who had strayed from some peasant home, where nobody desired his return. Although this theory sounds more reasonable, it wasn't as popular as the story which connected Kaspar Hauser with the royal family.
Statue of Kaspar, old city center, Ansbach, Germany. ( Public Domain )
Some people also believed that Kaspar was raised half-wild in a forest, but this differs from how Hauser himself explained his story to the man known as Mayor Binder. He remembered that he spent his life completely alone in a darkened cell about two meters (6.6 feet) long, one meter (3.3 feet) wide, and one and a half meters (4.9 feet) high. He said that he had a straw bed to sleep on and two horses and a dog carved out of wood for toys.
The Certain Death of Kaspar Hauser
Hauser was eventually given into the care of Friedrich Daumer, a schoolmaster and speculative philosopher. Daumer taught him various subjects and discovered his talent for drawing. However, problems loomed for the young man, and the first attempt on his life took place on October 17, 1829.
Pencil drawing by Kaspar Hauser, 1829. ( Public Domain )
That was a day when Hauser did not return for the midday meal, but was found in the cellar of the Daumer's house bleeding from a cut wound on his forehead. On April 3, 1830 a pistol shot went off in Hauser's room. His guardian hurriedly entered the room, only to find him bleeding from a wound to the right side of his head.
In December 1831 Hauser was transferred to Ansbach, to the care of a schoolmaster named Johann Georg Meyer. Meyer, who was a strict and pedantic man, disliked Hauser because he assumed the boy lied about his roots and gave many excuses. Their relationship was difficult and unpleasant. A few days after coming to Ansbach, they had a serious argument.
Five days later, on December 14, 1833, Hauser appeared at the house of Lord Stanhope, one of his protectors, with a deep dagger-wound in his left breast. Kaspar Hauser died of his wound on December 17, 1833. His death was as tragic and unexpected as his life.
During the police investigation, a small violet purse containing a penciled note had been found. The message was written in a mirror writing style called "Spiegelschrift''. The message was originally in German. It said:
“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.”
Penciled note in mirror writing found after Kaspar Hauser’s death. ( Public Domain )
After Hauser's death, it was claimed that he was murdered and again the belief arose that he was the prince. He was buried in the Stadtfriedhof in Ansbach, where his headstone reads, in Latin, "Here lies Kaspar Hauser, riddle of his time. His birth was unknown, his death mysterious. 1833."
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Science Tries to Solve the Mystery
The case of Kaspar Hauser began to be researched once more with the appearance of newer technology. The interest in Hauser's story rose up again when in November 1996, the magazine Der Spiegel reported an attempt to genetically match a blood sample from underpants assumed to have been Kaspar Hauser's. The analysis was made in laboratories of Forensic Science Service in Birmingham, then confirmed in the LMU Institute of Legal Medicine at the University of Munich. The comparisons of the blood sample with descendants of the princely family showed that Kaspar wasn't a prince of Baden.
But the belief did not end there, and six years later, in 2002, the Institute for Forensic Medicine of the University of Münster analyzed hair and body cells from locks of hair and clothing that also belonged to Kaspar Hauser. The analysts of the six different DNA samples were compared to a DNA segment from Astrid von Medinger, a descendant in the female line of Stéphanie de Beauharnais.
The sequences are not identical, but the deviation observed is not large enough to exclude a relationship either, as the difference could be caused by a mutation. The Baden family did not allow any examination of Stéphanie de Beauharnais or of the child's remains, so the mystery of Kaspar Hauser, and his possible connection to the Baden family continues.
Top Image: Screen shot from the film ‘Enigma of Kaspar Hauser’ (1974). Source: Classicartfilms
By: Natalia Klimczak
Updated on September 28, 2021.
Martin Kitchen, Kaspar Hauser: Europe's Child, 2001
Catherine Lucy Wilhelmina Powlett, Duchess of Cleveland, The True Story of Kaspar Hauser from Official Documents , 1893.
Anselm von Feuerbach, Caspar Hauser , 1832.
Philip Henry Earl Stanhope, Tracts Relating to Caspar Hauser , 1836.