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Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Mystery Of Kaspar Hauser, May 26, 1828

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Today in 1828, a teenaged boy walked into the town of Nurnberg, Germany. He was dirty, shabbily dressed and could barely speak. He carried a letter intended for the officer in charge of the 6th Calvary Regiment. The letter asked the officer to either take care of the boy or put him to death. He was taken to the officer, at which time he began to speak what was clearly a memorized sentence: “I want to be a rider like my father.” When asked about his origins, he would cry and say “Don’t know.” He was given a piece of paper and a pen, on which he wrote a name: Kaspar Hauser. So begins one of the strangest and saddest tales in German history.

Today, Hauser would be considered a feral child. Feral children are young people who are either raised by animals during their youth or are in some way cut off from normal human contact. Many stories of feral children exist in myth, but in modern times fewer than 100 recorded incidents of feral children have been reported.

The calvary officer, unsure of what to do with the boy, turned him over to the local jailer, who cared for him for several months. It soon became clear that Hauser was not only mentally incapacitated, but physically challenged as well. He could only take small steps and had very little manual dexterity. His diet consisted of water and bread; anything of more flavor or substance made him ill. The letter carried by Hauser indicated that he was 16, but his mental development was like that of a five year old. Through the care and attention of the jailer and his wife, Hauser learned to speak well enough to tell his story.

As far back as he could remember, Kaspar Hauser had lived in a small, dark cell. He slept on a straw bed and was only fed bread and water. His only toy was a wooden horse. Hauser did not see his caretaker until the man taught him the phrase, “I want to be a rider like my father.” He was then taken outside for the first time, where the sunlight and fresh air caused him to faint. His next memory was walking toward the Nurnberg city gate.

Hauser’s story spread throughout Germany and the rest of Europe. People came from every corner of the continent to meet the young man and try to solve the mystery surrounding his life. Some visitors remarked that his facial features were like those of the former Grand Duke of Baden, who supposedly had no male heir and whose successor, therefore, was his uncle. If the former Duke did have a young male heir, could his uncle have hidden him away from public view? No one knew.

In October, 1829, a man wearing a hooded cloak tried to kill Hauser with an axe, but only wounded him. This fueled further speculation that he might be connected to royalty. In December, 1833, he was attacked again, this time fatally.

Even though the boy was gone, the mystery of Kaspar Hauser did not die. In 2002, the University of Munster analyzed cells that were supposedly Hauser’s and had been collected from the boy’s hat and trousers. The results were re-examined several times before a report was issued: Hauser’s genetic code was a 95% match when compared to the descendants of the former Grand Duke of Baden.
Kaspar Hauser is bured in a country graveyard in Germany. He was probably 21 years old at the time of his death. His tombstone reads “Here lies Kaspar Hauser, riddle of his time. His birth is unknown, his death mysterious.”

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