Who was Kaspar Hauser?

Contemporary painting of Hauser by Johann Georg Laminit (1775–1848) – Johannes Mayer, Peter Tradowsky: Kaspar Hauser, Stuttgart 1984, p. 306

On May 26, 1828, the streets of Nuremberg, Germany were fairly deserted.  One person seemed to be wandering them aimlessly- a teenage boy dressed in coarse peasant clothes.  He was about four feet nine inches tall with curly brown hair.  He was stocky with broad shoulders and the pale skin of an invalid.  Around five in the afternoon, Georg Weickmann, a shoemaker, stopped the boy, who was staggering around as if he was drunk.  All he could get out of him was “I want to be a cavalryman, as my father was.” in the Old Bavarian dialect.  He gave the shoemaker a sealed letter he was carrying addressed “To the Honourable Captain of the Cavalry of the Fourth Squadron, of the Sixth Regiment of the Light Cavalry in Nuremberg”.  Weichmann took the strange young man to the Guard Tower at the New Gate.  While they got the captain, they offered the young man a meal of beer and sausage, which he spat out as if he had never had before.  In Germany.  The only meal he would accept was one of break and water.

The captain arrived and questioned the young man, but only got wails of “Don’t know” and “Horse!  Horse!”  The young man seemed to be spellbound by the captain’s uniform  He made motions to his feet and wailed in pain.  When they removed his shoes, they found his feet were covered with blisters.  Finally, someone got the idea of giving him a pen, ink and paper.  To their shock, he carefully wrote the name “Kaspar Hauser”.  They remembered the letter he was carrying, and cracked it open.  It’s only heading was “From the Bavarian border / The place is unnamed / 1828″.  It went onto say the boy was given into the care of the author as an infant on October 7, 1812.  He was to instruct the boy in reading, writing and Christianity, but never allow him to leave.  It invited the captain to take him as a cavalrymen or hang him, whichever he prefered.  Wow.  An additional letter tucked into the first said that confirmed the boy’s name was Kaspar and he was born April 30, 1812 to an unknown woman and a deceased cavalryman of the 6th regiment.

Not knowing what else to do, they took Kaspar to jail for being a vagabond.  When they searched him, they found various fine handkerchiefs with the initials “KH” embroidered in red.  His hat was lined with yellow silk and he had an envelope full of gold dust.  He also was carrying religious texts and a rosary made of horn.  Strange possessions for a vagabond, but it was a strange situation.  During his imprisonment, more details about his life came out to Andreas Hiltel, his jailer.  The young man befriended Hiltel’s son and daughter, who taught him the alphabet and to speak.  The noticed he had a scar high on his arm, that looked like a smallpox vaccine scar.  This would indicate someone well off as vaccinations at this time were not common.  The boy was very gentle, but seemed to act almost as a child.  When presented with a mirror, he was convinced someone was hiding in it.  They thought perhaps he was a feral child raised in the woods.

However, as Kaspar gained the ability to communicate, he claimed for as long as he could remember, he spent his life in a dark cell about one meter wide and two meters long.  He had a straw bed with a wool blanket to sleep on and two wooden carved horses and a dog as toys.  Every morning he woke up with bread and water next to his bed.  Sometimes the water would taste bitter and make him sleepy.  On those occasions when he woke up, the straw was changed and his hair and nails were cut.  Not long before his release, a strange man began to visit him who taught him to say “I want to be a cavalryman, as my father was.”  Kaspar claimed he did not know what this meant.  The strange man was always careful to keep his face hidden, and also taught him to write his name.

Eventually, the legal courts got involved and Kaspar was adopted by the city of Nuremberg and money was provided for his upkeep and education.  He was lodged with the schoolmaster, Georg Daumer, and seemed to be very happy there.  Daumer began teaching the young man a variety of subjects and found he had a natural talent for drawing.  Then strange things began happening.

On October 17, 1829, Kaspar did not come to the midday meal.  After a search, the found him in the cellar of the Daumer home with a cut wound on his forehead.  He claimed that while sitting on the privy, a hooded man attacked him with a razor saying “You still have to die ere you leave the city of Nuremberg.”  Kaspar claimed this was the voice of his captor.  It was a bit fishy as there had been a fight in the Daumer home with Herr Daumer accusing Kaspar of lying.

However, The city was alarmed and an armed escort transferred Kaspar from the Daumer home to the house of Johann Biberbach, one of the city officials.  He settled in with the family, and seemed to be on good terms.  Then on April 3, 1830, Kaspar was shot with a pistol in the side of his head.  He claimed he was standing on a chair to get some books.  When the chair fell, he grabbed an ornamental pistol on the wall, which went off.  Again, this coincidentally happened after quarrels happened in the Bieberbach home and Frau Bieberbach is quoted as saying kaspar was a master at the “art of dissimulation” and said he was “full of vanity and spite”.  She went on to discuss his “horrendous mendacity”.  After this strange affair, Kaspar moved from the Biberbach home to the house of Baron von Tucher.

After a series of adventures in hopes of finding his parentage with British Lord Stanhope, Kaspar ended up in Ansbach with a schoolmaster named Johann Georg Meyer.  They did not get along well at all.  On December 14, 1833, five days after a serious argument with Meyer, Kaspar was found with a deep wound in the left side of his chest.  He claimed he was walking in Ansbach Court Garden where a stranger gave him a bag then stabbed him.  A search of the Court Garden found a small note in a purse, which read in mirror writing, “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.”   Kasper died of the wound on December 17, 1833.

Kaspar Hauser’s grave Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Michael Zaschka // Public Domain

Who was this strange young man?  Theories abound.  One theory was he was the son of Charles, Grand Duke of Baden and Stephanie de Beauharnais.  This would have made him the lost hereditary prince of Baden.  The young prince was supposed to have died in 1812 when he was three weeks old.  The theory runs that the Countess of Hochberg disguised herself as a “white lady” or ghost and hid the baby away so that her sons could inherit.  This story was popularized by a book by Otto Mittelstädt in 1876.  However, a blood sample of Kasper’s was compared to samples from Baden family descendants in 1996.  There was no match.  However, in 2002 hair samples of Kasper’s were compared to the blood sample used in the test and they did not match leading some to believe the blood sample was not Kasper’s.  The hair samples were compared to the DNA from Astrid von Mediger, a descendent in the female line of Stephanie de Beauharnais.  They were inconclusive.  No further tests have been done as the House of Baden will not allow exhumation of Stephanie de Beauharnais or the child buried as her son.

Lord Stanhope had a theory that Kaspar was a descendant of Hungarian royalty.   Kaspar claimed to remember some Hungarian words and eventually claimed Hungarian Countess Maytheny was his mother.  However, after Lord Stanhope paid for two trips to Hungary, Kaspar could not recognize anything there.  Lord Stanhope eventually published a book with extensive evidence of how Kaspar was a swindler, and said it was his “duty openly to confess that I had been deceived.”

There is also a theory that the fatal stab wound was self inflicted.  It is theorized that all of Kaspar’s attacks had been self inflicted as they were after he was caught in a lie or had a quarrel with his hosts.  The fatal attack did take place after a large row in the Meyer household, which would follow the pattern.  The note found in Court Garden was written in mirror language and folded in a specific triangular form Kaspar was known to use.  Medical opinion on this has been mixed.  A study in 1928 stated that they believed the wound was self inflicted.  However, a 2005 forensic analysis was inconclusive.  It states it seems “unlikely that the stab to the chest was inflicted exclusively for the purpose of self-damage, but both a suicidal stab and a homicidal act (assassination) cannot be definitely ruled out.”

Whoever Kaspar was, he was a mystery in death as he was in life.  He was buried in the Stadfriedhof in Ansbach.  The epitaph is Hic jacet Casparus Hauser Aenigma sui temporis ignota nativitas occulta mors MDCCCXXXIII or “Here lies Kaspar Hauser, riddle of his time. His birth  was unknown, his death mysterious. 1833.”

ER