Thanks for reading Historical Blindness, the Odd Past Podcast. If this is the first time you’ve visited the blog, you’ve found it in the midst of a series on the mysterious foundling, Kaspar Hauser. Before continuing to read to this installment, go back to Episode 7, part one, and then check out the Blind Spot on Princess Caraboo of Javasu, which serves as an interlude of sorts. And while you’re at it, read through the backlog, binge listen to the podcast and rate and review us on iTunes.
In the first half of our story, we met young Kaspar Hauser, lumbering clumsily into Nuremberg on blistered feet, his pockets filled with odds and ends (a key, a rosary and religious tracts) and his entire life in his hand in the form of a couple missives, one ostensibly written by the mother who’d abandoned him, and the other by the foster father who’d kept him imprisoned in darkness his entire life. We observed the unusually childish behavior Kaspar displayed, his temperamental gastric processes, and the extreme interest taken in him by certain benefactors, such as Judge Feuerbach, who was coming to suspect that Kaspar was of noble or even royal stock, and Professor Daumer, who took the strange youth in, tutored him, and performed homeopathic experiments upon him.
Moreover, in the interlude we heard the singular tale of Princess Caraboo of Javasu, a young woman in England 11 years earlier who had passed herself off as a Indonesian princess when in fact she was a poor English farm girl and an astonishingly adept impostor. Thus we might understand well the circumspection of many when it came to Kaspar Hauser and his inconsistent tale, for might not this youth who spoke in a vulgar country dialect be attempting to accomplish a similar deception in order to better his position in life, with a view toward becoming a light horseman as his letter indicated? Was he not already enjoying the fruits of his imposture by living in Daumer’s home, receiving an education and riding horses in his leisure time?
As we rejoin the narrative, even Daumer himself, one of Kaspar’s staunchest defenders, began to notice a tendency toward dishonesty in the boy. It seemed that Kaspar had come to prefer wandering and horseback riding in the fields outside of Nuremberg to his frequent lessons with the professor, and he was known to play hooky and lie about where he had been. Daumer believed this new propensity for untruthfulness came as a direct result of a gradual change in the boy’s diet, for he had slowly begun to introduce meat into the boy’s meals until Kaspar managed to digest it, and now he suspected that this new deceitfulness, as well as an attendant dampening of his supposed magnetic abilities, showed that a carnivorous diet has a corrupting influence on humanity, blunting certain uncanny talents that we might all otherwise enjoy. However, Daumer’s tendency toward quackery has already been noted, and it is very important to note that Kaspar’s dishonesty, rather than being indicative of calculated charlatanry, came only in the form of innocent falsehoods such as are commonly told by children, especially when caught disobeying.
One example of Kaspar’s childish lies occurred on an October morning in 1829, when Daumer confronted Kaspar over his truancy. Kaspar insisted that he had not been outside the city walls riding when he was supposed to have been reporting for his lessons, but Daumer had him dead to rights, for he had confirmed with others who had seen the adolescent out riding his horse in the fields. The entire scene strikes me as reminiscent of many another that has played out in the homes of teenagers the world over, for when accused of misbehavior, it seems the teen’s first recourse is to deny, and I can only imagine that after being told he had been seen, Kaspar either cast doubt on those who had seen him or made some further excuse, as is frequently the recourse of headstrong youth. On this occasion, however, something more dramatic also occurred.
As the day wore on, and the heat of their quarrel cooled, with Daumer and Kaspar Hauser separately going about their customary daily activities, Daumer’s sister happened to notice blood upon the stairs, with footprints in it. This she cleaned, assuming that Kaspar had suffered a nosebleed. Afterward, in looking for Kaspar in his room and in the privy, or toilet—where Kaspar, with his delicate constitution, was known to spend much time—she found a larger pool of blood, which, farcically, she assumed had been left by a cat that had birthed kittens. Again, she cleaned the pool of blood, believing the tracks had been made by Kaspar who had heedlessly walked through the puddle and simply failed to wipe his feet. Only when Kaspar did not show up for dinner did the Daumers become alarmed. Daumer’s mother checked Kaspar’s room and checked again the privy, and then she saw a mark of blood on the cellar door, and inside, a further trail of blood on the steps. Sending a maid to investigate this sanguinary track, she discovered an inert form collapsed at the bottom of the cellar steps. “There lies Kaspar, dead!” the maid reported, and others were sent down to fetch him up. He was bleeding from his forehead and appeared delirious, but was very much alive, saying only a few broken words, “…man struck…” and “…hide in cellar…” before fainting away with feverish shivers and violent convulsions, such that three men had difficulty holding him down. During his many hours of disorientation and insensibility, he was offered a cup with a hot drink, and he bit a shard from the cup, swallowing it down with the drink! Only a few more things did he manage to say clearly during this delirium, among them, “…not murder, not be silent, not die!” and “…a man murder me! away! not murder me! I fond of every body; injure nobody…” and perhaps most tellingly, “Brought me out of my prison, you murder me! You first have murdered me, before I understood what life is. You must say why you imprisoned me…”
Not until he was sensible again could he tell the story in all its particulars. It seems he had gone earlier to visit the homeopath associate of Professor Daumer, Dr. Preu, and had been given a walnut, which despite Kaspar’s worries that it would disagree with him, he ate a portion of to satisfy Dr. Preu’s curiosity and almost instantaneously felt ill. After returning to Daumer’s house, he went to the privy, sitting there for quite a while in intestinal distress. While thus indisposed, he heard the distant sound of the house door and light footsteps approaching through the passage toward the privy. He peered through an opening in the privy screen to ascertain who was there. To his horror, he claimed to have seen a man dressed in black, with a black silk mask and shiny black gloves—whom in his delirium he had compared to a soot-blackened chimney sweep who had earlier frightened him in the kitchen. Kaspar tried to pull up his trousers, which because of the cramped space of the privy caused his head to push the screen open, thus exposing him to the masked intruder, who then spoke: “You must die before you leave Nuremberg!” Brandishing a cleaver, he struck Kaspar on the forehead and left him there to die. But Kaspar did not perish from the blow. He described coming to his senses and wandering back up the passage into the house, explaining the presence of his bloody boot prints there, and claiming that he ended up back in the passage by the privy quite by accident, due to his disorientation, whereupon he spotted the cellar and decided to hide within, in case his attacker remained in the house.
Notifications with a description of the assassin were immediately sent far and wide by magistrates, but no suspects were ever identified or arrested. And the testimony of one eyewitness suggested that no one answering the description of the black-clad attacker had come near the Daumers’ house during that time, and that the only person seen approaching the house was a beggar. This, of course, encourages the convictions of those who believe Kaspar Hauser a liar. After his quarrel with Daumer, he must have faked the attack in order to regain favor and sympathy, or perhaps with even grander designs, he hoped again to excite the interest of the public, which had been waning. There had been some talk about town that, much improved now in his literacy, he intended to write an autobiography, so could not this have been a stunt to make it look like someone wished to silence him, a trick to recapture the fancy of the entire city and publicize his forthcoming book?
But other reports seemed to corroborate Kaspar’s story, as another eyewitness claimed to have seen a man that fit the description of the attacker leaving the Daumers’ house at just that time, and another witness saw perhaps the same man washing his hands in a nearby basin on the street…perhaps to clean the blood from them? And a third report, given by a poor woman some days later, describes a well-dressed man fitting the description of the attacker asking around about whether Kaspar had died in the attack and slinking away suspiciously upon seeing a posted notification seeking the public’s help in apprehending the assassin. With such evidence in Kaspar’s defense, interest in him and his murky background did indeed resurge, and many, including the brilliant Judge Anselm von Feuerbach, who was certainly no gullible fool, believed that, rather than a stunt, this was a genuine attempt to silence Kaspar before his autobiography could reveal some carefully protected secret about his origins. For as I’ve mentioned before, theories had already surfaced that Kaspar’s lifelong captivity had been undertaken in order to deny him some grand birthright.
Legends regarding Kaspar’s noble birth had emerged within a couple weeks of his appearance, and not all of them agreed in their particulars. Some claimed he was the progeny of Napoleon Bonaparte himself. Professor Daumer believed him to be the successor of an English aristocrat, while others would later believe him a Hungarian nobleman’s heir. But the theory regarding a noble birthright that proved the most popular over the years was that he was the crown prince of Baden, abducted from his crib in 1812. According to this version of events, Kaspar was the true heir of Grand Duke Karl Freidrich, who after siring three children from an earlier marriage, entered a morganatic marriage with one Luise Geyer von Geyersberg while in his seventies. A morganatic marriage indicates marriage to someone of lower rank who is given no claim to the wealth or titles of the spouse of higher rank. In this case, Geyerberg was only given the title of Countess Hochberg. Moreover, any children born of a morganatic marriage would not succeed to the titles or property of the parent of higher birth, so when the Countess Hochberg gave Grand Duke Karl Friedrich three sons—a fact that some found suspect considering the Grand Duke’s age, spawning rumors that they were actually fathered by one of the Grand Duke’s grown sons—they were not destined to be his heirs. That honor, it seemed, would fall to his grandson, Prince Karl, the only grandson of the Grand Duke’s first marriage, and thence forth to his progeny, the first of which was born in 1812 to Duchess Stéphanie de Beauharnais, who happened to be Napoleon’s stepdaughter.
As the story goes, Countess Hochberg, envious and determined to seize the dynasty for her own sons, dressed in white and stole into the nursery. There was a well-known ghost story at the time of an entity called the White Lady of Baden, who appeared, it was said, when princes died. Thus when the Countess appeared in spectral white, wet-nurses swooned away and other servants cowered out of her path, giving her access to the royal nursery, where she accomplished her purpose of replacing the newborn prince with an unhealthy changeling that would die within a couple of weeks. The abducted princeling, then, which the legend says was Kaspar Hauser, was taken away to live as the child of the court servant from whom the Countess had taken the sickly babe.
Within a couple of years, then, young Kaspar was taken to a castle on the Rhine. Some circumstantial evidence even appeared to support this, as Professor Daumer claimed to have seen Kaspar draw a coat of arms from memory that resembled one at this castle. Moreover, a governess accused as one of Kaspar’s captors, supposed tohave overseen the child at this Rhinish castle on behalf of the Countess, is reported to have fainted upon hearing herself so implicated in these stories and ended up perishing in a mental asylum, which in no way diminished suspicion of her involvement. And finally, some recalled a strange story from 1816, in which a message in a bottle had been discovered floating in the Rhine. The message, written in Latin, purported to be a plea for help from a prisoner held somewhere nearby in an underground cell. The note was signed S. Hanès Sprancio, and proponents of the Prince Kaspar theory suggested this was an anagram that translated to “his son Kaspar,” speculating that the message had been composed by one aware of the princeling’s captivity who pitied him and hoped the Grand Duke would hear of the note and ascertain its secret meaning. In later years, it was posited that the castle in which Kaspar had been held was one called Pilsach, for in the 1920s, a novelist found a dungeon there and suggested a resemblance to a drawing made by Kaspar, and in the 1980s, a toy horse was supposedly discovered there as well.
As the legend continued, the evil Countess had been busy throughout the years of Kaspar’s confinement, murdering every heir that stood in the way of her children inheriting the title of Grand Duke of Baden, which meant poisoning the Grand Duke himself, Kaspar’s father, as well as Karl’s brother Friedrich and Kaspar’s own baby brother, who was born to Stéphanie de Beauharnais in 1816 and only lived eight days. The Countess died in 1820, with her children seemingly the only option for the continuation of the dynasty. After her death, an accomplice saw fit to free the boy and see that he might enjoy some semblance of a fulfilling life as a trooper in Nuremberg, but with the publicity his story had received, and the suggestion that he may be remembering enough of his past to write a book, some deadly measures had to be taken to obscure their crimes.
So the story went, and the apparent attempt on Kaspar’s life did much to corroborate it. Two constables were assigned to guard Kaspar against further attacks, and Professor Daumer suggested that Kaspar would be better off living elsewhere, whereupon a wealthy merchant took him in, in whose household he was subjected to many apparently indecent goings-on, as the constables guarding him reportedly took many untoward liberties with the maidservants. Apparently, his tendency toward lying, however childishly, only worsened in this environment, as the lady of the house reported Kaspar freely spinning falsehoods and then sulking and throwing tantrums when confronted or reproached. Indeed, on one occasion, after being admonished for dishonesty, he went to his room, and later, when a pistol shot sounded, his guards rushed in to find him lying prostrate, bleeding from his head where a bullet had grazed him. According to him, he had been on a chair, reaching to retrieve a book from a shelf when he slipped and reached out to keep himself from falling and accidentally disturbed a brace of pistols that hung on the wall as a last defense against assassins. One of these pistols had accidentally fired, and he was lucky to be alive.
Many who scrutinize Kaspar’s life for proof that he was a liar and impostor see this incident as establishing a clear pattern: caught in a lie, he undertakes to purposely injure himself in order to regain sympathy, only this time, with guards outside his door, he couldn’t blame his injury on a shadowy trespasser. There is also something to be said for the possibility that this may indeed have been an accident, and as for the lady of the house complaining of Kaspar’s dishonesty, doubt has also been cast on her word, as reports surfaced later that she had made sexual advances toward the ingenuous Kaspar, which he, in his innocence, had spurned, making a resentful enemy of her. Indeed, after the episode with the gun, he was forced to leave the merchant’s home and move in with the man who had overseen him in the merchant’s household, and this guardian thereafter described a positive change in Kaspar after getting out of that environment. His lying abated and he excelled in his studies. One might justifiably infer, then, that this boy of perhaps 18 years was no scoundrel but rather, like any other youth, more likely to comport himself virtuously in a wholesome environment, with the guidance of a decent role model.
Unfortunately, at this time, a different sort of benefactor and guardian entered Kaspar’s life: the fourth earl of Stanhope, Philip Henry, a travelling English nobleman who some believe may have been a spy for the British government or perhaps for certain German royals, many of whom he was well acquainted with—a fact that would eventually turn suspicion on him as being in league with the shadowy forces aligned against Kaspar Hauser, as he had been in Nuremberg on some unknown business during the first attempt on Kaspar’s life.
Lord Stanhope entered Kaspar’s life as a friend, someone who had taken an interest in his story and his wellbeing, buying his way into the boy’s good graces with lavish gifts and donations of hard money and quickly becoming his new legal guardian. Stanhope openly supported the notion that Kaspar was a boy of high birth, although rather than a German noble of Baden, he seized on some occasions when Kaspar seemed to understand Hungarian words as proof that the boy came from Hungarian nobility. Kaspar had suffered paroxysms upon hearing the name of a Hungarian town. Indeed, perhaps because of his growing vanity, and wishing to encourage rumors of his nobility, he cried “That is my mother!” upon hearing the maiden name of a Hungarian countess. Lord Stanhope took Kaspar to Hungary, hoping that being immersed in the Magyar language and seeing the sights might encourage further recollection, but alas, Kaspar was clearly unfamiliar with the culture, the language, the landmarks. Nevertheless, he appears to have made a melodramatic show of nearly recalling certain things, as the Hungarian nobles who met him found Kaspar’s histrionics laughable.
After the trip to Hungary, Lord Stanhope began to think Kaspar a fraud. Wanting little more to do with him, he left Kaspar in Ansbach with an authoritarian tutor name Johann Meyer, who kept Kaspar on house arrest most of the time, making him sit through dense lectures on mathematics and history and frequently searching his rooms and making attempts to read Kaspar’s personal journal, likely reporting any suspicious thing he found to Lord Stanhope, who appeared to have made it his purpose to expose Kaspar as a fraud. Meyer reported that Kaspar was certainly a dishonest boy, but again, his falsehoods tended to be childish lies told with the object of finding an excuse to have a break from his studies and get out of the house for a short while. His only respite from Meyer came from religious lessons that he took with a local pastor and visits to his friend, Judge Anselm von Feuerbach, who before his death in 1833 secured for Kaspar a junior clerk position in the chancery against his tyrannical schoolmaster’s wishes.
Some months after Feuerbach’s demise, on December 14 of 1833, a bitterly cold and gusty day, the schoolmaster, Johann Meyer, answered the front door to find Kaspar Hauser, who had been out on his usual errands, returned home in quite a state. He lurched inside, clutching at his chest where he appeared to be bleeding a little, and he gestured back out of doors, toward the nearby Hofgarten park. “Man had knife,” he sputtered. “Gave me pouch—Stabbed—Ran as fast as I could—Pouch is still there!” Meyer, sympathetic soul he was, merely wondered why Kaspar had been out at the park in this weather at all, and Kaspar crumpled to the floor. Meyer took Kaspar to lie on the couch, but his compassion ended there. He believed Kaspar was attempting another stunt to get sympathy, and he told the boy as much in no uncertain terms, going so far as to threaten him with a beating if he did not recant his story and tell the truth.
The account that Kaspar gave between moans, lying there writhing in pain on the couch, was that a workman had come to him at the chancery, inviting him to the Hofgarten to see some items of clay, but when Kaspar arrived, no one was there, and near a memorial to a certain local poet, a bearded man in a black hat approached him, held out a pouch saying it was a gift, and when the boy took it, promptly stabbed him with a stiletto dagger. When Kaspar, even under threat of a thrashing, refused to withdraw this story, Meyer relented and went to find a doctor. This he did, and the first physician to examine Kaspar, after likely listening to Meyer’s diminishment of Kaspar’s character and hearing his certainty that the wound was self-inflicted and likely superficial, arrived and immediately poked an unhygienic bare finger into the wound, starting back in surprise when his finger went quite deep and nearly felt Kaspar’s thumping heart.
With this doctor’s report that Kaspar had indeed been grievously, perhaps mortally, wounded, Meyer reported the incident to the police, who went to search the park and question possible witnesses. Meanwhile, Meyer sought a second opinion, and this time the physician said exactly what Meyer wanted to hear, that the wound was not serious and Kaspar would be just fine. Thus, as his temperature rose, and his pain worsened, Meyer stood there assuring police constables that Kaspar was a liar who had stabbed himself and was exaggerating his condition. “Oh God,” Kaspar was heard to whimper before dying three days after his attack, “having to depart life in this way, in despair and dishonor!”
Johann Meyer and Lord Stanhope both made it their mission after Kaspar’s death to defame him, to tarnish his reputation and convince as many as possible that Kaspar Hauser was a prevaricator and dissembler, a country vagrant who had sought a better life for himself through imposture and had continued to seek attention and charity by faking attempts on his life, the last of which he had made too realistic, essentially committing accidental suicide. And this is, indeed, the opinion of Hauser that dominates today, and there is much to support it, such as the inconsistencies in his story previously noted, and the sheer unlikelihood of some particulars, such as that a child raised only on bread and water would have been strong enough to walk let alone to climb the stairs of the tower where he was conducted after his first appearance. Moreover, the entire notion that a child could be taught to write in the dark by a guiding hand or could be taught to walk in a short time after years in a low-ceilinged dungeon simply beggared the imagination. Then there was the fact that the penmanship of the letters he carried appeared to resemble the penmanship he later developed upon supposedly becoming literate.
As for the supposed attack in Ansbach that killed him, the police did not find the attacker or the weapon when they search the park, but they did find the pouch that Kaspar had mentioned. Inside it was a note written in spiegelschrift, or mirror writing, which read as follows:
To be delivered.
Hauser will be able to tell you exactly who I am, and whence I come,
but to save him the trouble I will do it myself:
I come from ________
At the Bavarian frontier,
By the river ________
I will even tell you my name—M.L.Ö.
It has never been ascertained why the pertinent information was left blank or what the initials stand for. But it was pointed out by Meyer and then corroborated by witnesses less hostile to Kaspar, that the pouch had belonged to Kaspar Hauser, and that the writing on the note had been his own, as he had been practicing mirror-writing.
Of course, all of this does seem to damn young Kaspar Hauser as a liar, but consider evidence on the other side of the debate. The softness of Kaspar’s hands and the blisters on his feet does seem to indicate he hadn’t been a physically active youth, and some of the reactions he had to food other than bread and water, especially his gastrointestinal suffering, seem impossible to have faked. Moreover, while many have pointed out that Kaspar’s guardians often caught him in lies, they were predominately childish fibs, not devious plots. When considering the first attack in Daumer’s house, there are the eyewitness accounts of a man answering to the attacker’s description leaving the house and washing his hands, and likewise, in Ansbach, it turned out that eight witnesses, including a constable, had seen a suspicious character matching the description Kaspar had given of his assassin skulking about the park at the time of his attack, and had even been seen walking with Kaspar. One witness, astonishingly, claimed to have seen the stranger leaving the park with blood on his hand! While the murder weapon was not found at the time, a fearsome “French bandit’s dagger” was eventually discovered in the bushes of the Hofgarten near the monument in 1838. As for the theory that Kaspar had stabbed himself so mortally, Dr. Jan Bondeson, whose discussion of Hauser’s case in The Great Pretenders I have relied on heavily for this episode, brings his modern medical expertise to bear in comparing the various physicians’ accounts and autopsy reports and suggests that the evidence simply doesn’t support suicide. Although Kaspar likely died from infection due to the first doctor thrusting a dirty finger into his wound, the angle of the stabbing and the absence of any hesitation wounds, together with reports that he appeared in good spirits prior to the incident and had always been fearful of sharp objects and the prospect of pain or injury, all amounts to conclusive evidence of murder.
While today most dismiss Kaspar as a fraud, in his own time, there was public outcry that his death proved the theory that he was a kidnapped prince of Baden, and many conspiracy theorists further alleged that Lord Stanhope and his vile creature, the schoolmaster Johann Meyer, had themselves been conspirators—party to the first attack on Kaspar, orchestrators of his successful assassination, and now intent on erasing their crime from history by besmirching Kaspar’s name so that he would always be remembered as an impostor. The theory that Kaspar Hauser was a lost princeling, must have been quite convincing at the time, and likely was even encouraged by Kaspar himself, much as he had probably encouraged the strange homeopathic experiments of Daumer and Preu. He seems to have been a boy who wanted to please those around him, which in his case meant acting a certain part and offering the responses that people hoped to see, whether they were physical responses to homeopathic remedies or exaggerated moments of feigned remembrance.
Regardless, the princeling theory no longer holds water for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being that the Countess Hochberg cannot be proven to have poisoned the heirs of the Grand Duchy of Baden, for there is no indication that they were murdered at all and in fact seem to have died naturally. Some rumors did abound when Grand Duchess Stephanie lost her two sons, but there is no evidence of baby-swapping, nor any logic behind the idea that the Countess would murder everyone who might prevent her children’s rise to power and yet for some reason leave a contender for the throne alive in the form of Kaspar languishing in his dungeon at Pilsach. Indeed, the dungeon later found at Pilsach seems to not agree in several regards with descriptions Kaspar gave, which included windows. And as for the message in a bottle of 1816, most believe that to have been a prank, as the latin signature, S. Hanès Sprancio, could be construed in translation as meaning “I am a Jackass who don’t know where I am.”
In 1996, popular periodical Der Spiegel laid this to rest by testing the DNA present on Kaspar’s bloodstained clothing, which had been on display in a museum for years. Testing against the DNA of confirmed descendants of Grand Duchess Stephanie, this study proved that Kaspar Hauser was no relation to that royal lineage. Nevertheless, believers insisted there had been some mistake. Rumors rose that the museum or some of its patrons had tampered with the clothing, embellishing the bloodstains with cow’s blood or ketchup. The stains were confirmed to be human blood, but still, it seemed only comparing the bloodstains to DNA taken from Kaspar Hauser’s very remains would satisfy some, and this has never been undertaken.
If we accept that Kaspar was no princeling, there still remains the mystery of his origins and the question of his murder. One theory returns us to the notion raised in part one that many of these “wild children” were actually children with illnesses or cognitive disabilities that were abandoned because they were considered to be burdens. Beyond Kaspar’s apparent childishness, illiteracy and general ignorance, there are the accounts of his convulsive fits. First in response to Daumer and Preu’s homeopathic experiments, then after the first attack and also after hearing the name of a certain Hungarian town, he is said to have gone into violent spasms. These reports, as well as others indicating that Kaspar suffered from consistent facial tics and that his brain showed some abnormality during the autopsy, have led some scholars to hypothesize that Kaspar suffered from epilepsy. In fact, it turns out that the items in his pockets when he was first taken in—the key, the rosary and the religious tracts—were actually common folk remedies, charms meant to protect the bearer against epilepsy, or what they called the falling sickness. According to this theory, then, he somehow injured himself by accident during his seizures and simply hallucinated the man in black that attacked him. This seems less than convincing for more than one reason, besides the fact that this diagnosis of epilepsy has since been challenged by other scholars. For example, Kaspar does not seem to have been cognitively or physically impaired so as to seem a burden to his caretakers, so why would he have been abandoned, and if he had been abandoned, why at the advanced age of 16 and why the letter of introduction? Moreover, reports of the wound that killed him, which must have been made by a dagger, seem to show that it could not have been self-inflicted, let alone accidental.
Dr. Jan Bondeson, in The Great Pretenders, offers a more rational version of the Kaspar Hauser tale in which Kaspar was a vagabond who was manipulated into or conspired in a scheme to gain charity by presenting himself as a poor mistreated foundling. His co-conspirator or manipulator, then, perhaps being the man who wrote the letter and sent him into Nuremberg to perpetrate his imposture, was also the man in black who later attacked him and eventually killed him. This ruffian, seeing that Kaspar had succeeded in gaining a measure of prosperity through his benefactors, had attempted to blackmail him; he would expose Kaspar as a fraud if Kaspar didn’t somehow share some of the material comfort he had gained for himself. This then explained the mysterious note being written in Kaspar’s own mirror-writing and being placed in his own pouch, and most importantly, it explained why it only had blanks where the important information should have been: Kaspar showed his blackmailer the note and threatened to fill in the blanks to incriminate him, but rather than intimidating him, it only threw him into a murderous rage.
It seems, however, that no one theory accounts for every mysterious particular in the story of Kaspar Hauser, and this is why it has proven to be one of the most enduring of historical mysteries. To illustrate, no less than four memorials to Kaspar can be visited in Germany. One can view his bloody clothes in a museum that is situated on a square named for him. One can visit the statues at the Platenstrasse, one depicting Kaspar with his rumpled clothes as he has first appeared in Nuremberg and the other Kaspar as the young gentleman he became, looking back at his old self in puzzlement. Or one could visit his grave, where the memorial stone reads: “Here lies Kaspar Hauser, the riddle of his time. His birth was unknown, his death mysterious.” And finally, there is the monument at the site of his stabbing in the Hofgarten, with its apt Latin inscription: “Hic occultus occulto occisus est.” Here a mysterious man was killed in a mysterious way. And the Latinate root for mysterious here seems especially appropriate, for “occult” means to cut off from view, to obscure. Certain passages in history seem destined to remain concealed from our sight, and it is these unreadable chapters in our past, these hopeless cases of historical blindness, that remain the most contentious and the most memorable.
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