No one paid much attention to Kaspar Hauser when he strolled into Nuremberg one morning in 1828. The young boy of about 16 was wearing pantaloons, a silk necktie, a waistcoat, a gray jacket, and a handkerchief with the initials “KH” embroidered onto it. His boots were so torn up that his feet were bursting though them and mangled from the road.
If there’s any life story that deserves to be made into a period piece on Netflix, it’s the story of Kaspar Hauser. LiveScience took a crack at separating fact from fiction, and they came up with some pretty bizarre stuff.
We know he was found wandering in a town square in Nuremberg on May 26, 1828. When he was questioned, he knew strangely little — apart from his name, Kaspar Hauser. Later, when curiosity about the stranger kicked into high gear, he would claim that he had been kept in a dark room by people he never saw, which sort of explained why he had no manners to speak of and a preference for bread and water. It only gets weirder, because over the next few years there were at least three attempts on his life. No one ever saw any attackers, and Hauser was thought to be alone when they happened. In 1833, he was killed in one of these mysterious attacks.
There are tons of theories about just who he was and what really happened to him, and they range from the possibility that he was a complete fraud to the theory that he had mental and emotional issues stemming from childhood abuse. One of the stranger theories is that he was an illegitimate claimant to the throne and someone wanted him out of the way… but we’ll likely never really know.
When police finally approached the apparent vagabond, they found that he could only speak a few words and was clutching a letter addressed to a cavalry captain. The missive claimed that its author had no blood relation to Hauser even though the author had raised him as a son. It also noted that since 1812, Hauser had not gone “a step from the house, in order that nobody might know where he was brought up.”
The mysterious note went on to claim that the boy could read, write, and wanted to become “a horseman like his father.” Although he did not have parents, said the letter, if he did “he would have been a learned man.” It ended ominously with the author stating that “it would cost me my neck” had he escorted Hauser to Nuremberg himself.
Police took the boy into custody, where observers reported that although he behaved as if he were a child (indeed, he walked as though he were a toddler just learning how), he was clearly not “a madman or an idiot.” He did not speak unless it was to parrot words and phrases. He had a very small vocabulary, which consisted mainly of words referring to horses. Oddly, although his feet had been damaged from his journey they were “as soft as the palm of a hand,” as though he had never work shoes before he had traveled to Nuremberg.
Hauser was repulsed by all food and drink except for bread and water. When he was brought a lighted candle he stared at in amazement and tried to grab it, only to burn his hand. He was equally fascinated by his own reflection in a mirror, which he also tried to grab in vain.
Hauser was eventually made a ward of the city and went into the custody of Lord Stanhope, a British nobleman. As the “forest boy” learned to communicate effectively, he began to weave a strange tale about being brought up in a prison. He claimed to have never seen the face of the man who brought him to the outskirts of Nuremberg, saying that he had been forced to look at the ground the whole journey before being handed the letter and left alone.
Hauser also described a detailed dream in which he found himself in an enormous castle in the company of an elaborately-dressed woman and a man all in black with a sword. Professor Daumer (who had been treating and observing Hauser) theorized this could have been a faint memory of his early life before the prison.