Kasper in around 1830

 

By Wendy Hughes

Like most people I sat and watched the royal wedding on the television and thought about everyone talking at it for weeks to come.  This got me thinking about a mysterious man who must have caused just as much discussion in the taverns up and down Europe in the 19th century.  His name was Kasper Hauser and the question on everyone’s lips at the time must have been was he of royal blood? Or as many believed the child of the devil?

At this time the City of Nuremberg was a very rich centre with plenty of smart houses and elegant churches, soon gaining the title of The Treasure House of Germany.  So it is hardly surprising that the scene that faced cobbler Georg Weichmann the morning of 26 May 1828 puzzled him.  As he glanced out of the window of his little shop he saw a young lad of about sixteen-years-old stumbling from an alleyway wearing a torn topcoat and tatty knee-breeches and shielding his eyes from the light.  As he hobbled along in a pair of ill-fitting boots, the cobbler rushed outside, and seeing that the lad was in great distress, asked if he was lost only to be greeted with a babble of garbled noises.  The boy fumbled in his pocket produced an envelope and thrust it into the hand of cobbler.  The address read: To the Captain of the 4th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment.  The cobbler knew Captain von Wessenig very well, so he led the boy to his house, but the Captain was out.  The servants offered the pair some food and drink and asked them to wait.  Georg was amazed to see that the boy refused the meat and German sausage, but grabbed the dry bread roll and gobbled it up.

Statue of Kasper in old city centre of Ansbach Germany

Eventually the Captain returned and opened the envelope and found two letters, one dated a few days ago, and the other dated 7 October 1812.  The first read: I send you a boy who is anxious to serve his country in the Army. He was left on my doorstep as a baby.  I have ten children of my own to bring up and can no longer care for him.  If you don’t want to keep him, kill him, or hang him up in a chimney.

The second letter, claimed to have been written by the child’s mother, read:  Take care of my child.  His name is Kasper, he was born on 30 April 1812, and his father, now deceased, was in the 6th Cavalry.

The Captain looked at the underweight lad and decided to have nothing to do with him. The cobbler protested, but the lad was marched off to the police station, and then spent two months in Luginsland Tower, Nuremberg in a cell.  For several days, while the lad’s fate was being decided, the jailer watched him with interest and later wrote: He is a strange lad, sitting for hours rigid without moving a limb, not growing uncomfortable and prefers the dark and moves like a cat.

Pencil drawing by Kasper in 1829

One day his jailer, Andreas Hiltel, offered the lad a piece of paper and he immediately scrawled the words Reiter (the German for Cavalryman) and Kasper Hauser, which he assumed was the lad’s name.  He also noticed that although Kasper was baby-like in his actions, often tottering on his feet and falling like a baby trying to walk, he was alert and had a bright mind.  His intrigued jailer spent hours teaching him to speak and write, and within six weeks the lad was able to tell his sad story, and the jailer summoned the city Burgomaster to listen to his tale.

Kasper explained that he had been kept locked up day and night in a darkened room measuring six feet by four feet, and slept on rags strewn across a straw bed.  He never heard or came into contact with anyone.  When he woke he would find a plate of bread and a jug of water at his side, but sometimes the water tasted bitter and would send him back into a deep sleep.  During these times he would wake to find his straw had been changed, his hair cut, his body washed and his nails trimmed.  Only once did he come into contact with a human, when a hand would come around the door with a pen and a piece of paper and he would be gently guided to scratch the words Reiter, and Kasper Hauser.  One day the hand came around the door, handed him a pair of boots and the envelope and he was pushed out into the street.

As you can imagine Kasper’s story swept through the country and the city council published an exaggerated account appealing for people to come forward so they could discover his true identity.  Some say Kasper was sent from the devil whilst others said he was a royal child of Charles, Grand Duke of Baden and Stephanie de Beauharnais, a cousin by marriage and adopted daughter of Napoleon, but according to history this child died on 16 October 1812.

Nuremberg

Kasper was placed in the care of Friedrich Daumer, a schoolmaster who taught him various subjects and discovered his talent for drawing, but on 17 October 1928 when he didn’t come to the table for his midday meal and was found in the cellar in the house bleeding from a wound on the forehead.  Kasper claimed his was sitting on the toilet when he was attacked by a hooded man who threatened him with the words that he still had to die, and said he recognised the voice as the one who brought him to Nuremberg. The police were called and he was transferred into the care of Johann Biberbach, one of the municipal authorities.  Again this fuelled stories that he was a descendant of royalty and after an argument with Biberbach, the British nobleman Lord Stanhope took an interest in him and gained custody in late 1831.  Finally he was transferred to the house of Baron von Tucher, then in December 1831 into the care of a schoolmaster Johann George Meyer who was a very strict and pedantic man so the relationship strained, and on 9 December 1833 Hauser had a seriously argument with Meyer, but five days later on 14 December, Casper returned home with a deep wound in his chest and claimed that he was lured into the Ansbach Court Gardens and died of his wounds on 17 December 1833, at the age of 21.  He was buried in the Stradtfriedhof (city cemetery in Anbach, and his headstone, in Latin, reads: Here lies Kasper Hauser, riddle of his time.  His birth was unknown his death mysterious.

Who was the mysterious Kasper Hauser, sadly we may never know.