Quit Clowning Around

John Wayne Gacy's self-portrait of Pogo the Clown
John Wayne Gacy’s self-portrait of Pogo the Clown – now owned by Johnny Depp

Coulrophobia; one of the more bizarre fears

John Wayne Gacy was a likeable and affable man, who gave the appearance of a caring member of his community.  A local business owner, he carried out and even spearheaded several charitable community events in Norwood Park Chicago, Illinois.  He was appointed Director of the local Polish Constitution Day Parade and was very active in fundraising and campaigning for the Democrat Party, which led to him meeting and being photographed with First Lady Rosalind Carter.  Gacy also joined a local ‘Moose Club’, whose ranks included a Jolly Joker Club of members doing charitable works while dressed as clowns.  It was through this that Gacy adopted his alter-ego of Pogo the Clown, under which he would voluntarily and regularly visit children in hospital, making them smile and laugh with his antics.   Norwood Park township frankly loved the local businessman with a heart of gold.

Then it call came crashing down when a police officer searching for missing 15-year-old Robert Piest detected the unmistakable stench of decomposing flesh in Gacy’s home, and a subsequent search uncovered the body of Piest – and 25 other bodies of boys and young men in varying states of decomposition.  Forensic examinations proved that all had been choloroformed, anally raped, then asphyxiated.


John Wayne Gacy, who was killed by lethal injection on 10 May 1994, has gone down in history as the epitome of the “killer clown”; the funny man turned bad.  Thought to have been the inspiration of horror writer and lifelong coulrophobe Stephen King for his character of Pennywise in his novel and subsequent movie, IT, Gacy epitomises for many people the image of the creepy clown.  For many others this is much more than being creeped out, it is a deep psychological matter.  Coulrophobia, the irrational fear of clowns, is an all too real condition which can cause extreme anxiety, stress and panic attacks.

The most famous of the world’s sufferers of coulrophobia is possibly the most surprising; screen actor Johnny Depp.  I say the most surprising, for in many of his roles Depp has to paint his own face and appears almost clown-like himself.  Johnny Depp’s phobia is so very pronounced however that in order to force himself to face his fears, he actually bought John Wayne Gacy’s self-portrait in the guise of Pogo the clown.  Imagine wakening up and finding that smiling down at you – and knowing it is actually a sexual predator and serial killer?  I’m not a coulrophobe myself but I would say that Johnny Depp is a braver man than I’ll ever be.

Johnny Depp’s coulrophobia is indeed an enigma, when one considers his acting career.  He is of course best known for his portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Carribean series of movies, and in those movies alone, he plays a flambouyant character, reliant upon heavy face makeup.  More astounding still however was when he played the Depp_HatterMad Hatter in Tim Burton’s 2008 adaptation of Alice in Wonderland.  Astounding as it was Depp himself, rather than Tim Burton who was mostly responsible for the Mad Hatter’s appearance.  Johnny Depp actually produced watercolour sketches of what the Mad Hatter should look like, and came up with a character with wild, orange-red hair, a white-painted face, heavy eye makeup and painted lips.  In other words, Depp’s Mad Hatter is a truly insane character which is every inch the clown.  Why would someone so afraid of clowns ever create such a character for themself to be made up as?  It is my belief that because Johnny Depp does suffer from coulrophobia, that only someone with such a phobia could create such a character.  In the movie the Mad Hatter is a good and kindly character, but he could easily also be devious and frightening, and it is that which I believe Johnny Depp’s mind created.

Joey Grimaldi
Joey Grimaldi

It is probably true to say that coulrophobia, or at least people who are creeped out by clowns, has been around ever since the inception of clowning.  A recognised art form, clowning had it’s genesis in England, through mummery plays of travelling acting troupes, then court jesters, to the Harlequin of early popular theatres and music halls, until he found his modern guise as the painted-face fool.  It was to mix however with the Italian comedy theatre of Commedia dell Arte to evolve into the clowning as we know it today.  The man widely accredited with being the first clown was an English actor of Italian extraction, Joseph (Joey) Grimaldi (1778-1837), who mixed Commedia dell Arte with English Harlequin and appeared on stage in white face paint, large red-painted smile, red-painted cheeks, pronounced eyebrows and wild hair.  His portrayal of Joey was much-loved, led to many copiers and ultimately started off an entire art form.

Yet even before this, the ‘clown’ was at times seen as a character to be ridiculed and despised.  In 1552, Scots playwright Sir David de Lyndsay first produced his play Ane Satyre o’ the Thrie Estatis, in which the character Spiritualitie, self-admittedly knows nothing of the Bible he claims to live by, is stripped of his priestly robes and exposed to be wearing multi-coloured pantaloons, thereby being mocked as a figure of fun.  This portrayal surely has it’s basis in the ‘fool’ characters of mummery plays and folklore, which would eventually evolve into the clown.

Mister Punch
Mister Punch

And ever since, of course, Harlequin-like characters have often been held up as a someone to be distrusted and even hated, which may go some way to explaining why so many people have a great distrust of them.  They are rarely seen nowadays, due to their non-PC portrayals of domestic violence, but generations of children must have seen Punch and Judy shows.  In Punch and Judy, the puppet of Punch, with his big red nose, his evil grin, angry eyebrows, ponted hat, pointed ‘hunch’ on his back, and his brightly striped ‘shirt’ certainly bares more than a passing resemblance to a clown.  In the puppet show Punch hits the baby and Mrs Punch, and is thereby seen as an evil character who must have instilled knightmares into countless children.

Some psychologists believe that coulrophobia may be due to a traumatic childhood experience.  And while this may be true in some cases, I doubt that it is the matter in all cases.  It may however be due to how clowns are portrayed and how they portray themselves.  Add popular culture into this, and the job is done.

Restless Natives
Restless Natives

In 1968 the popular British TV series The Avengers featured an episode entitled Look – (Stop Me if You’ve Heard This One) But There Were These Two Fellers, in which a series of crimes, including murder, were carried out by a gang of clowns.  In 1985 the Scottish comedy movie, Restless Natives, features two ‘Robin Hood’ type characters, disguised as a wolfman and a clown, who set about holding up and robbing visitors to Scotland on tour coaches, then giving the money to the poor.  In 1992, the cartoon series The Simpsons (Lisa’s First Words), featured Homer building a terrifying ‘clown’ cot atari-st-ad-fiendish-freddy-s-mindscape-ukfor Bart, which results in him continually saying “Can’t sleep.  Clown will eat me.”  And of course the movies of IT and Killer Klowns from Outer Space have added to that damage.  Even computer games have gotten in on the theme, with Fiendish Freddy’s Big Top o’ Fun featuring the evil-looking clown, Freddy.  I once had a poster of the latter which one night I pinned to the back of my mother’s bedroom door.  Only noticing it once she was in bed reading, she was not pleased with me.

When an idea gets instilled in popular culture, it is hard to remove it, and this probably accounts for why just so many people suffer coulrophobia, or are at the least creeped out by clowns.   This can sometimes lead to unfortunate events, as childrens entertainers in Boston, Massachussetts, and then across the USA were to find out to their detriment in 1981.  Following reports from children, on 5 May 1981 police in the Brookline district of Boston put out an all points bulletin to officers to look out for a van full of clowns who had allegedly tried to tempt children with candy.  The following day, another APB was put out looking for another van, this time only containing one male clown, who apparently was only attired from the waist up, with his genitals in full view.  From then on reports spread across Boston daily, prompting Boston Public School Investigative Counsellor, Daniel O’Connell, to issue a memo to schools, advising them to warn pupils to stay away from vehicles with strangers in them, particularly those dressed as clowns.

Stranger danger?
Stranger danger?

Of course, despite the varying wild claims of children (how would little kids even see inside a car, particularly an American car, to see if a clown was wearing his pants or not?), no clowns were ever found or apprehended in Boston.  However, like the Orson Welles broadcast of War of the Worlds spread mass hysteria, the damage was done.  As the Boston hysteria subsided, reports started springing up across other parts of the USA, notably Kansas City, Missouri, and Montclair, New Jersey.  All the claims were made by very young children, from preschool to about 7-year-olds, no older children or adults ever encountered the cars or vans with clowns, no arrests were ever made, and despite all the evidence to the contrary, and even journalists pouring cold water on the stories, paranoia spread and clowns, those loveable characters who are supposed to be friends to children, were suddenly shunned and ostracised, threatened with and even suffered physical violence, which could only have been detrimental to those already on the breadline who were trying to scratch a living as clowns for parties in the Reaganomics of 1980s America, and hurtful to those who did the job because they genuinely adored children and wanted to bring joy and laughter to their lives.

We see here that one particular brand of coulrophobia ties in with the “stranger danger” paranoia, such as swept across the UK, fuelled largely by red-top tabloid newspapers, in the UK in the 1990s, which saw many single men targeted and chased out of their homes, purely because they were single and had no children (gay men were particularly prone to this attitude, which sadly still exists among some less well educated and some religious heterosexual people).  This has been echoed by what has become almost a catchphrase, “They wear masks and they have access to little kids.”  And even where the clown is not considered a paedophile, they are all too often suspected of being drunks.  Given the propensity for clowning to be a low-paying job carried out by poor Americans, there may be some modicum of truth in this.  The idea is certainly deep-rooted in US subculture, as evidenced by Krusty’s drinking in The Simpsons and the drunken clown in the John Candy movie, Uncle Buck.  I find it highly amusing however that a society that fears clowns so much as suspected paedophiles and / or alcoholics every December will quite happily have their little ones pictured on the laps of Santas (and no reader, despite this article being about irrational fears, I am not going to stoop to doing the terrible joke about claustrophobia).

Wasco (CA) clown, 2014
Wasco (CA) clown, 2014

Some degree of coulrophobia may then indeed come from traumatic childhood events, but then it is obviously also fuelled by the media and popular culture.  And there are those who feed upon that.  October 2014 saw a gang of people dressed as clowns – some with evil smiles – in towns in California, USA roaming the streets in the dark.  In Bakersfield, CA, several people phoned the police about the sighting of a clown carrying a firearm (not actually an offence under the Second Amendment of the US Constitution).  He was never found.  Nor was the clown with an axe who allegedly chased a little girl down a street in Wasco, CA (because of course, people seeing a child being chased by an axeman in a busy city-centre street would do nothing to intervene, would they?).  The stories became splashed all over the media, both in the USA and elsewhere.  The UK newspaper, the Daily Mail, carried several reports, all with “evil clown” in the titles.  And the more the media covered the story, the more sightings occurred, and the clowns even started posting pics of themselves on social media on the internet.  Whoever was behind it must have loved the attention and the paranoia they were creating.  Some thought it threatening, some thought it was an art form.  In the end, no arrests were ever made and the sightings came to an abrupt halt on 1 November – the day after Halloween.  One reckons the saying “You’ve been had.” is all too apt here.

Phobias are commonly defined as ‘irrational’ fears, and this is never more true where coulstrophobia is concerned.  I know it will be of little comfort to coulstrophobes but the fact is that crimes carried out by individuals in clown costumes are rare, those by professional clowns rarer still.  Certainly, there are some cases of non-professional clowns abusing children, however these crimes are carried out by deeply disturbed individuals who are the exception rather than the rule.  Similarly, the three ‘clowns’ who held up Brannigan’s pub in Manchester, England, may well have been inspired by the media, particularly Comfort and Joy.  The latter is noteworthy in that it is a wonderful example of life imitating art.  The men, having held up the manager and barmaid at gunpoint, tied the two up.  It had actually been a slow night in the pub and they only got away with a small amount of money.  Then making their getaway in a white Transit van, they managed to collide, clown-like, into four vehicles before evading capture.

John Wayne Gacy
John Wayne Gacy

But it truly would be an insane clown who carried out crimes while in costume, as they would quite simply be too easily recognised.  John Wayne Gacy would promise boys and young men to show them ‘the handcuff trick’, and once he had them secured, he would tell them “The real trick is to have the keys to the handcuffs.” before raping and killing them.  Similarly, the ultimate narcissist Gacy was, he taunted police “A clown can get away with anything.”  He never once however carried out his crimes while in the guise of Pogo, as being seen leading any boy or teen away as such, he would have been instantly recognisable.  Gacy may have been a sadistic sexual predator and murderer, but he was far from stupid.  Like all abusers, he was coldly clever and calculating.  And John Wayne Gacy of course was not a professional clown, any of whom chose to carry out crimes could be easily traced through their images registered with clowning organisations (traditionally these are painted onto eggshells which are then submitted to libraries and no clown may copy another clown’s image).

I am first to admit that it does little to allay some fears and I freely admit to still finding some clowns creepy.  On the other hand I happen to actually know a woman who has a clown alter-ego.  She is a lovely person who would sooner do anyone a kindness than do them dirty, who represents no threat to anyone and certainly not to children (she has three of her own).  I love her clown persona – but then, I know the woman well.  And of course, that is before we even touch on perhaps the best-known clown of all time, mascot of an organisation adored by many children, Ronald McDonald.  How could anyone not love Ronald?

The very first commercial featuring Ronald McDonald:

Okay, perhaps not the best example.   There’s something more than a little disconcerting about the burgers apparently emerging from Ronald’s groin area.

Perhaps we will never get over the irrational fears of coulstrophobia, but it is worth bearing in mind that the evil clown is a self-perpetuating and media-driven myth, who does not exist in reality.  So I leave you with the heartwarming image below of a clown comforting a sad little girl;

10485796_10204643782887518_4979388509891560557_nSleep well.


The Boy from Nowhere: Part 2

Kaspar Hauser attacked in the Hofgarten
Kaspar Hauser attacked in the Hofgarten

Kaspar Hauser: Observations and Theories

Opinion has been divided over just who Kaspar Hauser was, where he came from, who his parents were and which background he came from, and of course the circumstances surrounding his death.  In the first part of this article, I presented the facts surrounding his story.  In this part I will look at observations and theories surrounding him.

We can discount the claims of confinement immediately. Had Kaspar been confined in a small, narrow cell from birth until his seventeenth year, with no exposure to any outside stimuli, then his brain would never have developed further than that of a baby. The cell would be the only life he knew, and anything beyond that would in fact have been terrifying to such a being. Indeed, given his claims of having two toy horses and a toy dog, no such being would know what they were and even the function of playing with them may well be an alien concept to them. Another giveaway are the observations of Sargeant Wust. It is highly unlikely that anyone kept in a narrow stone cell for almost two decades would have soft and unblemished hands. All the above apart, any child kept in a cell, fed only bread and water, would not survive one year, would not survive six months, before dying of malnutrition. To claim that he were kept confined for seventeen years in such conditions is then not only an impossibility, it is an absurdity.

Even if we accept that Kaspar were kept confined for a number of years, his release would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible to cope with. We are told he had extremely acute eyesight at twilight yet was unable to read house numbers in broad daylight. This is nonsense. Deprivation from light – and the candle incident suggests he was fully deprived of light – for a number of years would not only have damaged his eyes beyond repair, it may well have sent him blind. Consider this is exactly what happened to pit ponies which, when released from their confinement underground, were usually euthanised because they were blind. Even if he retained his eyesight, imagine the reaction of someone locked in darkness for a number of years to bright sunlight. The result would be extremely painful to such an individual.

The very release of someone confined a great number of years into the open would be extremely traumatic, and perhaps more than they could cope with. Everyday sights, sounds, smells, other people, and even just the openness of being outdoors we are all used to would be extremely frightening to any individual suddenly released from confinement in a tiny cell for most of their life. There are psychiatric hospitals and prisons the world over where long-term inmates have become institutionalised, their confines being the only life they can cope with, which are testament to that.

Apart from his soft hands, the letters which Kaspar carried make a lie of his assumed peasant background. To claim that any peasant in early 19th century Bavaria could read and write, albeit with poor spelling and grammar, is to stretch credulity to the limit. The letters could indeed have been dictated, but then by whom? For most people of this time the only person they could trust was their parish priest. Can there be any credence that the mother’s local priest would happily pen the words “strike him dead or hang him up a chimney.”? Indeed, how likely is it that any priest, knowing of a child being cruelly confined would not either alert the authorities or even take the matter into his own hands?

Yet Kaspar Hauser, for all his supposed idiocy, apparently quickly learned to not only read and write but also how to conduct himself in polite society. We are told that he met Lillia von Stichaner at one of Feuerbach’s dinner parties. So on one hand we are being told of a boy whose confinement has led to severe idiocy, yet on the other hand we are being asked to accept that Kaspar Hauser was intelligent and refined enough to attend the dinner parties of polite early 19th century society? Who is kidding who here?

Indeed, Kaspar Hauser when given the chance managed to show a marked intelligence. If he did not have such, then not only would he not been able to keep journals, but he would never have even been considered for a job as a copyist, let alone employed as one, nor able to hold such a position down. The position, which involved copying legal documents by hand, would be quite a task for most people nowadays, let alone in the 1830s, yet Kaspar apparently managed to hold this position down for the last two years of his life.

All the evidence points to a boy from a privileged background, if not gentry then almost certainly the rising middle-class of the times. We can equally however discount the claims of Kaspar being the hereditary prince of Baden. The background to this story lies with the royal family of Baden of the time. Stephanie de Beauharnais gave birth to a boy on 29 September 1812, and who died on 16 October 1812. The claims were that a dying baby was switched and the true prince spirited away. As Grand Duke Karl of Baden and Stephanie had no male progeny, upon Karl’s death the title fell to his uncle, Louis, who in turn was succeeded by his half-brother, Leopold. The culprit here is said to be Leopold’s mother, Louise Caroline of Hochberg, to assure the succession of her sons to the Duchy of Baden, the story going that she disguised herself as a ghost, the White Lady, to switch the babies.

The convoluted claims above are of course full of holes. If Countess Caroline switched the babies, why allow the true prince to survive? Indeed, if evil enough to switch a healthy baby with one which was dying, why not just kill the true prince? Indeed, how could Caroline know for sure that the sickly baby would die? As a member of the royal family why even go to the lengths of disguising herself as a ghost, when she would have been a well-known visitor to the household. All nonsense. Wonderful nonsense, but nonsense nonetheless.

DNA analysis from blood on underpants believed to be those of Kaspar Hauser were compared with descendants of the Dukes of Baden and no match was found. Further DNA tests in 2002 took six samples of Kaspar’s hair and clothing known to have belonged to him. These samples were identical to each other, but differed from the 1996 samples. When tested against DNA samples supplied by Astrid von Medinger, a descendant from the female line of Stephanie de Beauharnais, sequences were not identical but the deviation observed is not large enough to exclude a relationship as the difference could be caused by a mutation. At the same time however, the samples equally showed commonality with the pattern among the general German population. In other words the results were inconclusive and do not prove nor disprove relationship.

I therefore contest that Kaspar Hauser may not have been of noble birth, but he was almost certainly middle-class, and far from learning reading and writing, he was relearning them. Feuerbach saw through this pretence, as did Daumer, and many others.

One can only wonder what form of questioning Kaspar Hauser was subjected to in the early days, when he told his tales of being confined all his life. Those who questioned him were firmly of the noble birth theory, and it is entirely possible that their questioning fed him leading questions, which put the idea of his past in his mind, and then for him that became reality. In The Interrupted Journey, journalist and paranormal investigator John G Fuller recounts the tale of Barney and Betty Hill, who claimed to have been stopped by a UFO and taken aboard the craft by aliens. Reading the transcripts of hypnotic regression sessions under Dr Benjamin Simon, one is immediately struck by the amount of leading questions put to the couple. Basically Simon was feeding the story to them, and for them it became a reality. Barney Hill would never speak of the events, but Betty Hill went on to claim further visitations, and went to her grave convinced in her mind that the events were one hundred percent true, because for her they were.

This False Memory Syndrome has since become evident in many other places, not least in cases of ‘Satanic child abuse’. There have been a plethora of cases where children and even adults have been fed leading questions and have told fantastic stories about being subjected to sexual abuse and even seeing babies and other children being sacrificed by Satanic cults to which their parents belonged. This inevitably led to the children being taken into care – and all charges being dropped when the accusations have thrown up absolutely no evidence. In one such case a teenage girl was taken into care after under hypnotic regression she claimed to have been raped and sexually abused over a number of years by all members of a Satanic cult, including her own parents. Yet when she was subjected to a physical examination, she was proven to still be a virgin. It was only then that the hypnotherapy recordings found that she was being fed leading questions, leading to False Memory Syndrome. The last I heard the poor girl was trying very hard to rebuild her relationship with her family. I therefore wonder if Daumer, who certainly carried out experiments with magnets on Kaspar Hauser, attempted Mesmerism – inducing a trance through the use of magnets – and likewise fed him leading questions, leading to False Memory Syndrome?

So what to the physical and apparent mental deficiencies of Kaspar Hauser? His marked short stature and damaged legs were claimed by Dr Preu to be due to some means of restraint or confinement. They may well have been. But given that Preu was working for Mayor Binder, who was pushing the noble birth theory and who all too readily accepted his claims of being locked up all his life. This was also in 1826, when congenital deformities were not fully understood nor as widely researched as they are today.

In modern medicine there is a condition which can affect children subjected to extreme emotional deprivation and / or extremely stressful environments, known as Psychosocial Dwarfism or Psychosocial Short Stature (PSS). PSS symptoms include decreased growth hormone and somatomedin secretion, resulting in short stature, weight inappropriate for height, and immature skeletal development. PSS is progressive as long as the child is subjected to their abusive environment and can also lead to cognitive abilities degenerating. It is common in feral children and those who have been locked in confined spaces for extended lengths of time. PSS can stop the body to stop growing during confinement, but it is a temporary one. Once released from confinement and given proper care, a PSS victim will experience a gradual return to normal growth. PSS was identified in 1994 by American psychologist John Money, who referred to it as Kaspar Hauser Syndrome.

It appears then that Kaspar Hauser may well have been abused and kept in confinement for long periods by a person or persons unknown, but certainly not for the 17 years he claims. He was a middle class boy who had previously been taught to read and write, but whose confinement had led to PSS, severely affecting his physical, emotional and psychological growth and causing him extreme psychological trauma.

The impression I get of Kaspar Hauser is that he was essentially an innocent character, confused by his past abuse, and continued abuse by those around him. I do believe he had a great deal of mental deficiency, as evidenced by his zeal for a project, only to let it go by the wayside when it became obviously too difficult for him. Yet this did not prevent him utilising his underlying marked intelligence when necessary, as evidenced by him holding down a responsible job in a legal office. Indeed, I would add that he was not innocent of a great deal of conniving, and that too required a marked intelligence. Kaspar to me sounds like an autistic child whose apparent disability masks great hidden talent.

Because of this mental composition, I believe that Kaspar was capable of many things, including playing the fool when it suited him to get the attention he had previously been deprived of and craved so very much. To this end I believe he knew exactly what he was doing when he made a grab for the candle flame, and when he stroked a ball like it were a living creature. Essentially, I believe that all his other problems aside, Kaspar Hauser suffered from Münchhausen’s Syndrome and that disorder was eventually to be his undoing.

In the case of Kaspar Hauser, I believe his Münchhausen’s Syndrome manifested itself for three reasons. Firstly, it was essentially a cry for help and to gain him the attention, love and comfort he sought. Secondly, it was a way of working out his frustrations when he was being pressurised when things were beyond him. Thirdly, it was a reaction to ill treatment by others. It is notable that Kaspar’s three attacks took place when he was placed with those who had the least patience with him; Herr Daumer, Herr Biberbach and Doktor Meyer.

I do not believe for one moment that there were ever any attacks or strange men, or that the gunshot wound was any accident. I firmly believe that Kaspar Hauser’s injuries were self-inflicted, with the last going too far. They were not attempts at suicides, but merely cries for help, and with Kaspar’s mental impairment, he could not possibly have known the consequences of doing such a thing.  Let us not forget that he demonstrated in his dream of Frau Binder that he proved he could not differentiate dreams from reality.  Therefore, it is possible that he may not have known how severe the injuries he inflicted upon himself could be.

Those who all too readily believed that Kaspar Hauser was being pursued by some mysterious stranger, from whom his life was in danger, were also those who believed that he had been confined all his life and who were pushing the claim that he was of noble blood. Therefore, they believed there were attempts to silence him once and for all. This beggars belief when one considers that if they were serious about silencing him, then they would have done so when he was a baby, or would never have released him from confinement. If he were such a danger to a royal house, why allow him to go free, or even to live in the first place?  That defies logic.

Some others claim that the first attack was from a blackmailer who had uncovered the true identity of Kaspar Hauser and was demanding money to buy his silence. If that were the case, then why attack the boy at all? Or if Kaspar had previously encountered a blackmailer and that visit was a warning to come up with the money, why would the blackmailer not simply expose Kaspar, or kill him there and then. Consider also that the first attack came before Kaspar was in gainful employment. He had no resources of his own with which to pay any blackmailer, and had he continually asked for money, which by all accounts it is doubtful he would have been given, then questions would follow. Had he stolen it, then the money going missing would have been noticed, or Kaspar would have been caught stealing.

The pistol incident was no accident. Taking place in the days before breech-loading guns, the pistol in question could only have been muzzle-loading, which means that for to go off, it must already have been loaded with gunpowder and a ball. How likely is it that anyone would wall-mount a primed and loaded firearm? As likely in those days as it is now – not at all. It is my guess that Kaspar saw someone load and fire such a gun, and decided to give it a go himself. Whether he wounded himself with it deliberately, or that was just an unfortunate consequence of his actions is open to conjecture. I am tempted here to go with the latter; Kaspar was clowning around with the gun, which he had loaded, it went off, injuring him, and believing in his childlike mind that he would get into trouble, he concocted a fantastic story, in the way any child would do. Unlike Frau Biberbach, there is one thing I am certain of, it was not a deliberate attempt at suicide.

As to the dark stranger in the second attack, we have Kaspar’s claims that there was indeed a strange man who came to the chancery earlier and told him to be at the Hofgarten at 2:30pm, and we have this seemingly corroborated by later eyewitness statements. One wonders however just how these eyewitnesses were questioned. Were they given leading questions, suggesting that there was anyone ‘strange’ in the Hofgarten, or in Kaspar’s company? Some witnesses certainly saw Kaspar heading there, but alone. The workman claims to have seen such a character with Kaspar, but appears to have been concentrating more on Kaspar’s lack of an overcoat in bitterly cold weather, and this will become important a little later.

Given that he claimed to have been attacked by a strange man previously, how likely is it that Kaspar would have trusted any such stranger turning up out of the blue and telling him to come to the Hofgarten? Even a child under such circumstances would surely either call out for help, or tell an adult as soon as possible. I would suggest that it is entirely possible there never was a dark stranger and that eyewitness statements were fed by leading questions. Some may ask why then would Kaspar Hauser insist it were true, despite being threatened with a beating? I would suggest that lying there, in pain, bleeding profusely, the young man was confused, and that for Kaspar his lie had become reality; like his False Memory Syndrome the dark stranger was real – in Kaspar’s mind.

Alternatively there may have been a dark stranger in the Hofgarten, but there is nothing to suggest that Kaspar talking with him was anything more untoward than two strangers passing the time of day. For all we know, the man may have been, like the workman, somewhat concerned about the lad’s lack of dress in such inclement weather.

There is another idea which strikes me, and it concerns why Kaspar headed for the park in the first place, and why the ‘stranger’ was there as well; and that is the reason why some single men and teenage boys have hung about in certain places since time began. There is a possibility that the stranger was hanging about the park, looking for a young boy for sexual purposes, and seeing Kaspar alone, approached him, with Kaspar possibly panicking, a knife being produced by either himself or the man, and it ending with the boy being stabbed.

Another alternative to this is that Kaspar approached the man, which would certainly explain why he was in the park in the first place. Kaspar was described as having the mind of a boy of about 12-13 years old in the body of a young man. All his other problems apart, he must have suffered a great degree of sexual frustration and confusion. The psycho-sexual aspects of his dream of Frau Binder coming to him in the night and taking his headache away are certainly not lost on me. There is every possibility therefore that it was Kaspar who saw the stranger and approached him for sexual favours, perhaps the man rebuffed him, a scuffle ensued, during which Kaspar was stabbed.

if the man did stab Kaspar however, then how come no witnesses observed anyone running from the scene? In such a place, anyone running would have appeared out-of-place, and when the town heard of the much-loved Kaspar Hauser being killed, surely someone would have come forward to say they saw a man running from the Hofgarten? If he were there, then he appears to have walked away calmly, which to me suggests that Kaspar stabbed himself.

There have been claims that it would be impossible for Kaspar Hauser to stab himself in the upper left chest. I don’t know where anyone gets such ideas, but they are clearly nonsense. As you read this, clench your right hand, as if you were holding a knife, and bring your imaginary knife up to your left chest, as if stabbing yourself. You will soon see that it would perfectly possible to stab yourself in any part of the left chest, even down the side. And this would be all the easier for someone to make a deep wound if they were wearing a shirt but no overcoat, exactly as the workman asserted that is how Kaspar Hauser was dressed.

Many have stated that people who kill themselves by stabbing rarely do not just plunge a knife in, but attempt several ‘test’ cuts first. Not everybody is Kaspar Hauser, however, and there is no proof that he was attempting suicide (why go to the Hofgarten to do it?) but was possibly merely trying to gain attention and sympathy, and due to his mental deficiency, was not aware of the dangers and plunged the knife too deep. The absence of a knife does not prove that Kaspar never had one, as he may have discarded of it in a nearby brook or elsewhere when he was returning home.

So, many would ask, what of the purse containing the note in Spiegelschrift; mirror writing? Well that is quite simply explained – Kaspar Hauser produced that note himself. There is one little fact which few writers mention, and that is the fact that the small velvet purse found on the scene in fact belonged to Kaspar. Why would any murderer hand their victim a purse, and a handwritten note which could incriminate them? They would not. Therefore we are left with Kaspar producing the note himself. Could he possibly write in Spiegelschrift? I have commented before on Kaspar’s mental deficiencies hiding an underlying intelligence, and I have seen examples of such things before. When I read of this note I was immediately reminded of the case of one boy, whose name escapes me, who was autistic, yet produced quite fantastic drawings of scenes around London. Then one of his tutors pointed something out – they were all mirror images of the actual scenes. That Kaspar held down a job as a copyist for two years, he evidently had an aptitude for writing. There is absolutely nothing to suggest then that he was incapable of mirror writing.

Many writers have condemned Kaspar Hauser as a fraud and a charlatan. I certainly cannot bring myself to do so, no more than I could be angry for a long time with a naughty and mischievous child, which is essentially what Kaspar was. I believe he was a kind and trusting boy with a good heart, as one finds most children to be. But one who was maltreated and abused in childhood, possibly being locked up in a confined space for a long time, but certainly not for seventeen years. This abuse and lack of love and care was further compounded by people who used him for their own ends, and those who had no patience for him and further abused him. He could be bright and intelligent, but when frustrated he cried out in the only way possible, by lying and injuring himself. And one more attempt at that, ended up being fatal, ironically not by his own hands, but by infection caused by the bumbling Doktor Heidenrich pushing his unclean finger into the open wound.

It is little wonder then that Kaspar reacted in the way he did, particularly as he was passed around from one ‘carer’ to another and treated as more of a freak show than a human being. Being emotionally deprived, Kaspar would have looked for love wheresoever he could find it. And while Anselm Ritter von Feuerbach remained friendly with the boy, the way he treated him as little more than a guinea pig in a psychological experiment was wholly reprehensible and shameful. The same can be said for Daumer, who used Kaspar Hauser as little more than experiment in the quack medicine known as homeopathy (and possibly Mesmerism). In researching this article, I had to look up Nux Vornica and was extremely alarmed to learn that it is strychnine. There is little wonder that it did much to calm Kaspar Hauser; it is a wonder that Daumer never poisoned the boy.

I equally condemn Mayor Binding, Johann Biberbach and his wife, Earl Stanhope, and the sadistic Johann Georg Meyer. Indeed, the only people who appear to come away with any cleanliness are George Weichmann – the kind cobbler who offered Kaspar help in the first place, and Baron Tucher, who gave the boy a responsible job and tried his best to teach him responsibility and self-reliance. The rest either abused Kaspar Hauser for their own ends, or never tried to understand him and so instead vilified and bullied him, and of all these they had one thing in common; not one of them was a fit guardian who was qualified to care for Kaspar Hauser.

Essentially Kaspar Hauser was merely a child looking for love, as any child will, only constantly to be rebuffed and refused that love, and whose short life was ended in an attempt to win that love.

As tragic as his death was, it was perhaps a blessing for him that he never lived longer to suffer further abuse and ill treatment from those should have known better, but simply did not care that their “experiment” was a human being, with all-too-human emotions, and all-too-human failings.

The Boy from Nowhere: Part 1

Kaspar Hauser statue, Nuremberg
Kaspar Hauser statue, Nuremberg

The perplexing and tragic case of Kaspar Hauser

26 May 1828 was a holiday and market day in the German market town of Nuremberg.  As farmers and merchants were getting ready to buy, sell and make merry, local cobbler George Weichmann noticed a strange, sturdy, yet frightened looking youth with a bad limp heading towards the city’s New Gate.  Weichmann offered to help the boy, but he was startled and seemed unable to speak.  All he could do was hand over a letter addressed to “Captain of the 4th squadron, 6th Calvary Regiment, Nuremberg”.  Thinking the lad may be an imbecile and concerned for his wellbeing, the kindly cobbler took him the house of Captain Wessenig of the Calvary, where the servants took him in to await their master’s return.

The servants offered the boy food and drink.  He hungrily devoured an entire loaf of bread but refused meat offered to him.  A cup of beer given to him provoked fascination with the lustre of the cup itself, while he ignored the contents.  He was startled by a pendulum clock striking, which he shied away from.  A lighted candle drew his fascination, and the boy attempted to grab the flame, burning his hand.  One servant threw a ball to him, which landed in his lap, but rather than throw it back, he sat and stroked it as if it were a living creature.  He would not speak but to answer “Don’t know.” to every question put to him.

When Captain Wessinig returned home, he was told of the boy who was presented to him immediately.  The lad eagerly handed the captain the letter, which actually consisted of two notes, with poor spelling and grammar.

The first letter was undated and stated;

“Honoured Captain

I send you a lad who wished to serve his king in the Army.  He was brought to me on October 7th, 1812.  I am but a poor labourer with children of my own.  His mother asked me to bring up the boy, and so I thought I would raise him as my own son.  Since then, I have never let go one step outside the house, so no-one know where he was raised.  He, himself, does not know of the place or what it is.  You may question him, honoured Captain, but he will not be able to tell you where I live.  I brought him out at night.  He cannot find his way back.  He has not a penny for I have nothing myself.  If you will not keep him, then you must strike him dead or hang him up a chimney.”

The second letter, dated October 1812, stated;

“The child has been baptised.  His name is Kaspar; you must give him his second name yourself.  I ask you to take care of him.  His father was a Calvary soldier.  When he is seventeen, take him to Nuremberg, to the Sixth Calvary Regiment; his father belonged to it.  I beg you to keep him until he is seventeen.  He was born on April 30th, 1812.  I am a poor girl; I can’t take care of him.  His father is dead.”

Having ascertained the boy was named Kaspar and was 17 years old, Captain Wessenig was less than impressed however.  Thinking Kaspar to be either an imbecile or a hoaxer, he had him taken to the Vestner Gate Tower, where he was delivered into the hands of Sargeant Wust.  Wust handed the boy a sheet of paper and a pen, and Kaspar legibly wrote “Kaspar Hauser” on it, but continued to answer all other questions with “Don’t know.”

Sargeant Wust, with archetypal German efficiency, recorded a detailed description of Kaspar, saying he was a broad-shouldered youth of about 17 years of age, light brown hair, blue eyes, wearing “odd” clothes which did not belong to him; his trousers and shirt were worn and far too large, his shoes so small and tight that his toes had burst them, causing terrible blisters which made walking difficult.  Wust also recorded that Kaspar’s hands were soft and smooth, unlike those of anyone used to heavy manual labour.  All this and the letters apart, there was nothing to offer a clue as to the boy’s true identity.

Kaspar was kept in a police cell, not as punishment but rather as a means of temporary accommodation, where he was well cared for.  The jailer, Andreas Hitel, noted that he appeared to be at home there and could sit still in the darkness for hours upon end, the lack of light causing him no discomfort.  It was to the jailer he started to open up, showing that he had an incredible sense of hearing, as well as one of smell, being able to correctly identify people, plants and animals by scent alone.  This was the first indication that Kaspar was no imbecile and further evidence was to follow.

News of Kaspar spread like wildfire through the town, and daily people would gather outside the cell to peer at him through the window.  Andreas Hitel, had grown incredibly fond of the boy and moved Kaspar downstairs to his family rooms, where he continued to tutor him in speaking, reading and writing.  He had a small room to himself there where he could be observed unawares by official and unofficial visitors.  Although Kaspar appeared to learn quickly, Hitel stated that he had been “forcibly deprived of all education and opportunities for mental development”, thus accounting for his “childlike innocence”.

Jakob Friedrich Binder, Mayor of Nuremberg, was the first to start enquiries as to where Kaspar Hauser actually came from, and introduced the first in a long line of “experts” who would make all sorts of judgements and ultimately use and abuse poor Kaspar for their own ends.  The first to examine him was State Medical Officer, Dr Preu, who gave Kaspar’s height as 4 foot 9 inches, stated he was of broad build, and probably 16-17 years old.  He also noted that an unusual formation of the knees suggested some form of prolonged physical constraint.  Preu was a signatory to a statement affirming “This person is neither crazy nor an idiot, but evidently has been raised like a half-wild person, had been forcibly and in the most heinous way removed from all human and societal education.”  In the official public proclamation of 14 July 1828, Mayor Binder further stated that Kaspar was endowed with “enormous intellectual curiosity and an extraordinary memory”.

It was Mayor Binder however who took a quantum leap forward and suggested that Kaspar Hauser was of noble birth and had been locked up against his will to keep his identity a secret.  Indeed, Binder carried out conversations with Kaspar, in which the boy apparently told him that all his life he had been locked in a small, narrow, low-vaulted room, where he had no visitors and had never seen the sun.  The only other human being Kaspar saw, according to Binder was the “monster who handed him his only nourishment, bread and water.” (from the public proclamation).

Kaspar told that during his confinement in this room, the only things beside him were two toy horses and a toy dog.  He claimed that sometimes the water would taste bitter and would cause him to sleep, upon wakening from which he would find his hair and nails cut and his straw changed.  He further claimed that towards the end of his confinement a strange man who kept his face obscured visited him, taught him to walk, to write his name and to say “I want to be a cavalryman, as my father was”, although he said he did not understand what the words meant.

Doubts were officially cast upon Binder’s findings and the state, sceptical of the claims, withdrew his proclamation.  Not until a number of copies were out however, and rumours of just whom the mysterious boy from nowhere may be were soon rife among German and further European society.  The favourite theory was that Kaspar Hauser was in fact the son of Grand Duke Karl of Baden, and Princess Stephanie de Beauharnais; thereby making him the adoptive grandson of Napoleon Bonaparte.  Royal conspiracies are nothing new but were alive and well in the early 19th century.

The official investigation of Kaspar Hauser fell to Anselm Ritter von Feuerbach, President of the Bavarian Court of Appeals and the most prominent lawyer of his time.  Only days before the public proclamation, Feuerbach had in fact travelled to Nuremberg to interview Kaspar Hauser, and found him “enjoy(ing) from morning until night hardly less clientele than the kangaroo or tame hyena in Mr Von Aken’s celebrated menagerie.”  Kaspar’s small room was now full of gifts the public has bestowed upon him, and Feuerbach and his party found him “anything but shy or timid”, stating that the boy was transfixed by the bright clothes the party were wearing and actually approached them very quickly and with obvious joy.

Feuerbach noted that Kaspar was prone to spasms, convulsions and brief periods of catalepsy, but also observed that he could now express himself in “badly tousled and jumbled syntax”.  And although he had to guess most of what the boy was saying, Feuerbach stated “The curiosity, the thirst for knowledge… …were beyond all imagining and deeply moving to watch.”

Wishing to receive further observations, and apparently concerned about Kaspar Hauser’s health, Feuerbach placed him with teacher and poet Friedrich Daumer.  Daumer’s mission was to tutor Kaspar, as well as record observations and report back to Feuerbach on a regular basis.  Why Feuerbach should have chosen Friedrich Daumer is best known to himself, but far from putting the boy under professional medical and / or scientific care, he was instead placed in the care of a man of ill health and who belived in mesmerism, pneumonology and homeopathy.

Daumer claimed that Kaspar’s childhood to teen confinement had caused in the boy an “inner state” of a magnetic force which had heightened his abilities.  He noted that all of Hauser’s senses were extremely acute.  He could see better at twilight and could make out house numbers at 200 yard which he could not read in broad daylight.  HIs other senses were no less acute, and Kaspar was apparently sensitive to thunderstorms, church bells and even spiders.

Having progressed Kaspar Hauser in the basics of education, Daumer felt that the tuition was having a detrimental effect on the boy’s health, leading to severe headaches and nervous tics.  He therefore lessened the tutelage and allowed Kaspar to spend more time outside.  At the same time, along with Doctor Preu’s successor, Doctor Osterhausen, he began to administer homeopathic ‘cures’ which had diverse responses.  Diluted sulphur caused face blisters, while diluted silica caused vomiting.  Most treatments were, not surprisingly, disastrous but nux vornica appeared to alleviate his symptoms.

In an attempt to discover his past, Kaspar Hauser was encouraged to keep a journal of his everyday thoughts and memories, and in these he was able to describe the room he was kept in and his treatment at the mysterious man who brought him food, and taught him to write his name.  Believing that memories may surface in dreams, Daumer persuaded him to write a ‘dream diary’.  The keeping of this and the daytime journal was to expose unforseen unfortunate circumstances.  The first dream Kaspar recorded was that the Mayor’s wife, Frau Binder, had come to the side of his bed and asked how his headache was.  However, he told Daumer, believing it to have happened, that Frau Binder had come to him in the night and taken his headache away, and nothing the teacher said could convince Kaspar otherwise.  This was a serious setback for Daumer and Feuerbach.  For if as Daumer observed, Kaspar Hauser took a while “to understand the true nature of dreams” and differentiate them from reality, then the same could be equally said of his memories of his supposed past incarceration.

Slowly, the bolts in Kaspar Hauser’s story were beginning to come loose.  Far from being the genius Feuerbach and Daumer expected, Kaspar was showing every sign of being a dullard.  In his History of a Crime Against a Human Soul, Feuerbach wrote “In his intelligence there stirs nothing at all of genius, not even any particular outstanding talent.  What he learns he owes to persistent, tenacious diligence.  As for the zeal of burning enthusiasm with which, in the beginning, he seemed to wish to storm the gates of all knowledge, that has long been muted, almost extinguished.  In everything he undertakes, he gets no further than the beginning or remains only mediocre.  Without a glimmer of fantasy, unable to make any kind of joke, or to understand even a metaphorical way of speaking, he has a dry but completely healthy common sense.”

Neither was it lost on Feuerbach that where Kaspar Hauser excelled it was only in himself and his personal circumstances and experiences.  He noted “his judgement and sharp intellect are so right that he could shame and embarrass many a pedant.”, which is exactly Kaspar Hauser was to do, for a little while at least, a little later.

Daumer, the quack to the end, blamed Kaspar Hauser’s dullness on a meat diet, ironically which he had introduced the boy to.  Feuerbach for his part tried to blame it on tutors trying to instill a classical education in Kaspar.  It is not lost on me, nor I suppose the reader, that even at this point Daumer and Feuerbach were still trying to find reasons for Kaspar Hauser’s apparent dullness – embarrassing many a pedant indeed.  But whatever the reason’s for Kaspar’s slow mind and narcissism, it was clear by this time that the two men had tired of both the boy and their “experiments”.  Events however were about to overtake them and present them with the opportunity to pass Kaspar Hauser to yet another ‘expert’.

On 17 October 1829 Kaspar was found in Daumer’s basement with a deep wound to his forehead.  Upon being revived, he told a tale of a tall man, dressed in black and with a black mask covering half his face, jumped out of the shadows and attacked him with a knife.  There were those who suspected that the wound may have been self-inflicted.  However, Daumer, Feuerbach and associates took it seriously, and the boy had a round the clock police guard.  Friedrich Daumer saw his opportunity and grabbed it.  Claiming that his failing health and frailty made him unable to guarantee Kaspar’s safety, the boy was taken under police guard to the home of one Johann Biberbach.

Kaspar Hauser stayed there only six months, during which there were quarrels with Herr and Frau Biberbach, at the end of which Kaspar had another brush with death.  on 3 April 1830 a shot was heard in Kaspar’s room.  When his escort rushed in, he found the boy bleeding from a head wound and a pistol lying nearby.  Kaspar’s story was that he was reaching for some books, when he slipped on the chair he was standing on, made a grab to prevent falling, and accidentally set off the wall-mounted pistol.  Many this time, not least Frau Biberbach, were convinced this was an attempt at suicide.  He was moved to the home of Baron Tucher, who had been in touch with Kaspar since his early days in Nuremberg.

Baron Tucher appears to be the only person who took any real interest in Kaspar Hauser of recognise any human value in him. Tucher stated that while Kasper was around 18-20 years old, he had the “intellectual capacity of a boy of 13 to 14”.  He also found the boy to be kind-hearted.  Tucher was certainly the only one to instill any self-reliance in Kaspar, continuing his education and managing to find him gainful employment as a copyist in a legal office.  Unfortunately another pedant was about to undo all the good Baron Tucher was instilling in Kaspar, and it was to have tragic consequences.

English peer Phillip Henry, Fourth Earl of Stanhope, had become obsessed with the story of Kaspar Hauser, and without even meeting the boy, had already convinced himself that Kaspar was indeed of noble birth and the lost Duke of Baden.  Travelling to Nuremberg, Stanhope met Kaspar and, behaving extremely kindly to and ingratiated himself to the boy and promising to take him back home to his estate in England.  Stanhope either bribed or equally ingratiated himself to the Bavarian authorities, because astonishingly he was suddenly granted full custody of Kaspar Hauser and took him under his wing. What happened next was unclear however.  Either Lord Stanhope has seen through Kaspar, read Feuerbach’s reports, or simply lost interest.  Whichever, in December 1831 Kaspar Hauser found himself moved yet again, this time into the charge of Johann Georg Meyer in Ansbach.  Stanhope abandoned to Meyer’s care completely in February 1832.

Meyer was a strict and pedantic teacher, some have even gone so far as to call him a bully, with whom relations with Kaspar Hauser were apparently strained, with the teacher losing patience with his apparent lies and excuses.  Kaspar had never been told that Lord Stanhope had abandoned the case altogether and the trusting boy still spoke of hope upon hope of the English nobleman coming to take him away to England.  Although Feuerbach had long since stopped believing in the boy, he still visited him.  Then in May 1833 Feuerbach died suddenly, which was a deep and grievous loss for Kaspar.  Moreover Kaspar Hauser was now friendless, as well as in the sole charge of Meyer, with whom his relationship soured further daily.

On Saturday 14 December, 1833, Kaspar Hauser attended religious lessons in the morning, then he helped the church parson building a large cardboard box, which he showed some enthusiasm for.  He lunched with Doktor Meyer at 12:30pm and returned to the parson’s house at 12:45pm.  He only left at 2:30pm when the parson had to attend the church.  As he walked with the parson, he cheerfully told him he would now call upon Miss Lillia von Stichaner, whom he had met at one of Feuerbach’s dinner parties, to help build a fire screen for her, as he had previously promised to do.  They parted with Kaspar Hauser heading in the direction of the von Stichaner home.

In later reports people stated they saw the well-known Kaspar Hauser heading towards the Hofgarten Park, in the opposite direction to the von Stichaner residence.  Shortly afterwards others saw him in the Hofgarten Park.  A workman, Joseph Leich, saw Kaspar there in the company of a man unfamiliar in the area.  He said he remembered it clearly as Kaspar was wearing no overcoat in bitterly cold weather.  The stranger was described as 6 foot tall, mid-40s, with a dark beard and moustache, wearing a blue coat and a round, black hat.  Seven other witnesses later confirmed seeing a stranger of that description in the Hofgarten or around the city square.

These reports were eyewitness testimony given to the police following the final twist in the enigma of Kaspar Hauser’s short and tragic life.  For at 3:30pm on the same afternoon, the bell rang at Doktor Meyer’s home, and when the door was opened, Kaspar Hauser burst in, grimacing and pointing to his chest, then attempted to pull Meyer towards the Hofgarten.  When Meyer saw that Kaspar was bleeding, he asked him if anything had happened to him in the park, Kaspar blurted out “Went to Hofgarten.  Man had knife.  Gave me purse.  Stabbed.  Ran as fast as I could.  Purse still there.”  Meyer, as caring as ever, demanded to know what he was doing in the Hofgarten in the first place.  Kaspar replied “Man came to chancery this morning.  Message I should be in Hofgarten at 2:30pm for something to be shown to me.”  He then collapsed and it was only at this point Doktor Meyer dragged Kaspar Hauser home and laid him on a couch.

Doktor Meyer was convinced the wound, which he did not think serious, was self-inflicted to gain pity and attention, and bluntly told Kaspar Hauser so.  He threatened the boy with a birching for more than an hour as he lay bleeding and in pain on the couch, but Kaspar would not change his story one iota.  A Doktor Heidenrich was called for to examine Kaspar, and equally convinced it was not a serious wound, thrust an ungloved and unwashed finger into it – only to widen the wound and find that it went so deep that his finger touched the boy’s still beating heart.  Now convinced the boy’s life was in danger, Dr Heidenrich told Dr Meyer so, and it was only at this point that the latter ran off to report the stabbing to the police.

Police Constable Herrlein searched the Court Garden, and found a small violet purse, inside of which a pencilled note was found written in Spiegelschrift; mirror writing.  When deciphered the note read;

“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.”

As the police conducted their enquiries, set about deciphering the note and taking eyewitness statements, Kaspar’s condition steadily deteriorated.  On 17 December 1833 Kaspar Hauser died, in a final ironic twist not of the wound to his chest, but as the post-mortem found, of bacterial pleuritis and pericarditis; infections caused by the bungling Doktor Heidenrich thrusting his unguarded finger into the wound.

Kaspar Hauser was buried in Stadtfriedhof in Ansbach. The inscription on his headstone is in Latin, but the English translation reads, “Here lies Kaspar Hauser, riddle of his time. His birth was unknown, his death mysterious. 1833.”  A memorial to him was later placed in the Hofgarten Court Garden, which reads “Hic occultus occulto occisus est” (“Here a mysterious one was killed in a mysterious manner.”).

Upon the death of Kaspar Hauser being made public, Lord Stanhope and Doktor Meyer went to lengths to denounce him as a cheat and an impostor, who had ended his own life by suicide.  Stanhope in particular could not have gone further to distance himself from the strange case of Kaspar Hauser, even going to the lengths of publishing tracts in which he roundly denounced the boy as a fraud.

Ever since his death, there have been a number of theories about Kaspar Hauser, who he was, where he came from, and the mysterious matter of the attacks upon him and his mysterious death.  No-one is nearer to a full explanation today than they were in 1833.  In the second part however, I shall address these and put my own theories forward concerning the mysterious Boy from Nowhere.

Link to Part 2:


Mouldy Old Ghosts

_00000000AAAGhost‘Toxic’ air may cause hallucinations.

Yesterday, up on the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there.
He wasn’t there again today,
I wish, I wish he’d go away.
(William Hughes Mearns, Antigonish)

Tales of ghost sightings have been with mankind since our species first started communicating.  Hauntings have been common to all cultures throughout history and countless volumes have been written upon the subject. Depending on religious and cultural influences, hauntings are considered either evil or benign, but generally they are held to be the former – because people love having the bejeezuz scared out of them.  Anyone who doubts that, consider the popularity of the subject from ghost stories of M R James to the huge plethora of horror movies that have been made.

In fact, the overwhelming vast majority of sightings of ghosts are quite mundane and boring, and most can be logically explained.  Even once excluding delusions, hysteria, mistaken sightings and deliberate hoaxes however, the commonality and the vast amount of evidence would seem to suggest that the phenomena may be genuine.

Now a US university may have come up with the answer to some sightings.  Clarkson University of New York is carrying out an experiment to ascertain whether ghost sightings may be down to hallucinations caused by – mould.

Carrying out experiments in buildings reputed to be haunted, the team from the university are looking for evidence of toxic mould which visitors may be inhaling, leading to hallucinations. Shane Rogers, Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the university, who is heading up the team stated, “Hauntings are often reported in older-built structures that may also suffer poor air quality. Similarly, some people have reported depression, anxiety and other effects from exposure to biological pollutants in indoor air  We are trying to determine whether some reported hauntings may be linked to specific pollutants found in indoor air.”

One of the buildings the team is researching is the Remington Art Museum in Ogdensburg New York, which has a long history of ghost stories, and where mould is known to have festered.

The hypothesis is not as far-fetched as some may think.  Mould is nowadays thought to be responsible for many ghost sightings and even religious sightings in the past.  Ergot poisoning, or Ergotism, is believed to have come from the eating of bread and other products made from damp wheat, which had become contaminated with the fungus Claviceps Purpurea.

Ergotism attacks the central nervous system and in low levels can cause hallucinations.  In higher levels it can cause psychosis, convulsive spasms, and can ultimately lead to gangrene and death.  The gangrenous form of the affliction became known as St Anthony’s Fire in the middle ages, after the Monks of St Anthony who apparently found a cure (not recorded).  The lower levels, causing hallucinations, however may have been responsible for visions of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, right up to the Salem Witch Trials of 1692-93.

The hypothesis therefore may have some validity.  We are all aware that ghost sightings tend to occur in very old buildings with poor air quality.  There is every possibility that unwittingly inhaling mould may very well be responsible for a great many ‘ghost’ sightings.  As one who lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, reputedly one of the most haunted cities in the world, I can attest that many of the reported sightings take place in some of the city’s oldest buildings, some hundreds of years old, and streets and vaults which have long been covered over (it is worth noting here that Mary King’s Close, Edinburgh’s infamous underground street, has a corridor now closed off because the wallpaper contains arsenic).

I emphasise however that the hypothesis from Clarkson University, even if found correct, can only explain some ghost sightings.  There have been plenty of ghost sightings recorded in the open air and nowhere near old buildings.

During the so-called ‘English’ Civil War (which also encompassed Scotland, Wales and Ireland), the Battle of Edgehill took place on 23 October 1642, with an inconclusive result.  Some weeks after the battle, shepherds on the battlefield reported seeing it being re-enacted on several occasions.  Word of these apparitions reached the ear of King Charles I, who sent a Royal Commission to the site.  They returned and confirmed not only seeing the ghostly battle but were able to identify friends who had died in the battle.  It was decided to bury the bodies still lying on the battlefield and some weeks after the last body was buried, the sightings ceased.  The Phantom Battles of Edgehill have the unique distinction of the only ghosts to be recorded in the UK Public Records Office.

Closer to home and more up to date, there was once an old man in the Muirhouse district of Edinburgh who walked down to a local shop every morning in his pyjamas, slippers and housecoat.  He died over 30 years ago, yet many people to this day have seen him in the morning, walking in the open street, popping out for his cigarettes, rolls and newspaper.  For some residents the sighting is so commonplace that they no longer pay the old guy any heed.

One can hardly attribute either of the above sightings to ergot poisoning, and there is a plethora of other open-air hauntings.

And while ergotism or other mould poisoning may be responsible for some sightings, it cannot seriously be held responsible for other aspects of hauntings, such as clairaudience (the ability to hear presences) or clairsentience (the ability to feel presences).  I myself feel a painful sadness at a window seat in the great hall of Craigmillar Castle, which I live near to, and in Alloa Tower, there was one part of a room where I got the impression I should not be there and felt quite unwelcome.  Some may claim that hearing and feeling presences could be further symptoms of ergotism.  If they are, myself and others would have cause to be concerned, as once it becomes that advanced, it is deep in the central nervous system, and more serious symptoms will follow, possibly even leading to death.  Yet I have had no other effects, nor have any other clairaudients and clairsentients.

Then of course there are physical manifestations, of which poltergeist activity may or may be part of a haunting, but some others certainly cannot be explained.  These include people being nipped, hit, or scratched, sometimes in places where they could not have possibly done it to themselves.  There is a plethora of stories of visitors to The Vaults in Edinburgh being scratched between their shoulder blades under their clothing.  Given that most wear coats during their visits, such manifestations remain unexplained.

Many people dismiss ghosts and hauntings all too easily, and those who do so tend to have never had an experience which defies explanation.  To the enquiring and open mind however they are not something so easily dismissed.  I am therefore only too pleased that Clarkson University are taking the subject seriously and carrying out this research.  As a Fortean, I have to treat each hypotheses as having equal value, and it is only once we ascertain what sightings of ‘ghosts’ actually are, we can move on to researching other manifestations of hauntings.

Gilmerton Cove

201205107Curious underground labyrinth in Edinburgh suburbs

Edinburgh, capital city of Scotland, is renowned for many things.  In more recent years one of its attractions has been former streets, now underground.  Mary King’s Close, off the Royal Mile, and The Vaults below the city’s South Bridge are the most renowned of these hidden and supposedly haunted places.  Less well-known but none the least fascinating is Gilmerton Cove, four miles to the south of the city centre.

201205103Gilmerton is a former mining village, now incorporated into the city, and the area where my family lived for the first five years of my life.  The village was first recorded in the 11th century as Gillemorestuna, which is a wonderful mixture of Scots Gaelic (Gille=servant), Brythonic (More=Mary), and Anglo-Saxon (Tuna=settlement), meaning “Homestead of the servant of Mary”.  The main street of Gilmerton is Drum Street, which takes its name from the Gael, Druim, meaning a ridge, which is exactly what the village stands upon.  Many local residents, myself included, still refer to the centre of Gilmerton as “Drum Village”, as it has been known for centuries.  With low-vaulted shops and houses, Gilmerton became a conservation village in 1977.

201205095Just past the crossroads which marks the centre of Gilmerton, one of these low-vaulted houses hides a curious and enigmatic location, Gilmerton Cove.  The Cove is an underground dwelling, made up of a warren of rooms, hewn out by human hand.  A Gilmerton blacksmith, George Paterson, claims to have built the Cove himself, completing it in 1724.  Given the number of rooms – and those accessible are only the ones so far excavated, there may be more – and the intricate work, it is extremely doubtful that one man could have created such a labyrinth alone in one lifetime.  One archaeologist in a party I was on a visit with speculated that the wall markings suggested at least around the 12th century, possibly much older.

DSCN6050The largest room in The Cove is known as “The Chapel”, although if it ever were one is open to speculation.  In this room there is a long stone table, with stone benches either side in the vaulted room.  Right at the entrance end to this room, the table has a deep concave indentation in it, known as the punch bowl.  The table itself has a footrest along its entire length.  There is a similar room next door to this one, with a smaller but similar table and bench arrangement.

DSCN6059There are three rooms, thought to be bedrooms, a deep well, and a room known as the Sitting Room.  Why it was believed to be a sitting room is anyone’s guess, as there is a long stone slab in this room, with what appears to be a pillow attached, which would suggest a bed.  More sinister features of this slab are worn parts on the edges, where a chain or rope may have been attached, and a hollow at the foot, not unlike those one would have found on later morticians workbenches.

DSCN6058There are also areas thought to be a forge, an oven and fireplaces.  It is extremely doubtful they were used as such however, as firstly, there is no sign of scorching on any of them, but secondly and more importantly, the sandstone The Cove is formed from would have made starting a fire extremely hazardous.  The stone when heated would have split and spat out of the fire.  George Paterson, as a blacksmith, would have been well aware of this and would never have made any forges, ovens or fireplaces of such stone.  That aside, these “fireplaces” have what appear to be seating areas in them.

The most baffling thing however is not so much who built The Cove, but for what purpose it was originally built for.

DSCN6065Some have suggested that the Knights Templar made have had in it.  This is not as fantastic as it sounds.  Not far to the south of Gilmerton lay the village of Balnatordoch, where the Knights Templar founded a church there.  It became known as Temple of Balnatordoch and today is the village of Temple, Midlothian.  Templars were known in Scotland in the 13th century, and it is thought many may have fled to Scotland after the Order was outlawed by the church in 1307.  It is thought that the Knights Templar fought alongside King Robert the Bruce at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.  There is every possibility, therefore, that Templar knights, travelling from Temple to Edinburgh, may have stopped and lodged here.  With constant English raids, and the fact that killing “heretics” was not a crime, the Cove would have made an excellent hiding place.

DSCN6061The next theory involves witchcraft.  Witches were persecuted in Scotland, just like they were all over Europe for hundreds of years, and no more so during the reign of James VI, King of Scots 1567-1603 (King of Great Britain 1603-1625).  James was obsessed about witchcraft to the point of paranoia and hundreds of those accused, manly women and girls, perished at his hands.  On Castlehill in Edinburgh alone, over 500 poor souls were burned at the stake.  Thus having to hide themselves well, there is a theory that the name Cove may come from “coven”; a meeting of witches.  Some of the more fanciful supporters of this have claimed that the “bed” in the sitting room, and the punch bowl have been used for ‘Satanic’ blood draining ceremonies.  Anyone who knows the slightest thing about witchcraft will recognise this for the nonsense which it is.  There is nothing to say however that, given the level of persecution, the Cove was not used as a hiding place for “white” witches.

DSCN6062In the 17th century King Charles I, and his son, King Charles II both enforced Church of England worship upon Scotland.  The Scots, who under the Reformation had founded the most Presbyterian country in the world, with no earthly authority, rebelled against this by signing the Solemn League and Covenant and fighting for freedom of religion (the Covenant of 1638 later became the inspiration for the First Amendment of the US Constitution).  As all other forms of worship were outlawed on pain of death, these Covenanters or Conventiclers took to carrying out their own form of worship in secret.  It is perfectly possible therefore that the Cove may have been a meeting place for these services, and the “punch bowl” may indeed have been a baptismal fount.

DSCN6063In the 18th century, when Paterson claimed to have built the Cove, there were Hellfire Clubs all over Britain, where wealthy men of society would indulge in drinking binges, gambling, and all other sorts of debauchery in hidden places.  It is therefore claimed that the Cove was one such meeting place.  Certainly, Paterson once did get into trouble with the church and the law for selling drink in the Cove, and was ordered to close off one of the entrances.  That does not explain however the obviously old age of the Cove, or why it should have so many rooms.

Perhaps it was used for all the above purposes down history.  Being located four miles from the Scottish capital, it would certainly be a useful place to avoid intrusion by any of the authorities.  For all we know, it may be the original Gillemorestuna – the actual “Homestead of the servant of Mary”.

Perhaps we shall never know the true extent and purpose of the Cove.  And that perplexing mystery merely serves to add to attraction of this wonderful and enigmatic underground warren.

All photographs are by the author, © Leslie Thomson, 2015.

Gilmerton Cove can be visited by appointment only.  It is best to arrange a group visit of about 12, for which you may get a discounted rate.  For more information visit the website:


Thomas the Rhymer; 13th Century Scots Seer

TrueThomasDid a bard to the Scots throne see visions of the future?

Thomas the Rhymer, True Thomas, Thomas of Ercildoune, Lord Learmonth; he goes under various names.  He is remembered for his prophecies of the borders and other Scottish events, and an anonymous ballad about him was retold by Sir Walter Scott in Minstrelsy of the Scottish Borders, and a rendition of this was released in song by Steeleye Span in 1974.  He has appeared many times in folk tales, books and more recently in graphic novels.  But one thing we can be sure of; he was a real historical character.

414608_3546260148208_1030567089_o(1)He was a wise and learned man living in 13th century Scotland, bard to and lifelong friend of Alexander III (King of Scots 1249-1286). In The Romance and Prophecies of Thomas of Ercildoune (Edited by AJH Murray) we learn that the name Thomas Rymour de Ercildoune occurs on a deed whereby Petrus de Haga de Bemersyde agrees to pay half of stone of wax annually to the Abbot of the Convent of Melrose. Another bill, dated 1294, has Thomme Rymour de Ercildoune, son of Thomas the Rhymer, granting all the family lands in Ercildoune (modern day Earlston) to the Trinity House of Soltra (Soutra).  We therefore see that Thomas was a man of substance. Certainly, he is said to have stayed in a tower house to the west of Earlston, the remnants of which stand unto this day. Yet it is not for his wealth or influence that he is remembered but rather for his prophecies and the legend surrounding him.

414608_3546260308212_2113026383_o(2)Thomas was a harpist and the legend of how he came by his prophetic gift has him playing his harp at the Eildon Tree, a beauty spot on Huntlie Bank, at the foot of the Eildon Hills near Melrose. It is here that the Fairy Queen appears to Thomas and in the wonderful style of Scots ballads, seduces him.  Thomas having made love to the Elfin Queen, she spirits him away to Elfland for what he believes to be three days and three nights but which turns out to be seven years. Upon his return to Earth, the Fairy Queen gives Thomas a magic apple, eating which gives him the “Tongue whit canna lee” or the gift of prophecy in rhyme.

So Thomas returned to Earth at the Eildon Tree, which itself features in one of his prophecies, which today is carved in the ground at the site of the Eildon Tree;

At Eildon Tre, if ye sall be,
A brigg ower Twede ye there micht se.

414608_3546260388214_1626782105_o(1)The only bridge across the River Tweed in the days of Thomas the Rhymer was a small affair built to carry the Roman road Dere Street across the river. Whilst it would be likely, if not inevitable, that another bridge would be built in the Earlston/Melrose area, in the 13th Century it would nonetheless have seemed as nonsense that any bridge could be seen. It is impossible to see the Tweed from the site of the Eildon Tree due to the topography of the land and it is more than likely that the bare fields around nowadays would have been heavily afforested in the days of Thomas. Leaderfoot topIn 1864 however the Berwickshire Railway was built from Duns via Earlston to Ravenswood, near St Boswells. Part of this undertaking was the erection of the magnificent Leaderfoot Viaduct and the top of this beautiful listed structure can just be seen from the site of the Eildon Tree to this day.

Other prophecies focused around the areas known to Thomas and the most famous of these surrounds the Haig family of Bemersyde House;

Betide, betide, white’er betide,
Haig sall be Haig o’ Bemersyde.

414608_3546260668221_676674016_o(1)There were no doubt those who have said that this was just Thomas trying to ingratiate himself with a local lord and the line of Haig of Bemersyde became extinct in the 19th century, which would seem to have put paid to the prophecy. Following the First World War however, a grateful UK government granted Bemersyde House to Field Marshall Earl Haig, who was of a minor line of Haig of Bemersyde and his descendents in perpetuity. Today and for the foreseeable future therefore, Haig shall be Haig of Bemersyde. Vistors to Bemersyde today are only allowed to visit the gardens. I was fortunate enough however to meet the present Earl Haig whilst there and when I told him I was researching Thomas, he allowed me to see the lintel of the ancient peel tower, which bears his crest and family motto “Whatever Betide”.

castle1Thomas was a learned man whom apart from his prophecies was believed to be a great storyteller and, surprising as it may seem, he was the first to pen the story of Tristan and Isolde. It may well have been this and his harp playing which led him to become Bard to and closest confidant of King Alexander III, a friendship which ended with the king’s accidental death, which Thomas foretold.

There are three versions of this. The first has Thomas staying with Earl Douglas at Dunbar and being taunted to give a prophecy. The second has Thomas seeing the apparition at the wedding of Alexander III and his second wife, Yolande de Druex. The third version, which is the one I am most familiar with, takes place at a masque ball in Edinburgh Castle on the night of 19th March 1286.

At the ball, everyone is making merry, apart from Thomas, whom Alexander III observes is somewhat agitated and keeps scanning the dance floor from his place beside the king. He asks Thomas what is troubling him, to which the old seer replies that there is one at the ball who was not invited. When asked whom, Thomas replies the man in the red cloak. The king and his lords see no such person and chide Thomas, suggesting he has had too much wine. Thomas is adamant that that he could see the uninvited guest and takes it as an ill omen.

Whichever of the three versions, they all tell that Thomas then uttered this prophecy;

Alas for the morrow, a day of calamity and misery. Before the twelfth hours shall be heard such a blast so vehement that it shall exceed all those that have been heard in all Scotland. A blast which will strike the nations with amazement, shall confound those who hear it, shall humble what is lofty and what is unbending shall level to the ground.

Alexander_III_Memorial_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1448106Returning to the legend, Thomas begs the king not to ride out that night as he had planned. But Alexander, fired with wine and anxious to be with his young bride at Kinghorn Castle in Fife, was having none of it. After a treacherous crossing of the Firth of Forth at the Queen’s Ferry (modern day Queensferry), Alexander headed east along the Fife coast. He had almost reached Kinghorn but had lost his stewards in the storm. Undeterred, he pushed his steed onward – and right over the cliffs above Pettycur Bay to his death.  Some six hundred years later, the above legend became known to a young American author named Edgar Allen Poe, who used it as his inspiration for his Gothic horror novel The Masque of the Red Death.

Thomas of course, may have just been using common sense by telling the King “You’re surely not going out in that?” Even today, if our present Queen, wanted to go riding a horse along the Fife coast on a filthy night while drunk, I’m sure that even the most diehard republican would strongly advise her against it.

In the 19th century a memorial was erected on the Burntisland to Kinghorn Road to the memory of Alexander III. On the wall next to this there is a plaque with a cantus from the oldest known piece of Scots poetry, which is also attributed to Thomas the Rhymer;

Quhen Alysander oor King wes deid,
That Scotland led in luf and le,
Awey wes sons o’ ale and breid,
O’ wyne and wax, o’ gamyn and gle.
Oor gowd wes changit intae leid,
The fruite falyett aff everilk tre,
Cryst! Borne intae Vyrgynitie,
Succour Scotland and remedie,
That stade is in perplexitie.

(When Alexander our King was dead,
That Scotland led in love and law,
Gone were days of ale and bread,
Of wine and candles, of gambling and glee.
Our gold was changed all into lead,
The fruit fell from every tree.
Christ! Born of virginity,
Succour Scotland and remedy,
That state is in perplexity.)

A state in perplexity indeed. The consequences of the untimely death of the last Celtic King of Scots were to be disastrous for Scotland. Alexander had outlived his son by two years. His daughter, Margaret, had been married to King Eirik II of Norway and had died in 1283, while giving birth to a daughter, also named Margaret and known as the Maid of Norway. So the Scots crown now rested on the three year old granddaughter of the late King in far-off Norway. Worse was to come. A sickly child herself, little Queen Margaret died aged 7, on her way to Scotland in 1290. Civil war erupted in Scotland as no fewer than 13 men (known as The Devil’s Dozen) rose up to claim the Scots crown. In an attempt to quell the dispute the Bishops of Scotland (then the real power behind the throne) thought it would be a good idea to ask nice King Edward I of England to adjudicate over the matter. Instead he declared himself Overlord of Scotland and placed the puppet-king John Balliol on the throne in 1292, before deposing him four years later. This eventually led to the Wars of Independence which were to drag on from 1296 until 1328.

It seems however that Thomas was aware of what was to come from one of his shortest, yet most accurate prophecies;

The Burn o’ Breid,
Sall rin fu’ reid.

(The river of bread, Shall run full red.)

0606092And where in Scotland do we find a “river of bread”? The Bannock Burn of course, which did indeed run fully red on 24th June 1314 when the English army at the foot of a hill on marshy ground before them and the Bannock Burn behind them were decimated when the Scots charged downhill from the New Park above Stirling. A great number of English were forced into the river, where they either drowned, pulled down by their chainmail, or died of their wounds. It was recorded that for weeks after the battle it was possible to cross the Bannock Burn on the bodies of the English without getting ones feet wet.

At least one commentator has recorded this in a more fanciful way;

Of Bruce’s side a son shall come, From Carrick’s Bower to Scotland Throne. A Red Lion bearth he. The foe shall tread the lion down, A score of years but three; Till Red of English blood shall run, Burn of Bannock to the sea.

Whilst it would be nice to believe in this prophecy, it appears by language alone to be a modern, perhaps 19th century, romanticism. And it is chronologically incorrect as well. “A score of years but three” gives seventeen years, which when added to 1306, the year of Bruce’s coronation, gives 1324, not 1314, the year of the Battle of Bannockburn. Even if we take it as 1296, the year the Wars of Independence commenced, that still only gives us 1313, a year short of the target. The rhyme is possibly a reworking mainly of lines from the first publishing of Thomas’s prophecies in The Whole Prophecie of Scotland which was published in 1603;

A French wife shall bear the son, Shall rule all Britaine to the sey, That of the Bruces blood shall come, As neere in nint degree. I famed fast what was his name, Where that he came from what countrie. In Erstlingtoun, I dwell at hame, Thomas Rymour men calls me.

Nonsense of course, for neither Bruce nor any of his descendents ever ruled the whole of Britain. It is worth noting that Bruce is indeed named in this version of the prophecies. He is also named in The Romance and Prophecies;

The Bretons blode shall vnder fall, The Brucys blode shall wyn the spraye.

Another prophecy tells of a battle “…between Seytoun and the sea…” and the same part of The Romance and Prophecies mentions “Gladysmore”, modern day Gladsmuir in East Lothian. Due to this the battle has been interpreted as either the Battle of Pinkie of 1549 or the Battle of Prestonpans of 1746, amongst others. What commentators seem to have missed however is the importance of the name “Seytoun”. Many would think this to refer either to Port Seton or Seton Collegiate Church in East Lothian. Yet the origin of these place names lie with Fa’side Castle, to the west of Tranent. After the Battle of Bannockburn, Fa’side was given by Robert the Bruce to his nephew, Sir Alexander Seton, for spying on the English. Therefore, the very naming of “Seytoun” in relation to East Lothian is in itself a fulfilled prophecy.

Away from matters of war, one of Thomas’s prophecies predicted another Royal succession, that of the Union of the Crowns;

When Twede and Pausail meet at Merlin’s Grave,
Scotland and England sall ane King have.

411357_3546369830950_133164330_o(1)The Merlin Stone on Drumelzier Haugh, between Biggar and Peebles, is the alleged burial place of Merlin. The Powsail was the burn which ran through the Drumelzier village, now the Drumelzier Burn, which does indeed flow into the River Tweed. It is claimed that on the night of 24th March 1603, the Powsail and the Tweed flooded as far up as the Merlin Stone. It is a matter of historical fact that on the same evening Elizabeth Tudor, Queen of England, passed away without issue and the throne of England fell to James VI, King of Scots, who thereafter fashioned himself as “King of Great Britain”. Detractors may point out that the year 1603 also saw the first publishing of Thomas’s Prophecies in The Whole Prophecie of Scotland. However, if the publishers were trying to ingratiate themselves to the king, then it would have fallen upon deaf ears and they were even risking their lives by publishing the prophecy. James VI was a highly puritanical man who had over 500 people, mainly women, burnt at the stake for witchcraft during his reign, and who had Drumelzier Castle, near the Merlin Stone, razed to the ground. He opposed anything remotely connected with the occult and anyone trying to curry favour with him through a prophecy would be more likely to incur his wrath. I would therefore venture that the above prophecy were indeed the words of Thomas the Rhymer.

Some of Thomas’s prophecies concern locations in the Highlands, which I personally find surprising. Lowland Scots travelling in the Highlands is a relatively new phenomenon, really only taking off after the Highlands were romanticised by the novels of Sir Walter Scott. Before then Lowlanders tended to avoid the Highlands, considering them to be a desolate and unforgiving place, full of wild animals (wolves and bears still roamed the Highlands in the days of Thomas) and barbaric, untrustworthy people. I also discovered during my research that some commentators attempt to attribute Thomas with prophecies relating to the Battle of Culloden of 1746 and the Highland Clearances. They are obviously confusing Thomas with another prophet, Kenneth Odhar, The Brahan Seer, who correctly prophesied these events.

411357_3546369910952_1062882309_o(1)Nevertheless Highland prophecies attributed to Thomas do exist. One concerns the forfeiture of Inverugie, also known as Dunnottar Castle, which is perched on a rocky outcrop in the North Sea, to the south of Stonehaven;

Inverugie (Dunnottar) by the sea,
Lordless sall thy landis be:
And underneath the hearth stane,
The tod (fox) sall bring her birdis (young) hame.

Dunnottar, which was once fully self-sufficient and at one point even had its own brewery, was seized by the Crown from the Earl Marischall of Scotland for his part in the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715. It is today uninhabited. The stone from where Thomas was said to have made his prophecy was removed to build a church in 1763 but the field in which it stood is still named “Tamma’s Stane”.

411357_3546370070956_1699076566_o(1)Another Highland prophecy takes the form of a curse. The story goes that the Earl of Fyvie, not wanting to offend Thomas should he visit left the castle gates open for seven years and a day. On the evening that Thomas did arrive, however, there was a storm and the gates blew shut in his face. Thomas is said to have uttered;

Fyvie, Fyvie, thou a’ never thrive,
As lang’s there’s in thee stanis (stones) thrie:
There’s ane intill the highest tower,
There’s ane intill the Ladye’s bower,
There’s and aneath the water-yett (gate),
And thir thrie stanis ye a’ ne’er get.

Since 1433 no heir of Fyvie has been born within the castle walls and it has never passed from father to eldest son. No first-born among the last owners, the Forbes-Leith family, inherited Fyvie and it has been in the hands of the National Trust for Scotland since 1984. Only the stone in the Ladies Bower has ever been found and it is kept in the Charter Room of the Castle. It is a mysterious object in itself, as at times it is bone dry but at others has been witnessed to exude enough water to fill the bowl.

One prophecy from the north-east of Scotland would appear at first to be a nonsense poem:

BassUrieWhen Dee and Don sall rin in one,
And Twede sall rin in Tay,
The bonny water o’ Urie,
Sall bear the Bass awey.

The Dee and the Don are the two rivers which flow through Aberdeen into the North Sea and obviously cannot run as one and Tweed and Tay, being over 100 miles apart cannot run into each other. The Bass of Inverurie is formed of two 50 foot high mounds which formed part of the old motte and bailey castle built by the Garioch family in the 1100s. Having visited the Bass I would say they are highly unlikely to ever be washed away and I believe that this is what Thomas was saying in this otherwise nonsensical quatrain.

So what became of Thomas the Rhymer? As we have seen, his son made over the family lands to the Holy Trinity of Soltra in 1294, thereby suggesting that he was dead by that time. An inscription on the east wall of Earlston Kirk would seem to suggest that he died in his hometown. It reads;

Auld Rymer’s race,
Lyes in this place.

460618_3546852723022_162199559_o(1)Note however that it reads “Auld Rymer’s race”, which may suggest that it is in fact a family tomb and not necessarily the grave of Thomas the Rhymer himself. His son after all was named in the 1294 document as Thomme Rymour de Ercildoune. It is possible that either Thomas of his descendants took “Rymour” as a family name, in much the same fashion as the way the Fitzallan family, who were hereditary High Stewards of Scotland took the name “Stewart”. Notice also the use of the plural “Lyes”.

Yet Thomas may not have died in Earlston in or before 1294. A poem by Blinde Harry, Minstrel to the Court of James IV (King of Scots, 1488-1513) tells of Thomas living in The Faile, a Cluniac monastery in Ayr. The poem claims that Thomas witnessed the body of William Wallace being thrown over the castle walls by English soldiers, believing him to be dead, only to be nursed back to health. I have come across this legend elsewhere, which would seem to attest to the validity of the story. And if Thomas did witness it, then he must have still been alive around 1295, the year of Wallace’s uprising, or thereafter. He may well have retired to the Faile after instructing his son to donate the family lands to the Holy Trinity of Soltra. Nobody knows the year of his birth but given he was by the side of Alexander III from his boyhood until his untimely death, Thomas must have been of an extremely good age by then.

Or did he, as the legend has it, rise up one evening, put on his mantle of green given him by the Elfin Queen, pick up his harp and follow a white hart and a white doe into the middle of the Eildon Hills, never to be seen again? We shall simply never know.

And what of the prophecies themselves, if they are indeed his? The tradition was oral until the first publication in 1603 and therefore there is every chance that rhymes may have been added (or omitted) for propaganda purposes. There are also of course prophecies which did indeed fail, or not come about as expected. There is a legend that when Alexander III was due to marry Yolande de Druex in 1285, Thomas warned the King not to marry in Kelso Abbey as the roof would fall in. The ceremony was moved to Jedburgh Abbey and the roof of Kelso Abbey did indeed fall in. Okay, the latter happened 500 years later but it still happened.

But failures, additions and omissions do not account for certain facts about the prophecies of Thomas the Rhymer. The forfeiture of Dunnottar of 1715, the building of Leaderfoot Viaduct in 1864 and the granting of Bemersyde House to Earl Haig and his successors in 1921 are but only some of the prophecies which appear in the 1603 publication but which have since come to pass. For that there is no logical explanation and other prophecies may yet come to pass in the future.

000000_RhymerHartsSceptic, believer or indifferent, it is for each of us to make up our minds. The Law of Causality states that there are an infinite number of possible futures continually happening from moment ot moment, which would seem to preclude any attempts at prophecy. Yet if there are those with the ability to foresee things which are yet to be, then it is surely as much a curse as it is a blessing. At face value it certainly appears that Thomas Learmonth of Ercildoune was indeed one of these people, and as such I can do no fairer than leave the last word to the man himself;

Whan the saut gangs abune the meal,
Believe nae mair o’ Tammie’s tale.

(When salt cost more than meat, believe no more of Thomas’s prophecies)

The original of this article was a talk given by the author, Leslie Thomson, to the Edinburgh Fortean Society on 13 August 2003.

Don’t Panic!

HousmurfNo-one is immune to mass hysteria

Most people will be aware of the mass panic caused when Orson Welles narrated an adaptation of War of the Worlds by H G Wells on 30 October 1938. For those who do not, the broadcast was given in the form of a news broadcast, telling of an alien invasion, which caused mass panic among 1.2 million listeners in the USA. Of course, many would think that after that scare, a similar one could ever happen again. Except it did, nearly 20 years later in Ecuador, and with much more serious consequences.

Leonardo Paez and Eduardo Alcaraz broadcast a Spanish language adaptation of Welles’s play on Radio Quito on 12 February 1949, which broke into the middle of a music programme in the guise of an emergency broadcast. Mass panic was set off in the centre of Quito with people attempting to flee and others looting. To make matters worse Radio Quito had not informed the emergency services who believed the attack was on the outskirts of town, causing police and fire engines to rush out to help. Realising what they had caused, Radio Quito announced that the broadcast was fictional. This merely turned panic to anger. Rioting broke out and the mob advanced on and laid siege to the radio station. Most of those inside had to flee up to the third floor. The station was then set on fire and was well alight when the police and fire brigade were trying to return from the outskirts. Some of the staff at Radio Quito were left with the dilemma of jumping from the third floor or burning to death. There were so many rioters that the government had to send out the army in tanks to clear a path for fire engines to attend the radio station and other fires. The eventual cost was 20 dead, 15 severely injured and US$250,000 worth of damage.

The gullibility of mankind is quite fantastic and as hard as many would find it to believe, it can all too easily lead to mass hysteria. The truly frightening part of this is that there are none of us who are not susceptible to it, not one. No, not even me – and not you, the reader either.

The broadcasts of The War of the Worlds are particularly good examples of the power of the media in spreading mass hysteria, and this has always been the case. For centuries it was in writing. Then came print, then in the 20th century, radio, television and the internet. And there were and there always shall be those who believe that if it is in the media, it must be true.

The Book of Revelation and other parts of the Christian Bible talk of the “End Times” when God’s elect will be called up to Heaven in the rapture and there will be a holy war against the Antichrist. For the greater part of the past 2000 years people have been told at varying intervals that they must prepare for the coming “end times” by the clergy, who stated that the signs of which were clear. And after all, given that most people for the greater amount of this time were illiterate, they had to trust upon the clergy’s word, and if you could not trust a Man of God, whom could you trust? So it was at some given intervals, people would gather expecting the end of the world to be upon them. If disease or a natural disaster struck a people, it was obviously a sign of the end times, which of course was confirmed by the clergy.

At times there were people would actually gather at a given place on a given date, fully expecting to be called up to Heaven. And while the advent of printing, better education and more widespread literacy curbed the credulity of some, the church still had a firm grip on most, so more and more people were seeing the obvious signs of the End Times. In 1833 an American Baptist lay preacher, William Miller, predicted that the second coming of Jesus would occur on 22 September 1844. Miller gained thousands of followers in the USA and the UK who became known as Millerites. As the great day approached, many left their jobs and sold or gave away their possessions. When 22 September 1844 came and went without incident, there were many Millerites remained loyal. Some put forward new dates as predictions, and the movement split into different schisms. One of these we know today as Seventh Day Adventists.

Many in this day and age may find William Miller’s prediction crazy and perhaps a quaint example of 19th century religious fervour. It is worth noting however that exactly the same thing happened when Harold Camping predicted the Rapture on 21 March 2011, with thousands leaving their jobs and giving vast donations to Family Radio, which is owned by Camping. But then the same had happened when Camping had predicted the end of the world in September 1994 – just as thousands had gathered to witness the end of the world many times over the centuries.

Not that it was just the end times which whipped up mass hysteria. Biblical teachings were abused for centuries to whip up a frenzy against many enemies, be they Mohammedans, Jews, or suspected witches. The witch hunts which swept across Europe are a particularly brutal example. The number of people killed as witches has been estimated to be at least 200,000 to possibly in excess of 1 million. This would not have been possible with the support of the people, whipped into fear of the unknown by the clergy.

The Jews are a particularly relevant example of the dangers of mass hysteria. It was not enough that the early Christian churches accused Jews of being “Christ killers”, in the 12th century they spread the rumour of the Jewish “Blood Libel”. This particularly odious total lie claims that Jews kill Christians, particularly little boys, to use their blood for ritual purposes such as adding to Passover matzah (unleavened bread). The first claim came from Norwich in 1144 when the body of a little boy named William was found in woods and Thomas of Monmouth accused local Jews of killing the boy in a mockery of the crucifixion. Belief in this was so firm that a cult grew up around the boy and the church actually canonised him as Saint William of Norwich. And if the reader is astounded at medieval superstition, it did not stop there. The Blood LIbel has continued to see Jews accused and castigated down throughout history as recently as 1928 a four year old little girl went missing in Massena, New York, and a rumour swept the community that Jews had kidnapped and killed her for a blood ritual. The local rabbi was called to the police station, drawing an angry crowd, where he was questioned by police and state troopers who asked him about Jewish blood rituals. It was only while this was going on that the little girl, who had wandered off, was found safe and unharmed. To this day there are people on the extreme right, radical Islamists and conspiracy theorists who maintain that the Jewish blood libel is factual, and there are plenty all too willing to listen and believe them.

On top of the blood libel, there grew a conspiracy of the Jews attempting to take over the world. This is nothing new but equally goes back to medieval times. Wider availability of books and increased literacy however made such claims more widely available to the general public. 1903 saw the publication in Russia of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Nobody knows the author of this document but is widely suspected to be Pyotr Ivanovich Rachkovsky, head of the Paris office of the Russian Secret Service. The Protocols is a fake document, purporting to be genuine notes of a meeting of Jewish leaders discussing their goal of global Jewish hegemony by subverting the morals of Gentiles, and by controlling the press and the world’s economies. From Russia it was quickly printed in several languages and widely distributed around Europe and further afield. Despite being denounced as a fake by The Times (London) in 1921, the Protocols went onto sell millions of copies/ Car manufacturer Henry Ford personally funded the printing and distribution of 500,000 copies of the Protocols across the USA and this is believed to have created the first “red scare” in US history. When the Nazis came to power in Germany, it was claimed to be a genuine document and historian Norman Cohn suggested that Hitler used the Protocols as his primary justification for initiating the “final solution to the Jewish question” in the form of the Holocaust in which six million Jews were rounded up and killed. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is still widely available today, online and in printed versions, most of the latter of which have been printed in Arabic languages by radical Islamists. It is also still held as genuine by the extreme right as being a genuine article, and if you doubt it’s power, consider the New World Order conspiracy theories of the present day, many of which speak of a Jewish-led conspiracy to subvert society by controlling the press and taking over the world’s economies.

As we have seen above, as media evolved, so radio also was responsible for causing panic. So it was when television came along, it too would become responsible for contributing to mass hysteria.

In 1977 Anglia Television in the UK produced a spoof documentary under the fake name of a series; “Science Report”, calling the equally fake documentary “Alternative 3″. It was originally meant to be broadcast on 1 April but problems in production led to it’s airing being delayed until 20 June 1977. Alternative 3 told of an impending worldwide environmental catastrophe and of the USA, UK and USSR carrying out a “brain drain” to ship the finest minds of the planet to secret bases on the Moon and Mars. It further claimed that scientists who had previously tried to tell the media had disappeared and included footage purporting to be something alive crawling under the Martian soil. As Alternative 3 was aired, switchboards at Anglia TV were jammed, are were those of police stations the length and breadth of the UK. In the days that followed newspapers asked questions about airing such a hoax due to the mass panic it caused. Believe it or not, there are people to this day who believe that Alternative 3 was genuine.

So you could be forgiven for thinking such a thing could never happen again, right? Except on 31 October (Halloween) 1992, BBC 1 in the UK broadcast Ghostwatch. Set in the same “mockumentary” style as Alternative 3, Ghostwatch was actually broadcast under the BBC’s Screen One productions, and included well-known British celebrities such as Michael Parkinson, Sarah Greene, Mike Smith and Craig Charles. Loosely based on the allegedly true-life case of the Enfield Poltergeist, it was broadcast in the style of a live documentary set partially in studio and partially in a house where poltergeist activity was claimed to have taken place. There were many depictions of supposed paranormal events in the broadcast, including an actor (Keith Ferrari) making sudden and momentary appearances as the ghost, “Pipes”. The show ended with the poltergeist supposedly taking control of the BBC TV network and possessing host Michael Pakinson, the suggestion being that anyone in the country could be possessed through their televsion set.

As with Alternative 3, Ghostwatch saw switchboards jammed and created mass hysteria the length and breadth of the UK. This time however the repercussions were to be far more serious. Martin Denham an 18 year old factory worker with learning difficulties and a mental age of 13 had watched the show. He had problems with his central heating system causing knocking in the pipes. Mistaking this for poltergeist activity, he committed suicide, leaving a note saying he wanted to be with the ghosts. In 1994 the British Medical Journal reported the cases of two 10 year old boys suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after watching the show. Reactions to the articles cited four further cases among children aged between 8 and 11 years old, as well as in elderly people.

The advent of the internet becoming accessible to all has also been responsible for the spread of mass hysteria since the 1990s. Perhaps the greatest example of this, albeit along with newspapers, radio and television, was the Y2K scare. For those who do not know, it became apparent in the 1990s that on the turn of 1 January 2000 most computer chronometers would click over to 1 January 1900. For the better informed among us this merely meant that the computers would to the greater degree not work properly and would thereby become obsolete. What followed however were wild media stories of planes falling out of the sky, industrial robots and computer-driven machinery going haywire, nuclear reactors going into meltdown and a Third World War being starting accidentally by missiles launching by themselves. There were a great many people took this all too seriously and there were reported cases of people selling up their homes and going to live in remote rural areas. Of course, 1 January 2000 came and went without incident; apart from computer and software manufacturers suddenly becoming much richer.

Not that it needs the media to stir up panic. Sometimes word of mouth is all it takes. Word of mouth would have been largely responsible for the witch hunts which troubled Europe for hundreds of years (as was the case in Salem, Massachusetts, USA in 1692-3) and that would continue down history. In 1983 school children in Houston, Texas, USA became terrified of being attacked by Smurfs. Yes, the little blue cartoon characters created by Belgian cartoonist Peyo. A rumour swept the city that gangs of actual Smurfs armed with guns and knifes had infiltrated schools and were killing students and teachers, the story going that one principal had been killed at one particular school. The wild imaginations of preteen schoolkids got going and some would claim that if you wore blue you were safe, while others claimed that if you wore blue you would be killed. In the event several schools were disrupted as kids refused to go to school, some kept home by more gullible parents and some schools locked their students in. Some well-meaning teachers thought it a good idea to tell the kids that other cartoon characters were being drafted in to fight off the Smurfs, which only made matters worse. The panic only lasted days before it subsided but several schools were affected. In the event, the scare had been started due to a TV report of the arrest of 40 members of a blue jacket wearing youth gang, who called themselves The Smurfs.

Word of mouth when mixed with the media can be downright dangerous. In 2000 the tabloid newspaper The News of the World started a campaign to name and shame 150 paedophiles in the UK. Forget any notion of the altruistic aims of the editorship, they were merely trying to sell newspapers. What followed was a series of vigilante attacks on completely innocent men and women. In a frightening parallel to the witch hunts of old, many were targeted merely because they lived alone and / or chose not to become involved with their local community. People within the LGBT community were attacked, the ignorant masses believing that gay must equal paedophile. Nature and landscape photographers were beaten up. The satirical magazine Private Eye carried a cartoon of a man running from a baying mob with the caption “I’m a PAEDIATRICIAN, you idiots.”. The following week, it actually happened; a woman doctor had her office burned out and part of her sign vandalised – the part which read “Paediatrician”. Following a great many police complaints the News of the World dropped it’s campaign, but the damage was done and attacks continued for some time to come.

These are just some of the instances of the power of mass hysteria, although there have been a great many more. Be it the Nibiru end of the world prophecy of 21 December 2012, the New World Order, or marauding bands of feral smurfs, people can be gullible, and it only takes the slightest rumour to get them frightened. And when people are frightened, they can get ugly.

I said earlier that we are no different, and if you doubt that I want you to try a little experiment. Picture in your mind, right now, a UFO and an extraterrestrial alien.

I am telling you right now, that the vast majority of you immediately pictured the classic “flying saucer” and “grey alien”. We all know these things do not exist but once an idea is planted in our minds it is very hard to remove, and that in itself is a form of mass hysteria.

Still think you’re not as susceptible as any of those involved in the above examples?