David Norris: Are you Angels?
Harry Mitchell: We’re more like case officers.
– The Adjustment Bureau
Scientists since Anaximander have been speculating that our reality floats on a substratum of probability, and long before we haphazardly stumbled into the ideology of phenomenology, theologians were noting that corrective forces were seemingly operative in maintaining the rules by which our reality coalesced. We called them gods, angels, spirits, faeries, or Men in Black, but their essential commonality was that they served as plumbers of the universe, plugging leaks of one reality into another through obfuscation, misdirection, and outright manipulation. They are the masters of the duct tape of the gods. Their behavior has always been bizarre by our everyday standards, from demanding we sacrifice six lambs on alternate Wednesdays as appeasement for angry deities, to advocating a bacon-free diet, to insisting we recant our latest sightings of unidentified flying objects, but the mantra is generally the same – that is, your perception of the anomalous is attributable either to a miracle or the residue of misidentification. And when the preponderance of physical evidence accumulates and begins to suggest that the boundary between possible and impossible is somewhat porous, they have no problems sending in “The Wolf” (you know, the guy from Pulp Fiction who cleans up the crime scene with extreme prejudice once you’ve truly botched the job). Sometimes when things have irretrievably gone to hell in a hand basket you just have to whack all the witnesses. The strange story of Kaspar Hauser (died 1833 A.D.) is a mystery puzzled over by historians, psychologists, and strange phenomena enthusiasts alike, and he is variously identified as a feral child raised in a dungeon, the hereditary Prince of Baden, or a pathological swindler, all of which neglect the more parsimonious possibility that he slipped sideways into our plane of existence, and this affront to reality was “adjusted” through assassination by precursors to our modern Men in Black. Well, not really precursors, as they were reportedly actually men in black.
On May 26, 1828 a discombobulated teenage boy in good physical condition and of healthy complexion appeared as if from nowhere in Nuremberg, Germany with a confusing and badly cobbled together backstory, unable to speak, except for the phrase, “I want to be a cavalryman, as my father was”, what was assumed to be severe intellectual impairment, and a letter from an unnamed caretaker to the captain of the 4th squadron of the 6th cavalry regiment, Captain von Wessenig. The letter read as follows:
“Honoured Sir I send you a lad who wishes to serve his King truly; this lad was brought to me on October 7, 1812. I am a poor day labourer with ten children of my own; I have enough to do to get on at all. His mother asked me to bring up the boy. I asked her no questions, nor have I given notice to the county police that I had taken the boy. I thought I ought to take him as my son. I have brought him up as a good Christian; and since 1812 have never let him go a step away from the house, so no one knows where he has been brought up, and he himself does not know the name of my house, nor of the place; you may ask him, but he can’t tell you. I have taught him to read and to write; he can write as well as myself. When we ask him what he would like to be, he says a soldier, like his father. If he had parents (which he has not), he would have been a scholar; only show him a thing, and he can do it. I have only taken him as far as Neumarkt; from there he went on by himself. I have told him that when he is a soldier I may come and see him, otherwise he is off my hands. Honoured Sir, you may question him, but he don’t know where I live. I brought him away in the middle of the night; he can’t find his way back. I respectfully take my leave. I don’t give my name, as I might be punished. And he has not a single kreuzer by him, for I have nothing myself. If you won’t keep him, you must knock him on the head or hang him up. The boy is baptized; his name is Kaspar; his other name you must give him. I ask you to bring him up. His father was a Schmolischer (trooper). When he is seventeen, send him to Nuremberg to the 6th Schmolische Regiment: that is where his father was. I beg you to bring him up till he is seventeen. He was born on April 30, 1812. I am a poor girl; I can’t keep the boy; his father is dead” (Cleveland, 1893, p4-5).
This perplexing mystery boy fascinated the locals, and Kaspar became something of a sideshow attraction at the Lugisland Tower where he was subsequently held under the watchful eye of jailer Andreas Hiltel. At first his vocabulary seemed limited, he answered all questions with “I don’t know”, and accepted only bread and water for sustenance, but gradually he evinced a quick mind and capacity for learning, warming up to his current caretakers and began to relate an odd, convoluted story to then Mayor of Nuremberg Jacob Friedrich Binder. Hauser claimed to have been raised in circumstances strangely reminiscent of modern alien abductions. No amount of investigation seemed to turn up any conclusive information on the unfortunate boy, making his story seem all the more fantastical.
He did not know who he was, nor where was his home. At Nuremberg he came first into the world, and first experienced that, besides himself and the man with whom he had always been, there were other men and other beings. As far as he could recollect he had always been in a ‘hole’ (a small, low receptacle which he sometimes terms also a ‘ cage) where he wore only a shirt and leather breeches cut open behind, and sat bare legged upon the ground. He had never, while he was there, heard any sound of men or of animals, or any other. He had never seen the Heavens, or any strong light (sunshine) at Nuremberg. He never perceived any difference between day and night, and still less had he been able to see the beautiful lights in the firmament. Near him, was in the ground a hole (probably containing a pot) in which he voided his excrements. As often as he awoke, he found bread and a pitcher of water near him. Occasionally, the water had a very bad taste, and then, after he had drank it, he could not keep his eyes open any longer, and was obliged to sleep; but, after he again awoke, he found that he had on a clean shirt, and that his nails were cut. He had in his hole two wooden horses with various ribbands; with these horses he occupied himself always so long as he was awake; and his only amusement was in rolling them near him, or in placing the ribbands upon them in one manner or in another. One day passed over like another to him, but he wanted nothing, had not been ill; and, with a single exception, had felt no pain; and, in general, was far more at his ease than in the world where he had suffered so much. He had no knowledge of time, and could not say how long he had been in that situation. He could not relate when, and how he came there, and had also no recollection that he had ever in his life been in a different condition, or in a different place. The man ‘with whom he had always been,’ had not hurt him; but one day, which could not have been long before Kaspar was brought out of his confinement, having rolled his horses too violently, and having made too much noise, the man came and gave him with a stick (or billet) a blow on the arm, which thus received the wound that he brought to Nuremberg. About the same time, the man came into Kaspar’s prison, placed over his legs a low table, laid upon it something white, which he now recognizes to be paper; and seizing his hand from behind in order not to be seen, put between his fingers something (a pencil) and moved it to and fro upon the paper. Kaspar did not know what it meant, but was very much pleased when he saw the black marks formed upon the white paper. As he found that his hand was again free, and that the man had left him, he could not, in his joy at this new discovery, satisfy himself with making over and over again these marks upon the paper. With this occupation, although he was not acquainted with the signification of the marks, he almost neglected his horses. The man repeated his visits several times, and in the same manner. The man came afterwards again, raised Kaspar from his seat, placed him on his legs, and endeavored to teach him how to stand; and this was also repeated several times. For this purpose, the man placed himself behind Kaspar, grasped him firmly round the chest, and pushed forward his feet alternately, raising them also from the ground. At length the man appeared, placed round his neck Kaspar’s arms, tied together his hands and carried on his back Kaspar out of the hole, and up (or down) a hill. He did not know how it happened, but it suddenly became night, and he was laid upon the ground. This expression “became night,” was shown on several occasions at Nuremberg to signify, in Kaspar’s language, “fainted away” (Feuerbach, 1832, p39-42).
Thus Kaspar Hauser found himself wandering towards the gates of Nuremberg. Learned scientists, medical doctors, and naturalists came out of the woodwork to interpret his biography, and lacking any real evidence, came to a variety of conclusions from the possibility that he was a feral child raised in the forest, to some sort of bizarre experiment, to a consummate con man, or in the romantic mind of the public always looking for a fairy tale ending, a Prince of Baden unjustly imprisoned by his wicked relatives. There was very little to support any of these surmises, but Hauser acquired international renown as the mysterious “Child of Europe”, about which much was said, yet very little known. One curious and perhaps telling clue for our purposes arose in experiments on Hauser conducted by speculative philosopher Friedrich Daumer, who discerned that he was oddly sensitive to electromagnetic forces.
Professor Daumer first noticed the peculiar properties of Caspar’s sense of feeling and his susceptibility of metallic excitements, while he was yet at the tower. Here, a stranger once made him a present of a little wooden horse and a small magnet, with which, as the forepart of the horse was furnished with iron, it could be made to swim about in different directions. When Caspar was going to use this toy according to the instructions he had received, he felt himself very disagreeably affected; and he immediately locked it up in the box belonging to it, without ever taking it out again, as he was accustomed to do with his other playthings, in order to show it to his visitors. When he was afterwards asked why he did so? He said, that that horse had occasioned him a pain which he had felt in his whole body and in all its members. After he had removed to Professor Daumer’s house, he kept the box with the magnet in a trunk; from which, in clearing out his things, it was accidentally taken and brought into notice. The idea was suggested thereby to Professor Daumer, who recollected the occurrence that had formerly taken place, to make an experiment on Caspar with the magnet belonging to the little horse. Caspar very soon experienced the most surprising effects — When Professor Daumer held the north pole towards him Caspar put his hand to the pit of his stomach and, drawing his waistcoat in an outward direction, said that it drew him thus; and that a current of air seemed to proceed from him. The south pole affected him less powerfully; and he said that it blew upon him. Professor Daumer and Professor Herrmann made afterwards several other experiments, similar to these and calculated to deceive him; but his feelings always told him very correctly, and even though the magnet was held at a considerable distance from him, whether the north pole or the south pole was held towards him. Such experiments could not be continued long, because the perspiration soon appeared on his forehead, and he began to feel unwell (Linberg, 1832, p131-132).
Could this suggest that perhaps that the magnetism of our reality was subtly different from whatever bizarre universe that Kaspar Hauser sprang forth from? Or maybe he just swallowed some nails. Either way, it was yet another anomaly in a long list of anomalies related to Hauser. Clearly, he found our universe a tad uncomfortable. As the mysteries mounted and Kaspar’s reputation fed increased popularity and greater scrutiny, it’s clear that the celestial adjusters felt enough was enough, electing to remove Kaspar Hauser from the equation and shore up the walls of this little slice of reality. A first assassination was attempted to clean up the mess. On October 17, 1829 Hauser “did not come to midday eating, but was found weltering in his gore, in the cellar of Daumer’s house. Being offered refreshment in a cup, he bit out a piece of the porcelain and swallowed it. He had ‘an inconsiderable wound’ on the forehead; to that extent the assassin had affected his purpose. Feuerbach thinks that the murderer had made a shot at Kaspar’s throat with a razor, that Kaspar ducked cleverly, and got it on the brow, and that the assassin believed his crime to be consummated and ﬂed” (Lang, 1904, p152). Police, now extremely suspicious as police are want to be, moved Kaspar to the house of civil servant Johann Biberbach for his own protection. Obviously, Hauser felt this was a serious warning, as when he was found on April 3, 1830 in his room bleeding from a pistol shot to the side of his head, he quickly upon revival attributed the incident to his own clumsiness in attempting to retrieve something from a bookshelf. Finally, on December 14, 1833, the Adjustors properly hit their mark. Hauser stumbled home with a deep wound in the left breast where he maintained that a strange man dressed all in black had accosted him in Ansbach Court Garden, handed him a bag, and then stabbed him. Only one set of footprints was found in the Garden, and a small bag containing a cryptic message in “mirror writing” that said “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.”. This as would be expected, illuminated exactly nothing. Hauser died of his wounds three days later, and nobody has ever been the wiser about who he was, where he came from, and why he was murdered. Charles Hoy Fort, citing Feuerbach, commented “Kaspar Hauser showed such an utter deficiency of words and ideas, such perfect ignorance of the commonest things and appearances of Nature, and such horror of all customs, conveniences, and necessities of civilized life, and, withal, such extraordinary peculiarities in his social, mental, and physical disposition, that one might feel oneself driven to the alternative of believing him to be a citizen of another planet, transferred by some miracle to our own” (Fort, 1941, p164). After all, those boundaries of reality have to be protected. Who’s going to do it? You? You can’t handle the truth (try saying that with your best Jack Nicholson impression). Humanity is strangely attracted and repelled by the notion that someone out there in the multiverse has a plan. We simultaneously appreciate our loving gods and our devilish conspiracies, imagining that amidst our desire for both that we can stash a tiny pocket of free will.
In the 2011 film The Adjustment Bureau, an agent tasked with setting things right scoffs at the protagonist’s observation that they are removing free will from the equation by tinkering with minute details of people’s lives according to some master plan, commenting “We actually tried free will before. After taking you from hunting and gathering to the height of the Roman Empire, we stepped back to see how you’d do on your own. You gave us the dark ages for five centuries until finally we decided we should come back in. The Chairman thought that maybe we just needed to do a better job with teaching you how to ride a bike before taking the training wheels off again. So we gave you raised hopes, enlightenment, scientific revolution. For six hundred years we taught you to control your impulses with reason. Then in nineteen ten, we stepped back. Within fifty years you’d brought us world war one, the depression, fascism, the holocaust and capped it off by bringing the entire planet to the brink of destruction in the Cuba missile crisis. At that point the decision was taken to step back in again before you did something that even we couldn’t fix”. Rest in peace Kaspar Hauser, you were but another rusty pipe in an absurd universe that leaks anomalies like a sieve.
Cleveland, Catherine Lucy Wilhelmina Stanhope Powlett, duchess of, 1819-1901. The True Story of Kaspar Hauser: From Official Documents. London: Macmillan and co., 1893.
Feuerbach, Paul Johann Anselm, Ritter von, 1775-1833. Kaspar Hauser: the Foundling of Nuremberg. London: [Chelsea, Tilling, printer], 1832.
Fort, Charles, 1874-1932. Lo! New York: Ace Books, 1941.
Lang, Andrew, 1844-1912. Historical Mysteries. New York: T. Nelson & Sons, 1904.
Linberg H.G. (trans.) & Feuerbach, Paul Johann Anselm, Ritter von, 1775-1833. Casper Hauser: an Account of an Individual, Kept In a Dungeon, Separated From All Communication With the World, From Early Childhood to About the Age of Seventeen : Drawn Up From Legal Documents. Boston: Allen and Ticknor, 1832.