Thursday, May 26, 2016

Nuremburg* (for Nuremberg*)

Today in 1828, a raggedy, shambolic teen, who claimed his name was Kaspar Hauser, materialized on the streets of Nuremberg, Germany. He was carrying two letters with him, both of them written in the same hand. One was purportedly by the anonymous man who had raised him and taught him a few fundamentals, while the other was from his mother, stating that his dad was dead, but had once been a member of the German cavalry. (Kaspar was unable or unwilling to say much of anything else, other than: "I want to be a cavalryman, as my father was" and "Horse! Horse!") He later expanded his account, insisting that he had long been kept locked in a small dark enclosure with nothing but bread and water to subsist on, and a little toy horse to play with. Experts now believe the boy probably wrote both letters himself, but the real question is why. His story is a convoluted and confusing one, but Kaspar Hauser is still widely thought to have been the original "wolf boy" or "feral child." He died (by his own hand, and perhaps by accident) at the age of twenty-one. His epitaph reads: "Here lies Kaspar Hauser, riddle of his time. His birth was unknown, his death mysterious." Though some see him as a simple (if not simple-minded) prevaricator, his tale has resonated throughout the years. In 1974, director Werner Herzog memorialized it in The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser. In the film Fahrenheit 451, Guy Montag slips a copy of a book called Gaspard Hauser into his bag before the rest of the collection is burned. Hauser has been referenced by a great many writers, including Leo Tolstoy and Herman Melville. There's even a syndrome named after him—not for his possible "Munchausen" tendencies, but rather for his short stature and related physical anomalies. No lie, though, there were 100 cases of Nuremburg* (for Nuremberg*) in OhioLINK today, and "too many records found for your search" in WorldCat. The prevalence of this typo may be partly chalked up to the fact that there is also a city in Germany known as Nürburg. The two spellings for something like "fortified settlement on a hill" in German are often mixed up, even when it comes to words like iceberg, so be careful with this one (along with any other berg/burg typos that may turn up out there).

(Drawing of Kaspar Hauser, by Johann Georg Laminit, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

No comments: