Fact Check: There Is NO Evidence That Edward Mordrake Was A Real Person

Fact Check

  • by: Sarah Thompson
Fact Check: There Is NO Evidence That Edward Mordrake Was A Real Person Myth, Not Real

Was Edward Mordake a man born with a second face on the back of his head that could laugh, cry and whisper horrible things to him? No, that's not true: The legend of Edward Mordake, sometimes called Mordrake, appears to have begun as a work of fiction by writer Charles Lotin Hildreth in 1895. The account of Mordake's life tortured by this "devil twin" was published in the Boston Sunday Post. It was not a scientific or medical documentation of an unusual deformity, but a fictional piece including several fantastic "half human monsters." The story was not based on real people but was delivered to the 19th-century reader as if it was.

The story, now illustrated with various photos, began to be told again on social media in 2010. It resurfaced in a Facebook post (archived here) by newz.com on July 14, 2021. It's captioned:

The skull of Edward Mordrake, the man born with a second face on the back of his head
Although he could not speak in full words, the second face was able to laugh, cry and make strange noises without Edward's control. He apparently begged doctors to remove his demon face on the grounds that it whispered horrible things to him at night, but no doctor could do it. He committed suicide at the age of 23.
The truth behind it all: https://bit.ly/36ARnof

This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:

Facebook screenshot

(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Fri Jul 16 16:17:50 2021 UTC)

The photos included with this post come from two sources: a sculpted figure representing Mordake photographed in the Panoptikum wax museum in Hamburg, Germany, and a fabricated skeleton relic by the multimedia character sculptor Thomas Kuebler. Below is a video that shows how the Mordake wax figure appears in its setting at a card table. There appear to have been several changes to the hair and costume of this wax figure in recent years, which adds to some of the subtle differences found in photos circulating on social media. There is another wax Mordake that was part of a traveling exhibit, "Anomalies and Catastrophe of the Body" from the Kunstkamera museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Thomas Kuebler is a character sculptor who specialises in super-realistic creepy themes like monsters, demons and freaks. Over the years he has sculpted several reproduction Mordake relic skulls, mounted to appear as antiques, as can be seen on his Instagram account (here and here).

Another artist, E.J. Shindler, produced a papier-mâché Mordrake relic head that appears as if it is mummified. Photos of Shindler's sculpture were used in a hoax post by a now-deleted Facebook page called "Pictures In History." Newsweek.com wrote about this "gaff" (joke art piece) sculpture on May 4, 2018, in an article titled, "Edward Mordrake's Mummified Head Photo Isn't Real, Two-Faced Skull Created by Artist." It tells:

Creating a gaff from such a popular legend seemed sensible to Schindler. 'I was surprised to see that no one had done a Mordrake, so I thought I'd have a go at that,' he told Newsweek. 'It's papier-mâché, a traditional sort of material. I really wanted to make the piece as realistic as I could.

'Gaffs have always been fascinating, and I've tried my hand at a few, usually macabre sculptures, and fantasy creatures of one form or another,' he said. Schindler graduated from Plymouth College of Art and now does art and sculpture as a hobby, although he'd like to turn it into a career.

An article about of the origin of the Edward Mordake legend was published on April 24, 2015, by Hoaxes.org, titled, "Edward Mordake -- A Mystery Solved -- In which I argue that the two-faced man Edward Mordrake was really the literary creation of the 19th-century poet Charles Lotin Hildreth." Hoaxes.org links to a scan of the original December 8, 1895, article in the Boston Sunday Post titled, "The Wonders of Modern Science: Some Half Human Monsters Once Thought to Be of the Devil's Brood."

Hildreth, a poet and fiction writer, presents eight characters that he claims were attested to by the "Royal Scientific Society." There is no record of a society by this name in Britain at the time, (although one was founded in Jordan in 1970.) This device appears to be an appeal to a fictional authority. The other "half human monsters" introduced in Hildreth's story are a woman with "the most exact tails of a fish," a person with thick-shelled crab claws for hands, a melon child, a man with his hands and feet in swapped positions, a man with four eyes, "Jackass Johnny" who had giant furry ears like a donkey, the "Norfolk Spider" and the "weirdest as well as most melancholy" story of Edward Mordake.

The following year an illustrated encyclopedia titled "Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine" was published. Mixed in with real documented cases of anatomical anomalies is the story of Mordake, uncredited but copied verbatim from Hildreth's "Wonders of Modern Science" article in the Boston Sunday Post. It appears on page #196- page 188 of this archived copy of the 1896 book.

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  Sarah Thompson

Sarah Thompson lives with her family and pets on a small farm in Southeastern Indiana. She founded a Facebook page and a blog called “Exploiting the Niche” in 2017 to help others learn about manipulative tactics and avoid scams on social media. Since then she has collaborated with journalists in the USA, Canada and Australia and since December 2019 she works as a Social Media Authenticity Analyst at Lead Stories.


 

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