A book of medical curiosities seems to have embellished the account of Edward Mordrake, “The Man with Two Faces,” from a fictitious newspaper article.
An article titled “The Wonders of Modern Science” appeared in the Boston Sunday Post on December 8, 1895. Supposed reports from the “Royal Scientific Society” were given in this article to prove the existence of “human misfits.”
A mermaid, a scary human crab, and Edward Mordrake, the unhappy man with two faces, were among the “human abnormalities” supposedly cataloged by British scientists.
Edward Mordrake: A Myth Takes Shape
Edward Mordrake (first written as Mordake) was a young, brilliant, and handsome English lord and the Post described him as a “musician of unusual aptitude.” But he was also subject to a dreadful curse because of all his good fortune. Mordrake had a normal-looking face on the front of his head and a horrifying alternate visage on the back of his skull.
People have described the second face as “beautiful as a dream, ugly as a monster.” This odd appearance was accompanied by the intellect “of a poisonous type.” The other face would “grin and sneer” whenever Mordrake was sad.
The “devil twin” that afflicted Mordrake kept him awake at night, muttering “such things as they only talk of in hell.” Eventually, the evil face drove the young nobleman insane, and he committed suicide at 23. Before he died, he left a letter instructing the destruction of the evil face so that “it doesn’t continue its horrible muttering in my grave.”
The tale of the guy with two faces quickly went viral throughout the United States. The general population was eager for additional information about Mordrake; even medical specialists responded without any discernible doubt.
The Mordrake case was mentioned in the 1896 book Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine by American physicians George M. Gould and Walter L. Pyle. Gould and Pyle were respected ophthalmologists, yet they seemed incredibly naive about this matter.
As it turned out, Edward Mordrake didn’t exist, and his narrative was made up.
Alex Boese’s website Museum of Hoaxes did some sleuthing and determined that poet and science fiction writer Charles Lotin Hildreth wrote the original story. The extraordinary and otherworldly tended to dominate his narrative rather than grounded reporting.
Even if someone often writes fiction, not everything they write necessarily is. Nonetheless, there are several indicators that the Mordrake account is wholly fabricated.
An institution called the “Royal Scientific Society” didn’t exist in the 19th century, but that’s not the only reason Hildreth’s essay uses it as a source for its many strange medical cases.
Aside from the Royal Society of London, no other Western institution could claim to be both “Royal” and “Scientific.” Many Americans may have been fooled by the tale of the guy with two faces since this moniker seemed plausible to those who did not reside in England.
Second, Hildreth’s essay is the first mention of the medical instances he recounts in any published work, scientific or otherwise. The Royal Society of London collection is available online for perusal.
However, during his research, Boese uncovered neither the Norfolk Spider (a human head with six hairy legs) nor the Fish Woman of Lincoln (a mermaid-type creature).
Boese remarked, “When we recognize this, it becomes evident that Hildreth’s piece was a fabrication. Everything, even Edward Mordake, was a product of his creative mind.
One may assume that editorial standards for newspapers in the late 19th century were laxer than they are now. They were still essential resources for learning and pleasure, but many stories inside them were works of fiction disguised as fact.
Hildreth’s report on the guy who seemed to be two different people was not necessarily careless reporting. It was only a story crafted well enough to fool a few physicians and stick around in people’s minds for over a hundred years.
Hildreth passed away only a few months after his story appeared in print, so he never saw the speed with which Americans fell for his outlandish invention.
The revival of interest in Edward Mordrake’s tale is at least partly attributable to the success of American Horror Story on television.
Even though the episode rehashes the principles of the urban legend, the television version of Mordrake is driven to murder in addition to suicide. The authors undoubtedly drew heavily on the original Boston Sunday Post piece since the lobster kid also makes an appearance in the program.
But What about the Evidence?
A picture purportedly showing the bones of Mordrake’s skull went viral in 2018, proving that current readers aren’t much more intelligent than their Victorian forebears.
As history shows, this is not the first time a picture of the doomed aristocrat has gone viral. But it’s just as fake as the rest of them.
The macabre Janus-like skull is a paper-mâché artist’s conception of what Edward Mordrake, hypothetically speaking, would have looked like. The creator has even said on the record that it was made only for amusement. One well-known photograph often misidentified as genuine was created by a different artist using wax.
Even the most outlandish tales are based on some fact, however slight. Craniofacial duplication is a medical disease in which an embryo develops a different facial characteristic. This occurs as a consequence of aberrant protein expression.
Although there have been a few recent reports of newborns surviving for a brief period with this mutation, the disease is highly unusual and typically fatal.
Lali Singh, for instance, was born in India in 2008 with this disorder.
While Singh’s short life was tragic, unlike Edward Mordrake, she was not considered cursed. Some in her hometown even fancied she was an actual manifestation of the Hindu deity Durga.
The villagers built a shrine for poor Lali after she passed away at a young age.
Despite the passage of time, Edward Mordrake’s tale still has the power to astound and deceive. Although the man described in the story did not exist, it has become an urban legend that will continue to fascinate people for years to come.
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