Prior to the widespread use of technology, biological anomalies slipped into the status of urban legend, but as medical science has proven, some people are born with deformities that really have to be seen to be believed, which brings us to the case of Edward Mordake.
Regarded as one of the “human freaks” of the 19th century, his story has been a continual source of fascination. Mordake was reportedly born with two faces, a congenital disorder known as diprosopus, and there was something very sinister about his second face.
To learn more about his extraordinary and sad story, check out the video below:
In most recorded cases of diprosopus, the person afflicted has an extra facial feature like a nose or an ear, but in rare cases, entire faces can be duplicated. This duplication is what Mordake was said to suffer from when he was first described in the Boston Post in 1895.
To give an insight into what Mordake might have looked like, an artist created a wax replica of his head.
Alongside a number of other people born with extreme deformities, the information reported about Mordake’s condition was obtained from the reports of the “Royal Scientific Society” by writer Charles Lotin Hildreth, although it’s unknown if this society ever existed.
Mordake’s story then managed to make its way into the 1896 medical encyclopedia Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine, co-authored by Dr. George M. Gould and Dr. Walter L. Pyle. However, it was not specifically defined as a case of diprosopus at the time.
As told in Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine, this the strange case of Edward Mordake:
“One of the weirdest as well as the most melancholy stories of human deformity is that of Edward Mordake, said to have been heir to one of the noblest peerages in England. He never claimed the title, however, and committed suicide in his twenty-third year. He lived in complete seclusion, refusing the visits even of the members of his own family.”
Pictured below is artist’s depiction of Mordake’s mummified head:
“He was a young man of fine attainments, a profound scholar, and a musician of rare ability. His figure was remarkable for its grace, and his face – that is to say, his natural face – was that of an Antinous. But upon the back of his head was another face, that of a beautiful girl, ‘lovely as a dream, hideous as a devil.’”
“The female face was a mere mask, ‘occupying only a small portion of the posterior part of the skull, yet exhibiting every sign of intelligence, of a malignant sort, however.’ It would be seen to smile and sneer while Mordake was weeping. The eyes would follow the movements of the spectator, and the lips ‘would gibber without ceasing.’”
“No voice was audible, but Mordake avers that he was kept from his rest at night by the hateful whispers of his ‘devil twin’, as he called it, ‘which never sleeps, but talks to me forever of such things as they only speak of in Hell. No imagination can conceive the dreadful temptations it sets before me. For some unforgiven wickedness of my forefathers I am knit to this fiend – for a fiend it surely is. I beg and beseech you to crush it out of human semblance, even if I die for it.’”
Sadly, doctors refused to grant Mordake’s request to have his second face removed, prompting him to take his own life.
The 23-year-old then asked for the face to be destroyed once he was dead to prevent it from haunting him in his coffin.
“In spite of careful watching, he managed to procure poison, whereof he died, leaving a letter requesting that the ‘demon face’ might be destroyed before his burial, ‘lest it continues its dreadful whisperings in my grave.’ At his own request, he was interred in a waste place, without stone or legend to mark his grave.”
Mordake’s story was recently brought to life in American Horror Story: Freak Show.
While there’s a lot of doubt about whether Mordake actually existed or not, given that cases of people being born with two faces have been recorded, his story is not outwith the realm of possibility.
But what makes Mordake completely unique is the claim that his face was capable of expression, tears and whisperings.
However, the majority of people born with diprosopus have died shortly after birth, which makes Mordake’s story unlikely.
The most famous fictional character to have been inspired by Mordake is arguably Professor Quirrell from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, who had Lord Voldemort’s face attached to the back of his own.
Thankfully, if anyone is born with Mordake’s affliction today and survives, they will be treated with compassion instead of being forced to live as a recluse, and, with medical science improving all of the time, potentially provided with a way to live a relatively normal life.
Regardless of whether Mordake’s story is true or not, it’s easy to see why it’s fascinated generations.
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