The story of Edward Mordrake, "The Man With Two Faces," comes from a book of medical oddities — which seemed to have copied it from a fictional newspaper article.
On Dec. 8, 1895, the Boston Sunday Post published an article titled “The Wonders of Modern Science” that presented astonished readers with reports from the so-called “Royal Scientific Society” documenting the existence of “marvels and monsters” hitherto believed imaginary.
The “human freaks” supposedly cataloged by the British scientists included a mermaid, a terrifying “human crab,” and the unfortunate Edward Mordrake, who would soon become an enduring urban legend.
The Myth Of Edward Mordrake Begins
As the Post reported, Edward Mordrake (originally spelled Mordake) was a young, intelligent, and good-looking English nobleman, as well as a “musician of rare ability.” But with all of his great blessings came a terrible curse. In addition to his handsome, normal face, Mordrake possessed a terrifying disfigurement: another face on the back of his head.
This horrifying second face was that of a “beautiful girl” — “lovely as a dream, hideous as a devil.” The strange visage possessed an intelligence “of a malignant sort.” Whenever Mordrake cried, the second face would “smile and sneer.”
Mordrake was constantly plagued by his “devil twin,” which kept him up all night whispering “such things as they only speak of in hell.” The young lord was eventually driven mad and took his own life at the age of 22, leaving behind a note ordering the evil face be destroyed after his death, “lest it continues its dreadful whispering in my grave.”
In 1896, American doctors George M. Gould and Walter L. Pyle included the Mordrake story in their book, Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine, a collection of peculiar medical cases. Gould and Pyle were legitimate ophthalmologists with successful medical practices, but they seem to have been quite gullible in at least one case, as the story of Edward Mordrake was fake.
Investigating The Truth Behind The “Man With Two Faces”
As Alex Boese’s blog Museum of Hoaxes diligently deduced in 2015, the author of the original Post article, Charles Lotin Hildreth, was a poet and science-fiction writer. His stories tended toward the fantastical and other-worldly.
But just because an article is written by someone who tends to write fiction, that doesn’t mean the article itself it fiction. Still, there are many clues that point to the Mordrake story’s falsity.
For one, Hildreth’s article cites the “Royal Scientific Society” as its source for its numerous bizarre medical cases, but an organization by that name didn’t exist in the 19th century.
The Royal Society of London was a centuries-old scientific institution, but there was nothing both “Royal” and “Scientific” by name in the Western world. While not actual, the name was indeed plausible, which gave Hildreth’s story an extra air of believability.
Secondly, Hildreth’s article appears to be the first time any of the medical cases he describes have ever appeared in any literature, scientific or otherwise. The Royal Society of London’s entire database is searchable online, and Boese wasn’t able to find any of Hildreth’s anomalies in its archives — from the Norfolk Spider (a human head with six hairy legs) to the Fish Woman of Lincoln (a mermaid-type creature).
“When we realize this,” Boese wrote, “that’s when it becomes apparent that Hildreth’s article was fiction. All of it sprang from his imagination, including Edward Mordake.”
It turns out that newspapers in the late 19th century weren’t held to the same editorial standards as today. They were sources of both information and entertainment, and frequently filled with fictional tales presented as nonfiction.
Hildreth’s tales weren’t irresponsible journalism, per se, they were just written convincingly enough to fool a couple of doctors — and to endure in the public imagination for more than a century. Hildreth died mere months after his article was published, however, and so he didn’t get to see just quickly the American public was fooled by his wild creativity.
The Enduring Legacy Of Edward Mordrake
Edward Mordrake’s story experienced a recent resurgence in popularity, thanks in part to the TV series American Horror Story.
The show rehashes the basics of the urban legend, although the television incarnation of Mordrake is driven to murder rather than suicide by his evil second face. The writers must have taken a great deal of inspiration from the original Boston Post article, since the lobster boy also makes an appearance that same season.
Lest modern readers think they are so much wiser than their Victorian forebearers that they could never be taken in by such an absurd tale, in 2018 a photo supposedly depicting the remains of Mordrake’s head went viral.
This is not the first time a photo of the cursed nobleman has seized the public’s attention; however, like all of the others, it is far from authentic.
The gruesome Janus-like skull is, in fact, just a papier-maché artist’s imagining of what Edward Mordrake might have looked like. The artist has gone on record stating it was created entirely for entertainment purposes. The other famous photo that is often mistakenly labeled as authentic is the work of a different artist, this one done in wax.
Of course, even the most fantastic stories do contain at least a small grain of truth. The medical condition known as “craniofacial duplication” (the result of an abnormal protein expression) can cause the facial features of an embryo to be duplicated.
The condition is extremely rare and usually lethal, although there are recent documented cases of infants who managed to survive a short time with the mutation.
Lali Singh was born with the condition back in 2008.
Far from thinking the child had been cursed like Edward Mordrake, residents of her tiny village believed her to be an incarnation of the Hindu goddess Durga, who is traditionally portrayed with multiple limbs.
After the poor baby Lali died when she was only a few months old, the villagers constructed a temple in her honor.
After learning about Edward Mordrake, “The Man With Two Faces”, check out the most interesting oddities of P.T. Barnum’s circus. then, read about Raymond Robinson, the real-life urban legend of “Charlie No-Face”.