The urban legend of Edward Mordrake says that he was a nobleman, an heir to the English peerage who lived in the 19th century. According to the legend, he was a fine gentleman and very talented, but with a horrifying disfigurement at the back of his head.
It was a face looking devilish, a face that would only bring him nightmares. The face was that of a woman who drooled but could not see or eat. It laughed and sneered whenever he was sad and cried whenever he was happy.
Mordrake kept saying that the other face would not let him sleep at night, for it whispered terrible things to him. He would beg doctors to perform surgery and to pluck out the other face, but no doctor would ever do it.
In 1896, George M. Gould and Walter L. Pyle – American doctors included the story about a two-faced person in their book called Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine. Their book was a collection of rare and peculiar medical cases, but what they didn’t know was that the story was fake.
The story the two authors found was not real for several reasons. Alex Boese’s in her 2015 post at the Museum of Hoaxes solves the mystery.
First, the story was published in the Boston Post by Charles Lotin Hildreth, a fiction writer, probably to generate more interest among the public. Hildreth’s article cites the “Royal Scientific Society” as the source for its mystifying cases of medicine, but such an organization did not exist back then.
The name was typical for the 19th century, sure, but it was non-existent.
Second, Hildreth’s article is the first time the medical case appears. You can search the database of The Royal Society of London online, and Boese did just that but wasn’t able to find the astonishing anomaly Hildreth wrote about. “When we realize this, that’s when it becomes apparent that Hildreth’s article was fiction. All of it sprang from his imagination.” – Boese wrote.
Third, the picture is not real. It’s a wax figure portrayed by one of the many wax artists who tried to illustrate how Edward Mordrake would look like.
The 19th-century journalism was subject to both information and entertainment, so no wonder Hildreth used that to gain some popularity using the entertainment part to his advantage.
Sadly enough, Hildreth died months after the story became popular (allegedly committing suicide by closing himself in a room) and he didn’t get to see the public going crazy over his urban legend, even doctors.
Just before we wrap it up, face duplication as a phenomenon in medicine has occurred only without the whispering part.
A baby with two faces in India was born, NBC News reports. The condition is known as craniofacial duplication, caused by the abnormal activity of the SHH protein. Learn more about it here.