EDWARD MORDRAKE (URBAN LEGEND)
Hildreth's novel (Boston Sunday, 1895)
Edward Mordake (variously Mordrake) is the apocryphal subject of an urban legend who was, according to the legend, born in the 19th century, heir to an English peerage, and had an extra face on the back of his head. The duplicate face could not see, eat or speak out loud but was said to “sneer while Mordake was happy” and “smile while Mordake was weeping”. Mordake repeatedly begged doctors to have his “demon face” removed, claiming that it whispered things that “one would only speak about in hell” at night, but no doctor would attempt it. Mordake died according to the legend by committing suicide at the age of 23.
The first known description of Mordake is found in an 1895 Boston Post article authored by fiction writer Charles Lotin Hildreth. The article describes a number of cases of what Hildreth refers to as “human freaks”, including a woman who had the tail of a fish, a man with the body of a spider, a man who was half-crab, and Edward Mordake. Hildreth claimed to have found these cases described in old reports of the “Royal Scientific Society”. It is unclear whether a society with this name even actually existed. Hildreth’s article, which also contained other fictional creatures such as the “Fishwomen of Lincoln” and the “Half-human half-crab”, was not factual and was probably published by the newspaper as fact simply to increase reader interest.
In Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine
The 1896 medical encyclopedia Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine, co-authored by Dr. George M. Gould and Dr. Walter L. Pyle, included an account of Mordake. The account was copied directly from Hildreth’s article. However, it was credited only to a “lay source”. The encyclopedia describes the basic morphology of Mordake’s condition, but it provides no medical diagnosis for the rare deformity. Such a birth defect might have been a form of craniopagus parasiticus (a parasitic twin head with an undeveloped body), a form of diprosopus (bifurcated craniofacial duplication), or an extreme form of parasitic twin (an unequal conjoined twin).
As told in Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine:
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. 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.” Such were the words of the hapless Mordake to Manvers and Treadwell, his physicians. 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.
In popular culture
Mordake has been the subject of various texts, plays, and songs:
- Mordake is featured as the “2 Very Special Cases” on a list of “10 People With Extra Limbs or Digits” in the 1976 edition of The Book of Lists.
- Tom Waits wrote a song about Mordake titled “Poor Edward” for his album Alice (2002).
- In 2001, Spanish writer Irene Gracia published Mordake o la condición infame, a novel based on Mordake’s story.
- A US thriller film named Edward Mordake, and based on the story, is reportedly in development. An intended release date has not been provided.
- Three episodes in the FX anthology series American Horror Story: Freak Show, “Edward Mordrake, Pt. 1”, “Edward Mordrake, Pt. 2”, and “Curtain Call”, feature the character Edward Mordrake, played by Wes Bentley.
- A short film based on the story of Mordake entitled Edward the Damned was released in 2016.
- The Two-faced Outcast is another novel about Edward Mordake, originally written in Russian in 2012-2014 and published in 2017 by Helga Royston
- Canadian metal band Viathyn released a song called “Edward Mordrake” on their 2014 album Cynosure