"I was reading the biography of Kaspar Hauser. He lived in Germany
in the early 1800s and because he was heir to the throne, he had
been locked in a basement from the time he was born until he was 17
and then suddenly set free. So his problem was, how do you learn
to be a human being? The book explains his coming to power and it's
really a tragic story because he's murdered in teh end, but I thought
his perspective would have been interesting. "It's that stripped away
thing again. In some ways he was so stripped away, he was almost like
an animal. He'd never seen the sun and he could only say one sentence,
which was I want to be a rider, like my father. And they had given him
one toy to play with in the whole 17 years, which was a small wooden horse.
So I was trying to see how you could take a story like that and turn
it into song form."
Interview: "Vega Vision"Sounds Magazine, December 6 1986 by Jane Simon
"OK, um, he wants to know about Caspar Hauser, there's a song called "Wooden Horse." I think I found out about it because a friend of mine had told me that there was a film... I think I ran into.... I was in the biography bookstore in the Village, and I was really struck by this picture of a boy on the cover of this book, and it was the biography of Caspar Hauser. Caspar Hauser was a boy who lived in the 1800s. He was a prince, he was a person who had been in the lineage of power, in one of the... and my history gets a little fuzzy around here, but Germany... I mean would be the... Germany or Austria. And, what happened was, that since he was in the line of power, someone, probably his parents or someone that was in charge of him, his guardian, did not want him to reach the throne and locked him in the basement for 18 years. And the story is that... and all he had was a wooden horse to play with. Uh, and so he was released into the square at the age of 18, and it was considered like a miracle. No one could figure out who he was, or where he came from. Eventually, he learned to speak and eventually he learned what had happened to him, and he learned to tell the story, and he was always very primitive, but he learned to tell the story. And his, uh, knowledge, his self-awareness came, and the only way that he could express the fact that he had come to consciousness about what had happened to him was to say that the wooden horse had become alive. And that was his shorthand or his code or his way of saying that he understood what had happened to him.
Unfortunately, he was murdered before he could actually get to the throne that he was, um, heir to. You know, so, and there's been a film about this man. But it just struck me as a really poignant story, and I remember thinking, and saying to, to my band member at the time, "Peter Gabriel should really write a song from this man's point of view. You know, it'd be really great if he would do that. And he said, "Well, why don't you write it?" And so, I tried to think of how he must've felt. And some of the lines of the song came from the book, came from, you know...
The words that he used to express everything, for example, was, "I want to be a rider like my father." Um, rider meaning r-i-d-e-r, rider of the horse. And in my own life, that meant... had a resonance for me because my father is a writer, and "I want to be a rider like my father" had a double meaning for me. And a lot of the songs have that kind of double - double meaning. It means something in the song, it also means something specifically in my own...."
Suzanne Vega at The Learning Annex - TranscriptLearning Annex Discussion January 1995 http://www.suzannevega.com/about/1995/lannex1.htm
This song is about a boy named Kaspar Hauser.
He seemed to have appeared out of nowhere.
Biography of Kaspar from L's writings about Mysterious disappearances
and appearances: On May 26, 1828, a boy wondered into the town
square of Nuremberg. It was Monday, but not many people were
around because of the Holiday. A local cobbler, George Weichmann,
discovered the boy. The boy was poorly dressed, well built,
and walked in a strange manner, as if his legs were stiff. George
tried to talk to the boy but the only response he would receive
was 'don't know'. The boy's feet were bleeding through his shoes.
The bleeding was caused by blisters, as if he had never walked
on his feet before. His skin was pale as if he had never been
exposed to sunlight. The kneepits were not hollow, as if legs
never had been bended much.
The boy carried two letters addressed to the captain of the
4th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment. Weichmann took the boy to
Captain Wessenig where he was placed in a cell for further examination.
The boy behaved strange and.Wessening thought him mentally retarded
at first. The boy tried to touch a candle flame as if he had
no idea the harm fire could do. He was terrified of a grandfather
clock that stood in the room. Food other than bread and water
would cause him to vomit..
The two letters contained the following cryptic declarations.
The first letter's message:"Honored Captain. I send you
a lad who wishes to serve his king in the army. He was brought
to me on 10/07/1812. I am but a poor laborer with children of
my own to rear. His mother asked me to bring up the boy. Since
then I have never let him go outside the house."
The second letter, which was unsigned just as the first one:
"This child has been baptized. His name is Kaspar: you
must give him a second name yourself. His father was a cavalry
soldier. When he is 17, take him to Nuremberg to the 6th Calvary
regiment; his father belonged to it. He was born on 04/30/1812.
I am a poor girl; I can't take care of him. His father is dead.
The contents of the letters seemed to indicate that the first
letter was written by his recent caretaker and that the second
letter was written by the boy's mother. Handwriting analysis
of the letters revealed that they were both penned by the same
When given a pencil and paper, the boy could write two words:
Kaspar Hauser, presumably his name.
Kaspar was kept in a cell for the time being. Kaspar's cell
or a window to it were open to the public, cause many people
talked to him in this period. Kaspar sat for hours and hours
most of the time, without making any movement at all. He seemed
oblivious to the fact that people were gathering to stare at
him. One of the onlookers gave Kaspar a toy horse. Kaspar immediately
uttered the words 'horse'. Kaspar started calling every animal
he saw a 'horse'. Kaspar played with the toy constantly, possibly
unaware that it was inanimate, cuddling it and even pretending
to feed them at every meal.
Kaspar had heightened senses. Smells of coffee and beer that
were brought into the room would make him sick, whereas the
smell of wine would literally make him drunk. He could see perfectly
in the dark, which he demonstrated by reading passages from
the Bible in a completely darkened room. A whisper from across
the room would immediately grab his attention. He could distinguish
between the north and south ends of a magnet simply by passing
his hand over them. He could also differentiate various metals
by holding his hand over them - even while they were covered
A Anselm von Feuerbach described him in 1832 as follows:
"As to his sight, there existed, in respect to him, no
twilight, no night, no darkness. . . . At night he stepped everywhere
with the greatest confidence; and in dark places, he always
refused a light when it was offered to him. He often looked
with astonishment, or laughed, at persons who, in dark places,
for instance, when entering a house, or walking on a staircase
by night, sought safety in groping their way, or in laying hold
on adjacent objects. In twilight, he even saw much better than
in broad daylight. Thus, after sunset, he once read the number
of a house at a distance of one hundred and eighty paces, which,
in daylight, he would not have been able to distinguish so far
off. Towards the close of twilight, he once pointed out to his
instructor a gnat that was hanging in a very distant spider's
It became apparent that Kaspar was not retarded a few months
later. His intelligence seemed to grow very quickly, his speech
began to accelerate at a rapid pace. He learned to use scissors
and to write. His clumsiness was substituted for great abilities.
It was rumored that his facial features resembled a royal aristocrat
named the Grand Duke of Baden.
As Kaspar's abilities improved, he began to recant his life.
Kaspar said his home had been a small 7 foot by 4 foot area
with a ceiling so low he could not stand upright. There were
no windows. The floor was dirt and the only object in the room
was a pile of hay. No human contact took place in that room.
When he awoke in the morning, bread and water would be sitting
on the floor. He said that occasionally the water would taste
bitter at which time he would fall into a deep sleep and awaken
to find his hair, nails, and clothes had been changed. A man
entered the room one day and taught him to say a few words,
phrases like 'don't know' and 'soldier'. He was taught to write
his name. Kaspar was brought to Nuremberg on a horse by the
Kaspar became a national celebrity. The town of Nuremberg took
custody of Kaspar. A reward was offered on information on Kaspar's
George Friedrich Daumer, a scientist, became his guardian, the
one to discover Kaspar's uncanny abilities with magnets and
metals. Kaspar greatly enjoyed the period of time he spent with
George in the town of Nuremberg.
Rumors began surfacing that, due to Kaspars resemblance to the
Grand Duke of Baden, that royal blood was running through his
veins. According to some theories, Kaspar must have been an
heir to a royal thrown and was kept from his destiny for reasons
unknown. Strange incidents that occurred around the time of
Kaspar's birth were remembered. The royal family had mysteriously
lost two of their children at or near birth. This led to much
Anselm Ritter von Feuerback, a local attorney and judge who
had much contact with Kaspar and possibly acted as a custodian
at one time, built upon this rumors which quickly prompted the
threats of lawsuits from the royal families. People were convinced
Feuerback's allegations were true when he suffered a untimely
death days after he publicly announced he had proof (in the
form of official documents) that Kaspar was a descendent of
the royal family. The unspecified documents never surfaced.
Kaspar continued to live with George Daumer in Nuremberg. On
10/17/1829, 17 months after he was discovered, Kaspar was found
in the cellar of Daumer's house with his shirt torn and a gaping
head wound. Kaspar indicated he was attacked by a masked man
bearing a club or knife. Two full-time policemen were assigned
to guard over Kaspar and assure his safety. Most thought the
protection was justified but others were convinced that the
strange Kaspar had initiated the event himself.
Around that time, Lord Stanhope took an interest in Kaspar.
Stanhope probably had ties to the Grand Duke of Baden (Kaspar's
rumoured parents). Kaspar and Stanhope seemed to hit if off
pretty well and Stanhope took custody of Kaspar for some time.
Stanhope eventually seemed to grow tired of Kaspar who he claimed
and became selfish and extremely arrogant.
Dr. Meyer, a friend of Stanhope, who lived in a nearby village
called Ansbach, took custody of Kaspar. Meyer tutored Kaspar,
who was still guarded by a policeman named Captain Hickell,
much to Kaspar's distaste. Kaspar had an extreme dislike for
the town of Ansbach which was a far cry from the metropolis
On 12/14/1833 Kaspar stumbled bleeding into Dr. Meyers living
room. "man.. stabbed... knife... Hofgarten... gave purse...
Go look quickly..." Kaspar had been stabbed in the right
side, a injury that punctured a lung and damaged his liver.
Kaspar recounted an incident where a messenger had summoned
Kaspar to the Hofgarten park to meet a stranger with some welcomed
news. Kaspar described a tall, whiskered man wearing a black
overcoat. The and asked whether or not he was 'Kaspar Hauser'
to which Kaspar replied with a nod. The man stabbed Kaspar in
the side while handing him a small silk purse.
Officials rushed to the scene and discovered the silk purse
contained a note written in 'mirror writing' (to disguise the
author's identity) : "Hauser will be able to tell you how
I look, whence I came, and who I am. To spare him from that
task I will tell you myself. I am from ... on the Bavarian border...
On the River... My name is M.L.O. "
Kaspar's personal guard, Captain Hickell, noted that there were
only a single set of footprints in the snow at the scene of
the crime. He quickly surmised that Kaspar must have drummed
up the incident himself. If so, it proved to be a fatal mistake.
Kaspar died 3 days later at the age of 21. His last words spoken
were "I didn't do it myself".
For some strange reason, Kaspar's death was not investigated
thoroughly, so the crime still remains a mystery. Many thought
that Kaspar, who was known to lie often, invoked this incident
and his previous attack at Dr. Meyer's house on his own accord.
His tombstone reads: "Here lies Kaspar Hauser. And an enigma
he certainly remains".