The True But False Story of Edward Mordake

If you watched American Horror Story: Freak Show, you heard about Edward Mordrake and his demon face that sat on the back of his head. The show went on to describe how Mordrake joined a sideshow and eventually killed everyone in it before taking his own life—and then haunting sideshows every Halloween.

Mordrake was based off the story of Edward Mordake, who dates back to the late 19th century.

Edward Mordake in Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine. Illustrations above depict others with extra heads.

Edward Mordake in Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine. Illustrations above depict others with extra heads.

George Gould and Walter Pyle wrote about Mordake in their 1896 book Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine:

The following well-known story of Edward Mordake, though taken from lay sources, is of sufficient notoriety and interest to be mentioned here:—

“One of the weirdest as well as 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.”

Of course, there’s no mention as to who their “lay sources” were. So was this account of Mordake from a medical book fact or fiction?

The Museum of Hoaxes site seems to have uncovered the answer. They found an article titled, “The Wonders of Modern Science: Some Half Human Monsters Once Thought to Be of the Devil’s Brood,” in an 1895 issue of the Boston Sunday Post with the exact story Gould and Pyle printed. It was written by a poet named Charles Lotin Hildreth—fiction, presented as nonfiction.

It may have fooled Gould and Pyle, but ultimately their coverage gave Mordake life that lasted longer than Hildreth ever could have imagined.