An image that claims to show the skull of Edward Mordrake has gone viral over the last week. The post, from Facebook page “Pictures In History”, explains that Edward Mordrake was a man born with a face at the back of his head in the 19th century.
Unlike Professor Quirrell, the post explains, the second, backward-facing head was unable to speak. However, the post claims the unnamed second face was able to “laugh, cry, and make strange noises”.
The post also states that eventually, Edward couldn’t take it anymore, and committed suicide at the age of 23.
People appear to have taken the post at face value, with some commenters appearing to think they’d seen video footage of Edward when he was alive.
But, of course, the post is not what it seems.
The image is nothing new, just a retelling of an old urban legend. According to the legend, Edward Mordrake (sometimes spelled Mordake) was an English gentleman in the late 1800s, an heir to a peerage. The second “demonic” face whispered to Mordrake, and it was this that drove him to suicide.
The first widely distributed version of this story comes from the October 1896 edition of Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine.
“Upon the back of his head was another face, that of a beautiful girl, ‘lovely as a dream, hideous as a devil,’” the text reads, according to the Museum of Hoaxes.
“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… it never sleeps, but [talked to him] forever of such things as they only speak of in Hell.”
However, after looking into it the Museum of Hoaxes discovered that the article in the 1896 medical journal was actually a reprint of an article from the year before in The Boston Sunday Post, which also wrote stories around that time of a woman who was half-human, half-crab, and a spider the size of a man, so there’s more than a little reason to be skeptical.
With no other sources describing Mordrake, let alone a medical source, they conclude that he was an invention of the columnist and sci-fi author Charles Lotin Hildreth, who was responsible for a number of other hoaxes at that time.
The picture of the head in the post, Newsweek discovered, was of a sculpture by artist Ewart Schindler inspired by the legend of Edward Mordrake, now used by the Internet as proof of his existence.
“It’s papier-mâché, a traditional sort of material,” he told Newsweek. “I really wanted to make the piece as realistic as I could.”