Edward Mordake

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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 a face at the back of his head. The face could only laugh or cry. He begged doctors to remove it as he claimed it whispered horrific things to him at night. He committed suicide at age 23.


An account described Mordake's figure as one with remarkable grace and with a face that is similar to that of an Antinous.[1] The second (supposedly female)[2] face had a pair of eyes and a mouth that drooled[3] 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".[4] 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. According to the legend, Mordake committed suicide at the age of 23,[4] after he secluded himself to a room.[5]

Earliest reference[edit]

The first known description of Mordake is found in an 1895 Boston Post article authored by fiction writer Charles Lotin Hildreth.[6] 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 existed. Hildreth's article was not factual and was probably published by the newspaper as fact simply to increase reader interest.[7]

In Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine[edit]

The 1896 medical encyclopedia Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine, co-authored by Dr. George M. Gould and Dr. David 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),[8] 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:[4]

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[edit]

Mordake has been the subject of various texts, plays, and songs:[9]

  • 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.[10]
  • Tom Waits wrote a song about Mordake titled "Poor Edward" for his album Alice (2002).[11]
  • In 2001, Spanish writer Irene Gracia published Mordake o la condición infame, a novel based on Mordake's story.[12]
  • A US thriller film titled Edward Mordake, and based on the story, is reportedly in development. An intended release date has not been provided.[13]
  • 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.[14]
  • The Two-faced Outcast is another novel about Edward Mordake, originally written in Russian in 2012–2014 and published in 2017 by Helga Royston.[15]
  • Canadian metal band Viathyn released a song called "Edward Mordrake" on their 2014 album Cynosure.[16]
  • Irish quartet Girl Band's song "Shoulder Blades", released in 2019, features the lyrics "It's like a hat for Ed Mordake". [17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pyle, Walter L. (2015-11-23). Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine: Human Book. 谷月社.
  2. ^ Mannix, Daniel P. (2014-11-19). Freaks: We Who Are Not As Others. eNet Press. ISBN 9781618867575.
  3. ^ Fincke, Gary (2003). Writing Letters for the Blind. Columbus: Ohio State University Press. p. 57. ISBN 0814209505.
  4. ^ a b c Gould, George M. (1956). Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine. Blacksleet River. pp. 124–125. ISBN 978-1-4499-7722-1. Retrieved October 29, 2014.
  5. ^ Abani, Chris (2014-01-07). The Secret History of Las Vegas. Penguin. ISBN 9780698140189.
  6. ^ Hildreth, Charles Lotin (December 8, 1895). "The Wonders of Modern Science". Boston Post. Boston. Retrieved March 2, 2018 – via Newspapers.com. Free to read
  7. ^ Boese, Alex (April 24, 2015). "Edward Mordake—A Mystery Solved". The Museum of Hoaxes. Retrieved July 2, 2016.
  8. ^ Bosmia, Anand N.; Smelser, Luke B.; Griessenauer, Christoph J. (November 7, 2014). "An apocryphal case of craniopagus parasiticus: the legend of Edward Mordake". Child's Nervous System. 31 (12): 2211–2. doi:10.1007/s00381-014-2581-6. PMID 25378260.
  9. ^ "Edward Mordake – "Poor Edward"". 2007-07-06.
  10. ^ Wallechinsky, David; Wallace, Irving; Wallace, Amy (April 1, 1977). The People's Almanac Presents the Book of Lists. Morrow. p. 314. ISBN 978-0-688-03183-1.
  11. ^ Hoskyns, Barney (2009). Lowside of the Road: A Life of Tom Waits. New York City: Random House. p. 405. ISBN 978-0-7679-2709-3.
  12. ^ "Mordake o la condición infame". 2010-04-29.
  13. ^ Edward Mordake on IMDb
  14. ^ Edward the Damned on IMDb
  15. ^ https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XSKYNTT
  16. ^ "Edward Mordrake".
  17. ^ Records, Rough Trade. "Girl Band - Shoulderblades". Rough Trade Records. Retrieved 2019-08-02.

External links[edit]