One of the most interesting aspects of American Horror Story has always been that many of the characters are based on actual people, and many of the events inspired by true happenings. The show’s fourth season is no exception, as real life inspiration is already running wild in the Freak Show.
Last week’s episode introduced the character Edward Mordrake, portrayed by Wes Bentley. Freak show folklore come to life, Mordrake was depicted as a tortured soul with a demon face growing out of the back of his head, demanding he do evil things. After killing a whole troupe of performers and then himself, Mordrake is said to haunt the freak show scene, coming back from the dead to collect a soul whenever a performance is held on Halloween.
Mordrake did indeed return from the grave after Elsa Mars performed a particularly rousing rendition of Lana Del Rey’s ‘Gods and Monsters,’ and his story continues tonight in the two-part episode’s second half. Which performer’s soul will he add to his undead collection? Well, we’re just going to have to wait until later tonight to find out.
Believe it or not, Edward Mordrake was indeed a real person, and his incredibly strange story is pretty much word-for-word as it was described by a bearded Kathy Bates on the show. Here’s the true story of Mordrake, as outlined in the 1896 text Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine.
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 been 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, the whole story of Mordrake killing freak show performers and coming back from the dead on Halloween night is mere fiction, conjured up by American Horror Story‘s writers. But Edward Mordrake was real – and who knows, he may still be out there somewhere…