Monday, February 25, 2013

Peter the Feral Boy

Feral Boy? What does that even mean? I have only heard of feral cats. Mangy, unfriendly, wild animals. That's exactly what Peter the 'Wild Boy' was. He was found in his early teens, abandoned in a forest near Hanover, Germany in 1724. Peter was naked, disheveled and walking on all fours. A real life Mowgli, Jungle Book style.

First off, kind of crazy that he was found outside the town that the Pied Piper legend is from. The piper was a man, dressed in multicolored clothes, who led children away from the town, never to return. Anyways...

Peter said few words, and would respond to the name 'Peter,' which was adopted as his name. Unable to speak, Peter peaked the interest of George I of Hanover. He took the boy to England, where he quickly became a novelty in court. He was amused by simple things and attempted pickpocketing on numerous occasions. All efforts to teach him to read, write and speak failed.

Recently, it was discovered that Peter had Pitt-Hopkins syndrome, a chromosomal disorder that was only recently identified in 1978. There is one portrait of Peter where his features are attributed to the disease. A Cupid's bow mouth, short stature, fused fingers and drooping eyelids are all key symptoms of the syndrome. The portrait is in a stairwell at Kensington Palace. Peter is depicted wearing a green coat, holding acorns and oak leaves, symbolic of him living in the forest.

His behavior became well known and his fame spread. He became the subject of satires by Jonathan Swift (The Most Wonderful Wonder that ever Appeared to the Wonder of the British Nation) and Daniel Defoe and a wax figure of him was exhibited.

His popularity eventually waned and he was sent to labor at a farm in Hertfordshire under the care of a guardian. He was forced to wear a collar after he escaped once.

Peter lived to the age of 72 and is buried at St. Mary's Church under a gravestone paid by the local people. The gravestone is in wonderful condition and was in the news a few days ago, as it was upped to a Grade II stature. What is a Grade II stature for those of you not in the UK?

There are three types of listed status for buildings in England and Wales:
Grade I: of exceptional interest
Grade II: particularly important of more than special interest
Grade III: of special interest, warranting every effort to preserve them

Congrats Pete. Movin' on up.

Heritage minister, Ed Vaizey says: "Peter the Wild Boy's story is both extremely interesting and at the same time poignant and unsettling. It also reminds of how far public attitudes to disability have changed." Tony Calladine, of English Heritage, said: "This is a fascinating story of a significant figure in the country's history of disability." The intrigue of Peter the Wild Boy arises public interest as much as it did in Georgian England.

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