A Brief History
On October 22, 2014 and again on October 29, 2014, the FX channel television production American Horror Story: Freak Show features a two-faced character based on an alleged real-life human freak named Edward Mordrake.
With actor Wes Bentley portraying the unfortunate, two-faced man, the show takes us back to 1952 in Jupiter, Florida where a troupe of human freaks is assembled as a carnival sideshow. If you have ever seen the iconic 1932 film Freaks, you might know that by that time in history, the public was beginning to not take too kindly to deformed humans being displayed as freaks and that the days of freak shows were rapidly coming to an end.
On the television show, Bentley plays a bitter man bent on revenge, a dangerous character. In real life, Mordrake was apparently an Englishman. There is little actual biographical information available on him, but he is said to have lived in the 1800s and to have been of noble blood.
The unlucky man was born with a terrible condition known as Diprosopus, where he had a vestigial face located on the back of his head that could neither speak nor eat but could laugh and cry. People suffering from this condition may have a complete duplicate face or just a partial face of perhaps only a nose or an eye.
A similar condition where the afflicted person might appear to have two faces is Craniopagus parasiticus, in which a parasitic head is actually growing out of the person’s (main) head. As the two heads cannot always be discerned from one another, this might also give the appearance of having two faces.
In the case of Edward Mordrake, he is said to have been horrified by his condition and to have repeatedly pleaded with doctors to remove the extra face, which they invariably refused to do, fearing the surgery would kill him. Mordrake complained that the rear-facing face whispered to him at night and made it difficult for him to sleep. Having to bear the “demon face” was too much for the unhappy Mordrake, and he is said to have committed suicide at age 23.
It is not clear if Edward Mordrake is absolutely real for sure or if he is a composite of the other rare people who have suffered from this condition. Either way, knowing that such deformities exist can cause a person to feel fortunate to have avoided the very slim chance that it could have happened to them. If you think such a fate is farfetched, think about your odds when buying Mega Millions or Power Ball lottery tickets; your odds of possibly having been born with two-faces and ending up on a freak show were better!
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For more information, please see…
Bogdan, Robert. Freak Show: Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit. University of Chicago Press, 1990.
Browning, Tod, dir. Freaks. WarnerBrothers, 2005. DVD.