House of Perfectly Reasonable Explanations: “Mysterious Princess!”

I thought I’d try something a bit different for my mid-week update.I’ve been re-reading old issues of DC’s anthology horror comic House of Mystery, and I’m fascinated by the odd half-page stories they inserted as filler between stories. Take this one from #6, for example…

house_of_mystery_006_19

Rather an odd story, right? Something like that defies explanation, doesn’t it? Well, it turns out it doesn’t.

The first two panels of this retelling are mostly true, but Caraboo was first arrested and jailed for vagrancy before becoming the darling of the local middle class, and her dialect was eventually deciphered by a Portuguese sailor, who claimed she was a Javanese princess who escaped a pirate ship by jumping overboard and swimming the Bristol Channel to England.

What DC Comics failed to mention was that “Caraboo” was eventually unmasked as a cobbler’s daughter from Devon named Mary Willcocks, who’d cobbled her fake language together from Gypsy words and nonsense she’d made up. As you can imagine, the press had a field day, mocking the gullible gentry for being taken in by a mere slip of a girl.

Still stinging from their humiliation, the Worralls paid her passage to America, where she attempted to make a living on the stage as “Princess Caraboo” in Philadelphia for 7 years, to little success. Far from vanishing off the face of the earth, she went back to England, once again plying her “Princess Caraboo” act in London (one wonders what the act could have consisted of, given that the game was well and truly up). Again, she wasn’t a box-office hit.

In a sense, Mary did disappear; she married, settled down, died on Christmas Eve 1864, and was mostly forgotten about until DC dredged up the whole sorry incident with a gallon of half-truths to wash it down. There is something about her story that has fascinated people over the past 25 years or so to some degree; she has inspired a novel, a film (complete with a love interest who didn’t actually exist, because that’s how Hollywood works) and even a musical. Not bad for a baker’s daughter from Witheridge…

For a far more informative summary of this interesting hoax, click here.

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