6 Mysterious People of Unsolvable Mysteries

Occasionally, people will go down in history for some great deed or misdeed without anyone ever knowing who the hell they were. Some went out of their way to remain anonymous, others died before they could leave any contact information, and still others fell victim to the fact that we, as a species, really only started keeping reliable records about a hundred or so years ago. Which is too bad, because we would love to know the real identities behind …

6. The Man in the Iron Mask

Believe it or not, the bucket-headed French prisoner made famous by Leonardo DiCaprio in The Man in the Iron Mask (and, to a lesser extent, Alexandre Dumas) was actually a real person. Despite what the movies might have you believe, nobody has any goddamn idea who he was. We just know that he was apparently a high-level prisoner who for some mysterious reason had to have his head covered at all times in that iron helmet. Which is kind of bizarre, if you think about it.

It started in 1698, when a prisoner using the pseudonym Eustache Dauger (which on paper looks heroically similar to “Mustache Danger”) was transported to the Bastille, the 17th century French equivalent of a maximum security prison. He had already spent between two and three decades (old-timey records are, at best, imprecise) rotting in various jails across the country. According to legend, he showed up already locked in the iron mask (which looked like an Iron Man Mark I helmet) and was immediately tossed in a cell, forbidden to speak to anyone except to ask for food, water, or a pot to make poopies.

And … that’s all we know. Nobody discussed who the hell he was or what he had done or why he needed to be dressed like a very lazy knight. He was listed in the Bastille records as “Prisoner 64389000,” which, in addition to being difficult to fit into a song, is a completely sterile piece of information. He was forbidden to ever show his face to anyone, and some prisoners claimed he had two armed guards with him at all times should he ever try to take the mask off. In that event, we assume they would aim for his chest, or shove their musket barrels into his iron eyeholes.

Dauger (or whatever his name truly was) died in 1703, which, as keen-eyed readers may notice, means he sat in the Bastille with his head in a fucking crock pot for four dick-punching years. The subsequent 300 years have done nothing to uncover the mystery of his identity, either — there were few solid facts about the man to begin with, and three centuries of retellings laced with spirited embellishments have seriously diluted what little we had to go on.

The popular theory is that he was some kind of high-level political prisoner, hence the need to conceal his identity. However, nobody can quite agree on exactly who that famous inmate might have been, with some of the wilder guesses ranging from Oliver Cromwell’s son to the older brother of King Louis XIV himself (Dumas’ novelization of the DiCaprio movie is based on that second idea). All we really know about him is from letters written by the Bastille’s governor and from his fellow prisoners spreading the story, and those testimonies are contentious about whether his mask was even made of iron to begin with. To be fair, “The Man in the Black Velvet Vanity Veil” doesn’t carry quite the same level of mystery and intrigue.

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