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Princess Caraboo (Mary Baker)
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    (November 11, 1792-December 24, 1864)
    Born in Devonshire, England, United Kingdom
    Birth name was Mary Willcocks
    Appeared in Almondsbury in Gloucestershire, wearing exotic clothes and speaking an incomprehensible language (April 3, 1817)
    Was in prison for vagrancy when a Portuguese sailor, Manuel Eynesso, arrived, said he could speak her language, and translated her story
    Identified herself as Princess Caraboo of Javasu, an island in the Indian Ocean
    Claimed to have been kidnapped by pirates, and to have jumped overboard in the Bristol Channel then swam ashore
    After her exposure, travelled to Philadelphia (June 28, 1817)
    Returned to England (1824)
    Married Richard Baker (1828)
    Died of complications from a fall
    She had a son out of wedlock (1816).
    Even before her imposture, people who knew her described her as ‘very eccentric.’
    She invented her own language using gypsy words and words she made up.
    After she was persuaded to write down a sample of her language, it was sent for analysis to Oxford, where an expert dismissed it as ‘humbug.’
    She was exposed when people from her past recognized her from newspaper articles describing the ‘Princess.’
    During her fifteen minutes of fame, she received gifts of clothes and jewels worth £10,000.
    Attempts to cash in on her notoriety by appearing on stage as Princess Caraboo in the US and England did not pan out.
    In her last years, she made a living selling leeches to hospitals.
    She was buried in an unmarked grave.
    Her son died at eight months of age.
    Her authenticity as a Princess was ‘confirmed’ by a local doctor who identified her language via Edmund Fry’s ‘Pantographia’ (a reference work containing all the known alphabets of the day) and stated that scars on the back of her head were the work of oriental surgeons. (Actually, they were a result of cupping – an operation that involved cutting the skin and applying a hot glass to draw out blood – performed in a London poorhouse.)
    A popular (if unlikely) story claimed that on her way to America, the boat stopped at St. Helena, where she so charmed the exiled Napoleon Bonaparte that he proposed marriage.
    P.T. Barnum noted that her job selling leeches was ‘not entirely without a metaphorical likeness to her earlier and more ambitious exploit.’
    She was portrayed by Phoebe Cates in the movie ‘Princess Caraboo’ (1994), which was Cates’ last leading role before she quit acting to raise a family.

Credit: C. Fishel

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