This is one where we can’t be certain where the facts end and legend begins. Which makes it all more fun in the end, doesn’t it?
Tarrare—whether this was his real name or not is unknown—was born in 1772, and by the 1790s he was soldier in the French army. Tarrare was malnourished to look at him, scrawny and weak, with a ravenous appetite. He *wasn’t* underfed, though; quite the contrary. He ate like the proverbial horse, and when his rations weren’t enough to satisfy him, he’d go scavenging for more. (Sounds like me when I’ve had a blood sugar drop.)
As a child, Tarrare had been banished by his parents, who were unable to feed him. He took up with some carnies, his uncanny eating ability making him a major draw. Reportedly Tarrare could distend his lower jaw like a snake to swallow things too large to fit in his mouth otherwise, and he wasn’t at all picky about what he ate: rocks, garbage, cats and dogs. He would reportedly swell up like a pufferfish while he ate, only to shortly thereafter pass all of it through his system in the nearest privy. He was described as giving off a terrible stench, and not just during his visits to the bathroom. Supposedly Tarrare was used as a courier by the military, swallowing a container with a vital message sealed inside it. He was captured and tortured by the Prussians, though, and the message ended up being nothing but a decoy. After his military service, Tarrare turned to cannibalism, eating dead bodies and even stealing a baby from its cradle. He died a young man in 1798 of tuberculosis.
Just how much of this is true? We know that a man by that name did exist, and was renowned for his freakish appetite and eating abilities. The rest? It’s the stuff of legends.