the strange case of Karolina Olsson who slept for 32 years

The “sleeping Beauty” It is one of the many fantasies created by literature and cinema whose protagonist is a sweet and tender princess, whose dream manages to be interrupted when she sees the man of her life, Prince Charming. It can take days, weeks and even years for her to wake up and find love.

In reality there is a different story, that of Karolina Olsonwhom they called the ‘Sleeper of Oknö‘. She did not ‘fall asleep’ waiting for her fiancé; lay in bed for 32 years in a psychiatric case that monopolized medical analyzes during the XIX and XX centuries, in Sweden.

Caroline grew up on the island OK no, south of Sweden. It was a small territory, in which a little less than 20 people lived, including the little girl and her family dedicated to fishing. Hence his adventurous spirit that Bo Holmesdet, one of the neighbors, noted.

“One day I went down the stairs of my house and I saw a girl stepping on a snake. (…) It was Karolina, who took her with a shovel, she walked to the anthill on the other side of the house and threw her dead”, Holmesdet mentioned in one of the sections of her autobiographical notes.

She didn’t seem to be afraid of anything and it was common to see her playing. However, prior to Christmas 1875 she was ‘paralyzed’: At the age of 14, he fell asleep.

No one could get her out of bed and, given the strangeness, the first doctor who saw her said that she was “a cheater, rejected at first communion, who had gone to bed to pretend to be sick,” reads a press release from the media local ‘SvD Kultur’.

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That is to say: it was initially thought that because she had not been able to make her first communion, she decided to get away from everyone and “attract attention” by lying down for a couple of days. Only that the hours passed and passed and she did not react. She gave him a toothache

“She fell and hit her head on the ice” or “she had a toothache and got sick”, were some of the explanations heard by Marianne Nilsson, a relative of Karolina, throughout the 32 years in which she was absent from reality.

The Olsson family, of which she was the second among six children, tried everything in their power, if not everything, since the resources of the time were limited. For example, she was taken to the hospital in 1892 in the hope that the electric shocks would cause even the slightest movement in her body. It was not so.

The doctors, according to press reports, did not know what was wrong with him. She was discharged after a month from the Oskarshamn hospital facility with a diagnosis that her relatives did not understand.

She was labeled with paralytic dementia or general paralysis. Such disease, according to the United States Library of Medicine, is caused by the syphilis bacterium that attacks the brain and nervous system until the person presents problems with memory, language, reasoning and personality changes.

That is known today, but for that 1892, the information was almost nil. So no one questioned why that diagnosis if she didn’t have any of those conditions. She simply ‘she was dominated’. She was not responding, supposedly, to any stimulus.

“When people found out about Karolina, they treated her with doubt and contempt. She was protected for many years in the room of her little cabin; the visitors did not even notice that she was bedridden, ”said Nilsson, her relative, for the medium ‘SvD Kultur’.

The secret of mother and daughter

The young woman’s mother died in 1905. It is said that something strange happened that day and was joined by other unusual events for a person who was ‘asleep’, as he was heard crying and lamenting at the departure of his mother. The same thing happened in 1907 when one of her brothers drowned.

Three years later, in 1908, he fully opened his eyes. She spoke, she moved and not because a prince charming had kissed her. Such an event made everyone close to her happy, who, according to Nilsson, celebrated as if it were an important holiday. It could be the vindication of that last Christmas of 1875, in which she was supposedly quiet.

“When Karolina woke up she was 46 years old, but she looked 25”, wrote the reporters at the time, as they were surprised that the woman did not have wrinkles. She was like intact.

The case caught the attention of Harald Fröderström, a psychiatrist, who packed his bags and went to the remote Swedish island in 1910 to chat with her, her father, her brothers and their acquaintances. He compiled everything in scientific articles, thanks to which he tried to find out the truth.


The psychiatrist concluded that the mother overprotected her. Before going to bed, the girl had started going to school several kilometers from the cabin. One day she came home from class with her brothers and told her that her teeth hurt. She had a general malaise. However, it was nothing.

Fröderström learned that Karolina was facing her first menstruation. Her mother decided to keep her at home and prevent something bad from happening to her outside just as her body was undergoing hormonal changes.

“Countless mothers have been guilty thanks to the strange mix of irrational giving and selfishness of mother love. It is also not an unreasonable idea to say that she, with respect to her own experiences during her own upbringing, would want to protect her daughter or, in other words, protect her from the temptations and evil of life, ”said the expert. in your articles.

How did he survive in hiding?

With the psychiatric study, it was learned that the only person who entered the room was the mother. He probably fed her and chatted with her. This is how the years went by: she ‘asleep’ and her mother awake. But the father did remember that there were days when he would hear her say ‘Jesus, have mercy on me’.

When her mother died, Karolina was cared for by a housekeeper, who said that when she left the house she noticed that the woman made sounds, as if she was getting up to carry out her basic activities: eating and going to the bathroom.

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His awakening was described as a ‘miracle’, but for Fröderström it was something that had been happening before. Only that his relatives were silent. He diagnosed her with a catatonic stupor that, according to specialized portals, is based on the fact that the individual moves away from everything, remains silent and becomes negativistic.

It is not yet clear why he did it and from whom or what things he wanted to escape. Or why his mother gave him shelter for so many years. Karolina Olsson is known to have died in 1950 of a stroke. She left without much explanation.

“She carried a secret: she took it to the grave,” concluded her relative Marianne Nilsson.

*The Grupo de Diarios América (GDA), to which EL UNIVERSAL belongs, is a leading media network founded in 1991 that promotes democratic values, an independent press and freedom of expression in Latin America through quality journalism for our audiences.

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