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Doppelgangers – our mysterious evil twin (everybody has one).

Barack Obama doppelganger Ilham Anas

Doppelgangers

Creepy doppelgängers (twins)

You can’t be in two places at the same time. Or can you? Some believe that each of us has a “doppelganger”, an exact duplicate or ghostly twin that occasionally stalks its better half.

German for “double walker”, doppelgangers (also called “Fetches”) rarely appear side-by-side with heir counterpart but often conduct the same affairs as their counterpart including visiting and talking with family and friends. It is believed that the only time a doppelganger appears with its counterpart is when a person is deathly ill or shortly before a person dies.

Doppelgangers differ only slightly from the related phenomena called “bilocation”. In instances of “bilocation”, a person can either spontaneously or willingly project his or her double, known as a “wraith,” to a remote location. This double is indistinguishable from the real person and can interact with others just as the real person would.

Famous real-life doppelganger cases

The Dr. Wynn Westcott Doppelganger

William Wynn Westcott

On April 12, 1888, in the British Museum of London, a doppelganger report created quite a stir with local patrons. Dr. Wynn Westcott and Reverend W.T. Lemon were scheduled to meet in the reading room of the museum. Reverend Lemon arrived a few minutes late and noticed Dr. Westcott was involved in a deep conversation with a common friend, Mrs. Salmon. Mrs. Salmon politely excused herself and walked over to the good Reverend to greet him. She turned and pointed back at Dr. Westcott, indicating his presence to the Reverend when she was astounded to see that he had vanished.

She and the Reverend inquired at the receptionist desk by the door of the library room, where they were told that yes, Dr. Westcott had entered the room but had not left. The room had only a single entrance – there was no other way out of the room.

Puzzled, Mrs. Salmon and Reverend Lemon asked several other persons in the room and received the same inscrutable response – they had all seen him, but nobody had seen him leave the room. Stunned and a bit worried, they trekked to the Doctors home to see if his family knew where he had gone. They were surprised to find that the Doctor had been in bed all day, sick and ill with a fever, and had not left the house.

The Dr. Wynn Wescott incident is a typical scenario for doppelganger reports. The doppelganger had appeared in his twin’s place, talked, and interacted with his friends, and appeared at a time when his counterpart was in another location and terribly ill. It’s a behavior seen with doppelgangers time and time again.

Abraham Lincoln – doppelganger in the mirror

Abraham Lincoln and a blurred copy

Abraham Lincoln’s autobiography contains an ominous doppelganger appearance. A dream or illusion had haunted Lincoln at times through the winter. On the evening of his election, he had thrown himself on one of the haircloth sofas at home, just after the first telegrams of November 6 had told him he was elected President and looking into a bureau mirror across the room he saw himself full length, but with two faces.

It bothered him; he got up; the illusion vanished; but when he lay down again there in the glass again were two faces, one paler than the other. He got up again, mixed in the election excitement, forgot about it; but it came back, and haunted him for several weeks. He told his wife about it; she worried too.

A few days later he tried it once more and the illusion of the two faces again registered in his eyes. But that was the last; the ghost since then wouldn’t come back, he told his wife, who said it was a sign he would be elected to a second term, and the death pallor of one face meant he wouldn’t live through his second term.

This story is adapted from Washington in Lincoln’s Time (1895) by Noah Brooks, who claimed that he had heard it from Lincoln himself on 9 November 1864, at the time of his re-election. He also claimed that the story was confirmed by Mary Todd Lincoln, and partially confirmed by Private Secretary John Hay (who thought it dated from Lincoln’s nomination, not his election). Brooks’s version is as follows (in Lincoln’s own words):

It was just after my election in 1860, when the news had been coming in thick and fast all day and there had been a great “hurrah, boys,” so that I was well tired out, and went home to rest, throwing myself down on a lounge in my chamber. Opposite where I lay was a bureau with a swinging glass upon it (and here he got up and placed furniture to illustrate the position) and looking in that glass I saw myself reflected nearly at full length; but my face, I noticed had two separate and distinct images, the tip of the nose of one being about three inches from the tip of the other. I was a little bothered, perhaps startled, and got up and looked in the glass, but the illusion vanished. On lying down again, I saw it a second time, plainer, if possible, than before; and then I noticed that one of the faces was a little paler — say five shades — than the other. I got up, and the thing melted away, and I went off, and in the excitement of the hour forgot all about it — nearly, but not quite, for the thing would once in a while come up and give me a little pang as if something uncomfortable had happened. When I went home again that night I told my wife about it, and a few days afterward I did the experiment again, when (with a laugh), sure enough! the thing came back again; but I never succeeded in bringing the ghost back after that, though I once tried very industriously to show it to my wife, who was somewhat worried about it. She thought it was a “sign” that I was to be elected to a second term of office, and that the paleness of one of the faces was an omen that I should not see life through the last term.

Whether Lincoln’s experience was a vivid prophecy, a doppelganger, or something altogether is difficult to ascertain.  Doppelgangers are difficult to “fit into a box”, sometimes appearing before or after a person’s life, sometimes side-by-side, and other times as ghostly apparitions that merely flitter by never to be seen again.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe meets… himself?

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The famous German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe believes he met his doppelganger on more than one occasion. In one instance, Goethe was riding his horse, contemplating a painful breakup with his girlfriend. He saw a man approaching him on another horse. As he drew closer, he recognized the man as an older version of himself. The figure “faded”, and Goethe soon forgot all about it.

Several years later, Goethe was riding down the same footpath (but in the opposite direction) when he saw a man drawing near on a horse. The man looked identical to Goethe except younger. It occurred to Goethe that the clothes he was wearing that day were identical to the clothes his doppelganger wore several years prior.

In another instance, Goethe saw his friend, Friedrich, walking down the street. Oddly, his friend was wearing Goeth’s dressing gown. Goethe thought about the strangeness of the encounter as he walked home. When he walked through the door of his home, he saw that very same friend sitting in the living area wearing Goeth’s dressing gown. The friend explained that he had been caught in the rain and borrowed Goeth’s gown while he waited for his clothes to dry.

Mary Shelly recounts story Percy Bysshe Shelley doppelganger

Percy Bysshe Shelley saw his doppelgänger more than once
Percy Bysshe Shelley saw his doppelgänger more than once throughout his life, including soon before his death in 1822

On 8 July 1822, English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned in the Bay of Spezia near Lerici. On 15 August, while staying at Pisa, Mary Shelley (Percy’s wife and author of Frankenstein) wrote a letter to Maria Gisborne in which she relayed Percy’s claims to her that he had met his own doppelgänger. According to Mary, in the early hours of 23 June, Percy had had a nightmare about the house collapsing in a flood, and

“… talking it over the next morning he told me that he had had many visions lately — he had seen the figure of himself which met him as he walked on the terrace & said to him — “How long do you mean to be content” — No very terrific words & certainly not prophetic of what has occurred. But Shelley had often seen these figures when ill; but the strangest thing is that Mrs. Williams saw him.

Now Jane though a woman of sensibility, has not much imagination and is not in the slightest degree nervous — neither in dreams or otherwise. She was standing one day, the day before I was taken ill, at a window that looked on the Terrace with Trelawny — it was day — she saw as she thought Shelley pass by the window, as he often was then, without a coat or jacket — he passed again — now as he passed both times the same way — and as from the side towards which he went each time there was no way to get back except past the window again (except over a wall twenty feet from the ground) she was struck at seeing him pass twice thus and looked out and seeing him no more she cried — “Good God can Shelley have leapt from the wall? Where can he be gone?” Trelawny replied — “No Shelley has past — What do you mean?” Trelawny says that she trembled exceedingly when she heard this, and it proved indeed that Shelley had never been on the terrace and was far off at the time she saw him.”

The Intriguing case of Emilie Sagee

General Douglas MacArthur and Bruce Willis doppelganger
General Douglas MacArthur and actor Bruce Willis

One of the most well documented cases of a doppelganger is the case of Emilie Sagee, a French woman who had lost 18 jobs in 16 years because of her evil twin. Emilie had taken a job at an exclusive school for the daughters of nobility where she became immensely popular with the students. Before long, however, rumors began to circulate that Emilie could be in two places at the same time.

Students claimed that during a French lesson, Emilie had been at the front of the class writing the lesson on the blackboard. With her back toward the children, an exact duplicate of her appeared about three feet from her. Mimicking her every move, the doppelganger appeared as an exact twin, dress and all, except the doppelgangers writing movements on the board produced no text because there was no chalk in her hand. Students also told stories of Emilie’s doppelganger roaming the school halls while Emilie was in her room fast asleep.

In another instance, witnessed by nearly 50 people, the students were intently working in their sewing class while another teacher sat at the front of the room reading a book. Outside the window, the students could see Emilie working in the garden. The supervising teacher stood up and left the room. Seconds later, Emilie walked in and sat down in the empty chair. Students thought nothing of it until one gasped and pointed out the window where Emilie was still working diligently in the garden.

John Travolta historical doppelganger
1860s Ambrotype of a man who looks identical to actor John Travolta

Two of the students stood and approached the doppelganger and being quite brave, reached out and touched it. They said it looked just like Emilie Sagee in all aspects except when they ran their hands through the entity, they said it felt empty, “like the stuff cobwebs are made of”.

Later Emilie Sagee told school officials that she indeed had been outside picking flowers in the garden. She had not seen the doppelganger (in fact, Emilie never once saw her twin) but had in fact, wished to herself that she was in the classroom supervising the sewing class. School officials noted in their documentation that each time the doppelganger appeared to them, the real Emilie appeared lethargic and listless. Parents complained about the ghost and Emilie was summarily dismissed from her job.

According to psychical researchers, ghosts of the living are the commonest type of apparition, a claim that was backed up by a report carried out in November 1994 by the British Journal of Psychiatry, which examined fifty-six doppelganger episodes that year, including the case of a pilot who saw himself several yards away for a full ten minutes.  Some believe that cases such as this are some sort of rare “dimensional shift” of time and space.

Image Credits

Percy Bysshe Shelley saw his doppelgänger more than once via Recount and Reveal with usage type - Public Domain
William Wynn Westcott via Wikipedia Commons with usage type - Public Domain
General Douglas MacArthur and Bruce Willis doppelganger via Pinterest
John Travolta historical doppelganger via History 101 with usage type - Fair use with modification
Barack Obama doppelganger Ilham Anas via The Guardian by Reuters

Featured Image Credit

Barack Obama doppelganger Ilham Anas via The Guardian by Reuters
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