You can’t be in two places at the same time. Or can you? Many believe that each of us has a "doppelganger", an exact duplicate or ghostly twin, that occasionally stalks its better half. Doppelgangers, or "Fetches", commonly appear when a person is deathly ill or shortly before a person dies. German for "double walker", doppelgangers 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. 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.
The Dr. Wynn Wescott Doppelganger
On April 12 1888, in the British Museum of London, a doppelganger report created quite a stir with local patrons of the museum. Dr. Wynn Wescott 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. Wescott 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. Wescott, 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. Wescott 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 doppelganger report is typical. The doppelganger had appeared in his twin’s place, talked and interacted with his friends, and appeared at a time when his twin was in another location and very ill.
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. 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 to 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 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, and that he had printed an account "directly after." 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 made 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.
Percy Bysshe Shelley
On 8 July 1822, Percy Bysshe Shelley, English poet, drowned in the Bay of Spezia near Lerici. On 15 August, while staying at Pisa, Mary Shelley wrote a letter to Maria Gisborne in which she relayed Percy's claims to her that he had met his own doppelgänger. A week after Mary's nearly fatal miscarriage, 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 & 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 & looked out & seeing him no more she cried — "Good God can Shelley have leapt from the wall? Where can he be gone?" Shelley, said Trelawny — "No Shelley has past — What do you mean?" Trelawny says that she trembled exceedingly when she heard this & it proved indeed that Shelley had never been on the terrace & was far off at the time she saw him.
The Intriguing case of Emilee Sagee
One of the most 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. Emilee had taken a job at an exclusive school for the daughters of nobility where she became very 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, Emilee 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 3 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 Emilee’s doppelganger roaming the school halls while Emilee was in her room fast asleep.
In another instance, witnessed by nearly 50 persons, 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 Emilee working in the garden. The supervising teacher stood up and left the room. Seconds later, Emilee walked in and sat down in the empty chair. Students thought nothing of it until one gasped and pointed out the window where Emilee was still working diligently in the garden. Two of the students stood and approached the doppelganger and being quite brave, reached out and touched it. They said it looked just like Emilee 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 Emilee Sagee had told school officials that she indeed had been outside picking flowers in the garden. She had not seen the doppelganger (in fact, Emilee 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 Emilee appeared lethargic and listless. Parents complained about the ghost and Emilee 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 off Psychiatry, which examined 56 doppelganger episodes that year, including the case of a pilot who saw himself several years away for a full ten minutes.
Many think that a person is able to "will" his image to another location, a form of bilocation – being in two places simultaneously.
Many famous people have reportedly met their own doppelganger including Percy Shelley, Abraham Lincoln, and Queen Elizabeth I of England.
Queen Elizabeth I saw her doppelganger laid out on her bed right before her death.
Author Guy de Maupassant asserted that he was haunted by his double at the end of his life. Once, while writing a story, the double actually came into the room, sat down opposite de Maupassant, and began to dictate. This experience is recounted in his story "Lui."
Another writer, the 16th century English poet, John Donne, claims to have been visited by his wife’s doppelganger. His wife’s look alike materialized to him in Paris. She was holding a small baby, but her demeanor was of great sadness. Donne later discovered his pregnant wife had given birth to a stillborn baby.
Poets seem to have either encountered doppelgangers more often than most, or related the tales of these encounters more than others. The poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe of Germany alleges that he met his own double riding toward him (dressed in a gold-trimmed gray suit) while traveling on a road to Drusenheim. Almost a decade later, Goethe was on the same road, traveling in the opposite direction, wearing a gray suit trimmed in gold.
Long before they were called Doppelgänger, the Vikings (1200-1800) recognized these entities as vardøger, ghostly beings that preceded their living counterparts, taking their places at various activities.
In Germany, the word is capitalized and spelled Doppelgäenger although the rest of the world has put the word in lower case and dropped the umlaut from the "a" as well as the second "e". The German definition "double goer" was meant to describe a person who had the apparent ability to be in two places at once.2
Doppelgänger are mostly the product of fiction, holding a prominent place in ancient legends, mythology, and in books by various authors such as, Fyodor Dostoevsky, William Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Edgar Allen Poe, and Charles Dickens. Generally considered as omens of bad luck or even signs of impending death, those who try to communicate with their own Doppelgänger are regarded as foolhardy and ill fated.3
In one Danish legend, a blacksmith spots a troll abducting a pregnant woman. Using a hot iron from his forge, the blacksmith scares the troll away and brings the woman into his home. Almost immediately, the woman gives birth to twins and the blacksmith hastens to tell her husband the news about the woman's rescue and the birth of her newborn children. However, on entering her home, the blacksmith finds the woman's husband in bed with her Doppelgänger. The heroic blacksmith kills the imposter and reunites the man with his true family.4
People from the Orkney Islands feared fairies and called them "trows", ugly, impish little creatures whose children were apt to be sickly. Pregnant women were carefully guarded from the trows who would often steal healthy human babies and replace them with "stocks", exact replicas of the children.5
Ancient folklore and mythology portrays the Doppelgänger as an entity that casts no shadow and has no reflection. They are also known as "evil twins" and often have sinister motives and while most Doppelgänger cases are fiction, several real-life cases are noteworthy. Among them, one in which the Doppelgänger did cast a reflection.
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