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Seeing Ourselves As Others See Us
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The Strange Doppelganger Effect

By James Donahue

Deeply embedded in the twisted fabric of conspiracy theories is the belief by some in the existence of doppelgangers.

A doppelganger, for those who are new to this concept, is a person that appears as an exact clone, or double to another. It is said that in this world of well over six billion humans, many, if not all of us have at least one double that could pass as the spitting image of ourselves.

We might have passed the story off as an urban myth had it not been for a strange experience shared a few years ago by both my wife and myself while shopping in a large and somewhat crowded Michigan store. While separated from each other, she and I both noticed a young woman who looked exactly like our daughter Susan, whom we had not seen in years.

My wife and I were so struck by this woman that we fought back an impulse to approach her and call her by name. We resisted, however, because we knew it was extremely unlikely that she would be the person she appeared to be. That was because Susan was living in Germany, on the other side of the world at the time. The other reason we held back was that even though there was eye contact, this woman showed no sign of recognition. Thus we must conclude that we crossed paths that day with Susan’s doppelganger.

The stories about doppelgangers, for those who dig into this issue, are legend. Both famous and infamous world leaders were said to have hired people to appear as themselves, especially during times of civil strife when their lives might be in danger.

Some believe Hitler had at least one, if not more doubles, and may not have been the man who died in the bunker under Berlin the day the Russian troops entered the city. A story persisted for many years that Hitler and many of the top German Nazi leaders escaped to South America at the end of the war. There was some truth to that story since Jewish hunters tracked many of these people down and dragged them back to Nuremberg to stand trial for war crimes. They never found Hitler, however.

Close examination of the photographs of former Iraqi Dictator Saddam Hussein has caused us to question whether the real Saddam was the man they hung at the end of a long and well publicized trial in Baghdad. Certain facial blemishes noticed on the ruler that stood brandishing a rifle on the balcony of one of Hussein’s many palaces during the height of his reign were not found on the man sitting in the courtroom. That Hussein, like Osama bin Laden, worked for the C.I.A., makes us wonder if the entire war against Iraq hasn’t been a sham, and that Hussein, like bin Laden, have both remained well protected by the powers manipulating this entire mess.

But that is a conspiracy road that can be explored at some other time.

Throughout history, it is said that kings, dictators and presidents have sought out and employed people that looked like them. Such people were trained in mannerisms and speech reflections so they could make public appearances, fill social demands and even give speeches on behalf of the leader. Like the food tester at the king’s banquet table, they also were on the front line in the event of an assassination attempt.

The word “doppelganger” is German and it means “double walker.” The word is strangely derived from a superstition that each person has a shadow self which can sometimes be seen by close friends or family. If the person saw his own doppelganger it was said to be a harbinger of death. Also in instances of bi-location, a person is believed to be able to project his or her double, known as a “wraith,” to a remote location.

We believe we have seen this accomplished during our time among the Native Americans in Arizona.

Carl Sandburg’s biography of Abraham Lincoln includes a strange account, reportedly told by Lincoln and confirmed by Mary Todd Lincoln, of the appearance of a double image of himself in a mirror on the night he was first elected to the presidency. Lincoln said he was extremely tired and had returned home to rest. When he looked into a bureau mirror across the room he saw a double image of himself. The second Lincoln was pale in comparison to his first image.

This phenomenon occurred twice more before the second image disappeared. Lincoln mentioned it to his wife who said she thought it was a sign that he would be elected to a second term, and that the death pallor meant that he would not live through his final term.

Among the other famous people who encountered their own doppelganger:

French writer Guy de Maupassant said he was haunted by his own doppelganger near the end of his life. One incident involved his double entering his room and sitting opposite to him, then dictating what Maupassant was writing.

John Donne, Sixteenth Century English poet, told of meeting his wife’s doppelganger while he was in Paris. She appeared to him with a newborn baby in her arms. Donne’s wife was pregnant at the time and was not in Paris with him. The baby was stillborn.

Another English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley met his doppelganger in Italy. He said the figure silently pointed toward the Mediterranean Sea. Not long after that, Shelley drowned in a sailing accident on the Mediterranean.

Queen Elizabeth I of England was said to have seen her doppelganger laid out on her bed shortly before her death.

Not all appearances by doppelgangers precede imminent death. The German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe told of meeting his doppelganger while riding his horse on the road to Drusenheim. His double approached him, riding in the opposite direction. It was dressed in a gray suit trimmed in gold. Eight years later, von Goethe found himself riding on the same road, in the opposite direction. He remembered the strange encounter and was even more shocked to realize that he was wearing the very gray suit trimmed in gold that he had seen. Had he experienced some kind of time dimensional shift?

Yet another astounding doppelganger appearance was reported by Robert Dale Owen, who was told the story by Julie von Guldenstubble, one of about 13 former students of French school teacher Emilie Sagee in the year 1845-46. She said this teacher’s double would constantly make appearances in the classroom and on school grounds, often mimicking whatever Sagee was doing. At other times it moved independently of Sagee, and also appear motionless. At one time when the apparition was seated motionless in a chair, and the students could clearly observe Sagee in the school yard, one student approached the image and tried to touch it. The student could pass through without resistance.

Some conspiracy theorists go even deeper in this quagmire of stories, saying that scientists have long ago discovered methods of replicating human bodies. They believe all U.S. presidents since at least Jimmy Carter have had cloned doubles of themselves and that when powerful leaders are seen in public, they are rarely the real thing.

There also are stories of humanoid robots that look and act so real, they also can mimic the real person. We believe that is carrying this doppelganger effect tale a bit too far away from anything resembling reality. But then, with the robotic work occurring these days in Japan and China, who knows what might be coming in the near future.