"You know... my father saw his double before he died."
My dad doesn't make many forays into the Creepy Corner, but now and again his stories are too strange to ignore. I've been chewing on this story for some weeks now, trying to remember the details, how my dad explained it. Though my dad is a bit more wary of the things my mom and my "ghost seeing eyes" spy from time to time, he is not without a few stories that "really give me goosebumps!", as he'd say while offering his arm for inspection.
While Mom and I may gab on and on about all things weird and wonderful, my dad usually sips his scotch interjecting, "Really? You're kidding... really?" or just shakes his head in wonder.
But sometimes, Dad will lower his voice, drop his gaze, then look up at me with an eager glint in his eyes and say, "You know... I know something creepy that happened too."
I may have inherited a fascination with the paranormal, supernatural, and morbid from my mom, but there is not doubt that any sort of wide-eyed enthusiasm and coltish willingness to ask "What if?" comes from my dad.
And while Dad doesn't actively seek out the spooky things that I do, if someone has a story to tell, you'll never find a more open-hearted listener than my dad. The stories that stick with him, stick to his bones.
So when dad has a ghost story to tell, I listen.
"What do you mean, 'saw his double' Dad?"
"He saw a ghost that looked just like him." My usually fidgety dad (another trait I got from him) leveled his gaze at me, and for a time he was very still.
"You see, he was in the house [in Hong Kong] and he was walking through my room one day. I didn't live there at the time, but he was looking for something. Remember how my old room was connected to another room through a bathroom?"
Yes, wasn't the bathroom pink?
"Pink? Oh, I don't know, maybe. Anyway, he looked through the bathroom into that other room and saw someone who he thought was me in that room. He thought it was weird that I was home, but he called out, 'Hey, son!' anyway.
The guy in the other room I guess, turned toward my father, and it wasn't me. I had a mustache at the time, and this man didn't have a mustache. So my father walked toward him, calling out 'Hello?'"
He didn't think it was alarming that there might have been a strange man in his house?
"What? No. There were always strange people coming in and out of that house. You know how my mother was."
"So he walks toward the man, and when he gets close enough he stopped. He got really scared!"
"The man in the other room was him! I mean, the man was my father. My father was looking at himself!"
What did he do?
"Well, the man — I guess the double of my father — quickly walked out of the room into the hallway — remember the hallway where the phone was? The yellow one? The rotary phone with the –"
–Yes dad, I remember the phone, continue.
"Yeah, so the double walked out into the hallway. So my father walked around, through my bedroom door, to cut him off in the hallway, but when he got there, the hallway was empty. There was nobody there.
My father looked everywhere. In the kitchen, living room, his bedroom, out the front door, in the back yard, but there was no man around."
Did he ever see the man again?
"No, but I'll tell you... it really frightened him. He was a businessman, not superstitious, but this double made him very nervous. I don't know if it had anything to do with what he saw, but a year or so later, he died. I don't know much else, but I know that that ghost, that double, worried him."
What do you think, Dad?
"Oh, I don't know. But it's weird you know? What was the double of himself doing there? Was he warning himself? I don't know. But it really sends a chill down my spine."
And there my dad stopped. He just looked straight at me, still and stoic. Sometimes, when I look right at my dad, I feel like I'm looking at my own double, our features are so similar.
My dad didn't go into much more detail, but for a time after he told this story, there was tension in the room. His father's experience unsettled him.
Understandably so. Doppelgängers, from the German "double goer", have long thought to be portents of illness, death or misfortune. If one sees a doppelgänger, speaking to it should be avoided "at all costs".
Throughout history, myth, and legend such doubles of the living have been thought to be a number of things. Ghosts with malicious intent, demons taking on the physical appearance of the living (though in Christian belief, a demon can never properly take on the appearance of "God's creation" — there will always be something "off" about that double — keep your eyes peeled!), a glimpse into another plane of existence, or even a symptom of mental illness; all of these have been explanations for doppelgängers. Yet, to my knowledge, there is no real explanation.
As strange as these kinds of supposed ghosts are, a surprising number have been recorded throughout history. Among those who saw their spectral doubles are Percy Shelley (who was somewhat plagued by doppelgängers), 19th century French school teacher Emilie Sagée (whose class of 13 students witnessed her doppelgänger writing on the chalkboard next to her), and maybe most famously to Americans, Abraham Lincoln.
Abraham Lincoln saw his double while looking into a mirror. Supposedly a direct quote from Lincoln, recorded by the author Noah Brooks:
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.
Apparently Mary Todd Lincoln was also unsettled by this sighting. She worried that it meant her husband would be elected to a second term of office, but that he would not survive it to the end. We all know what happened to President Lincoln.
More recently, the YWCA in Alton, IL seems to have a rather notorious ghost/doppelgänger roaming its halls (I know we have some St. Louis area Creepy Corneristas out there). According to the St. Louis Paranormal Research Society, the Alton YWCA has had numerous reports of people having interactions with someone, only to find that that actual person was not in the building at the time.
Other instances have included walking and talking with an individual, only to encounter the real person elsewhere in the building. From the St. Louis Paranormal Research Society Facebook page:
During Halloween the workers and actors of the Apocalypse Haunted House built inside the Alton YWCA made several claims of seeing their fellow workers walking the halls, only to find out that they were not scheduled to work. An encounter that I had with the doppelganger was during an overnight investigation. I was walking through the Levis hallway with my dog Cody. I thought I was having a conversation with one of our tour guides Rivka. When I reached the central foyer on the second floor, Rivka was walking towards us from the main second floor hallway. She was coming in the opposite direction and from a different part of the building.
On another night after an investigation, Ken and me were wrapping up, closing doors, and shutting off lights. When we both thought we had seen someone on the main staircase, wearing a red and white shirt. It looked like the same shirt someone was wearing earlier who attended our overnight investigation, but we both saw that person leave. When we went up stairs to find the person, we noticed that all the doors that we had closed just minutes earlier were all open and a light in the dance studio was on. We went back, turned off the light, closed all the doors and searched the entire building for the person wearing the red and white shirt. After we were satisfied that there was no one in the building, we left. As we were driving away, Ken stopped his car and got out and started pointing at the second story windows of the dance studio. The light that we turned off earlier was back on. The doppelganger was definitely playing a game with us that night.
I admit I don't know much about the St. Louis Paranormal Research Society (anybody know more?), but these stories really hit the spooky sweet spot for me. Is someone screwing around with them? Or is there some strange ghosty stuff going on in Alton? (OK fine, Alton is always delightfully spooky!)
So what do you think Creepy Corneristas? Are doppelgängers some strange unearthly omen? A peek at another dimension? Ghosts just being ghosts? Or could they just be images conjured by a troubled mind?
Most importantly, have you, or anyone you know, ever encountered a doppelgänger? (I hope not. Be well Creepy Corneristas!)