The notion of the doppelgänger — the double of a living person — is among the more intriguing supernatural concepts portrayed in fiction and folklore. In fact, some maintain that the doppelgänger actually exists, and a few people even claim to have witnessed their own doppelgänger or that of others. And the doppelgängers in these cases don’t refer to simple human lookalikes, a modern usage of the word that has somehow evolved. Instead, the doppelgängers referred to here are paranormal entities — often times harbingers of misfortune, but sometimes, simply inexplicable lookalike apparitions.
Here are ten of the most mysterious and hair-raising claims of real-life doppelgängers:
10. Elizabeth I of England
From November 17, 1558 until her death in March 24, 1603, Queen Elizabeth I ruled England and Ireland with considerable effectiveness, even leading her kingdom to an impressive 1588 victory over the Spanish Armada. Despite her seeming resoluteness, however, Queen Elizabeth I was also quite emotional. The deaths of a relative and a friend in February of 1603 hit her hard, and by the following March, Elizabeth had fallen ill and was said to have developed a “settled and unremovable melancholy.” It was at this time that she was said to have been horrified by the sight of her doppelgänger, like a corpse — pale and motionless — on her bed. The Virgin Queen died shortly thereafter, but whether her passing was due to the fright she suffered or because she was already depressed to begin with has not fully been resolved.
9. Abraham Lincoln
According to the July 1865 issue of Harper’s Magazine, several credible personalities close to President Lincoln — including Noah Brooks (Lincoln’s journalist friend), John Hay (Lincoln’s secretary), and Ward Hill Lamon (Lincoln’s bodyguard) — had been told by the president that he had seen his doppelgänger on the night of his first presidential election. More specifically, Lincoln claimed that after a very busy election night, he was looking into a swinging glass and saw that his face, as reflected, “had two separate and distinct images, the tip of the nose of one being about three inches from the tip of the other.”
Lincoln also described one face to be paler than the other and said he had succeeded in seeing the vision one more time, but had failed in succeeding attempts. Even more eerily, upon telling his wife about what he had witnessed, Mary interpreted the two faces to be a sign that her husband was going to be elected president for a second time, while the pale face was an omen that he would not be able to live through his second term. And we all know just how accurate that prediction turned out to be.
8. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
A famous German statesman, von Goethe (1811-1833) was also a famous writer. Among his works was his autobiography, Dichtung und Wahrheit, which in English translates to Poetry and Truth. Near the end of Book XI of this work, he describes seeing his doppelgänger when he was about 22 years old.
Goethe wrote that when he was riding on horseback one day, he saw himself, also on horseback, but going in the opposite direction and wearing a gray suit that he had never seen before. Fast forward eight years, and Goethe had forgotten about the strange apparition. However, one day, he was surprised to find himself once again on the same road, but riding in the opposite direction and wearing the gray suit he had seen his doppelgänger wearing.
Yet another time, Goethe saw a doppelgänger, but on this occasion, that of his friend. The vision appeared to be walking on the street while inexplicably wearing one of Goethe’s gowns. Strangely, when Goethe arrived home, his friend was there and was wearing Goethe’s gown. Apparently, on the way to Goethe’s residence, the friend had been drenched by rain and decided to borrow a gown.
7. George Tryon
On June 22, 1893, Clementina Heathcote, the wife of Sir George Tryon, was hosting a party at the couple’s home in Eaton Square, London. On that night, Tyron, an accomplished vice-admiral of the British Royal Navy, was on the HMS Victoria off the coast of Syria. Strangely, guests at the party reported to have seen a uniformed and seemingly unearthly Tryon, walking down the staircase and going through the drawing room of the couple’s home before vanishing into a doorway. Alas, the doppelgänger turned out to be a bad omen as later that night, the HMS Victoria collided with another vessel, and Sir George Tryon, along with 357 other naval crewmen, sunk to their deaths.
6. Percy Bysshe Shelley
As well-known for being one of the finest English lyric poets as he was being the husband of Frankenstein author Mary Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) claimed to have met his doppelgänger in a nightmare. The vision occurred a week after Mary’s terrible miscarriage that nearly took her life. In the dream, Percy met his own figure walking at the terrace as it eerily asked him, “How long do you mean to be content?” A close friend, Jane Williams, likewise saw Percy’s doppelgänger a day before Percy grew ill one time. While Percy was nowhere near the area, his double passed by Jane’s window, a window which Percy had himself often walked by. But that time, the doppelgänger proceeded to a dead end and never came back.
5. John Donne
A Church of England cleric and English poet, John Donne (1572-1631) was said to have had a terrifying vision of a doppelgänger. The incident took place while he was visiting Paris. Donne had dined with a couple of friends and only he and one other friend later remained. Donne narrated to the friend, Sir Robert, that after the meal with their friends, he had seen his wife pass by him twice. Both times, her hair was down, and she carried a dead child in her arms. During the second appearance, she even stopped, looked Donne in the face, then vanished. Later that same night, unbeknownst to Donne, his wife gave birth to their stillborn daughter.
4. Guy de Maupassant
Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893) is today considered one of the fathers of the modern short story and among the genre’s finest writers. Strangely, near the end of his life, he was said to have had regular interactions with his doppelgänger. Accounts have it that the first encounter happened at a time when the author locked himself in his room to cure a case of writer’s block. It was during this period that Maupassant’s doppelgänger appeared to him and began to dictate the story of a copycat evil spirit who took the form of its human host and lived a separate life. At the end of the story, which was eventually published as The Horla, the spirit ended up driving its victim to insanity. Coincidentally (or maybe not so coincidentally), Maupassant later on ended up suffering from madness and suffering an early death.
3. Carne Rasch
One day at Parliament in 1905, MP Sir Gilbert Parker saw fellow MP Sir Frederick Carne Rasch in the venue. Parker knew that Rasch had been quite sick, so he told his friend, “Hope you are better.” However, Rasch remained perfectly still and acted as if he had heard nothing. Parker thought the lack of a reaction unusual, but even more inexplicably, when Parker turned back to take a second glance at Rasch, the man was gone. A search for Rasch in the corridors turned up empty for Parker. Mysteriously, later that day, Parker learned that Sir Henry Meyser-Thompson had likewise seen Rasch at the venue, as did several other MPs. Parker and Meyser-Thompson then theorized that Rasch must have already died and made one last ghostly appearance. But they were wrong: Rasch was indeed ill but not dying. In fact, Rasche went on to live until 1914 and died under ordinary circumstances.
2. Mary of Jesus of Ágreda
The doppelgänger case of María de Jesús de Ágreda (1602-1665) is an unusual one as she claimed that angels had made it possible for her to duplicate herself and perform the work of God in faraway places. All the while, Mary’s original self supposedly remained in a monastery at Ágreda. The most famous among the acts of María’s doppelgänger involved tribes in New Mexico. When missionaries reached the Indians, they were surprised that the natives were already practicing Catholics. The Indians pointed to a mysterious lady in blue as being responsible for giving them their Catholics symbols and teaching them about the faith. Upon investigating the story, some priests traced the woman to be Mary, who thereafter claimed to have performed the feat while remaining in the monastery the whole time. Mary was later investigated for practicing witchcraft, but after being cleared of the charges, her powers were even declared to be of divine origin.
1. Emilie Sagee
A discussion about doppelgängers can hardly be considered complete without the mention of Emilie Sagee as her case is so detailed, so strange, and corroborated by so many of the people she knew. In 1845, Emilie was teaching at an exclusive girls’ school in what is today known as Latvia when, in front of thirteen of her students, her doppelgänger appeared as if writing on the board just as Ms. Sagee was at that moment. A similar incident was repeated at dinner time when a seated Emilie had her double stand behind her and mimic her eating movements. In yet another incident, all 42 of the school’s students witnessed the strange phenomenon. Through a classroom window, the pupils saw Emilie working in the garden as her doppelgänger made itself visible in the teacher’s chair. Two brave students even tried to touch the apparition, allowing them to confirm that the doppelgänger could not be physically interacted with.
Scariest among the reported paranormal episodes, however, involved Ms. Sagee assisting a pupil, Antoine von Wrangel, as the student prepared to attend a party. When von Wrangel turned to admire herself in the mirror, she was shocked to see two Emilies attending to the hem of her dress, and she fainted on the spot. Eventually, the students’ parents were so disturbed by the strange stories that the school was forced to let Ms. Sagee go — the 19th time that she had lost her job due to the activities of her unexplained doppelgänger.
Black, J. B. (1945) , The Reign of Elizabeth: 1558–1603, Oxford: Clarendon, OCLC 5077207
The Autobiography of Wolfgang von Goethe. Translated by John Oxenford. Horizon Press, 1969. This example cited by Crowe in The Night-Side of Nature (1848).
Aubrey Nye. (2004). Mirror images: Is this a genetic link to spirit? AuthorHouse.
Christina Hole (1950). Haunted England: A survey of English ghost-lore. B. T. Batsford. pp. 21–22.
Betty T. Bennett. The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1980. Volume 1, page 245.
“The Sinking of the Don Juan” by Donald Prell, Keats-Shelley journal, Vol. LVI, 2007, pp 136–154
Mr. X. (1990, December 15). Unghostly apparition. Whig-Standard Magazine, 12(9): 6.