Miracle Max: He probably owes you money huh? I’ll ask him.
Inigo Montoya: He’s dead. He can’t talk.
Miracle Max: Whoo-hoo-hoo, look who knows so much. It just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there’s usually only one thing you can do.
Inigo Montoya: What’s that?
Miracle Max: Go through his clothes and look for loose change.
(The Princess Bride)
It sucks to be mostly dead when you have unfinished business to attend to. That sort of oversight leads to hauntings and other preternatural tantrums once you’re technically “all dead”. Imagine you’re lying in bed, surrounded by loved ones, whiling away the time until the Grim Reaper arrives to carry off your mortal soul, and gosh darn it, you forgot to pick up the nice memento you ordered for the family to remember you by. Obviously, your communication skills are lacking as you slip into that final coma, which makes it difficult to send one of those concerned nieces or nephews around the corner to retrieve it. Sadly, you missed school on the day they were teaching about astral projection, and as organs start to fail, neurons stop firing, and the heart is a mere flutter rather than a beat, you’re clearly running out of options. It’s times like these when it’s handy to have a doppelganger.
Now, I don’t have any recommendation on how to secure oneself the services of a doppelganger, so check with an occult store near you. I’m sure somebody left a card or tacked up a flyer. Doppelgangers aren’t usually gainfully employed, so they have to hustle. What I can do, is describe for you an instance where a doppelganger made themselves useful. Let’s set the scene. Photographer James Dickinson had just arrived at his relatively new studio storefront on 43 Grainger Street, Newcastle, a few minutes before 8 A.M. on January 3rd, 1890. The young lad who usually opened up was sick, so it fell to Dickinson to get the shop ready for business. Right away, a gentleman arrived to inquire if his photographs were finished. Dickinson himself was interviewed by Victorian pioneer of investigative journalism William Thomas Stead, and captured the tale in Dickinson’s own words.
He was a stranger to me. He came into the room and came up to the counter in the ordinary way. He was wearing a hat and overcoat, and there was nothing unusual about his appearance excepting that he did not seem very well. He said to me, ‘Are my photographs ready?’ I said, ‘Who are you? We are not opened yet’. He said his name was Thompson. I asked him if he had the receipt (which usually accompanies any inquiry), and he replied that he had no receipt, but his photograph was taken on December 6th and that the prints were promised to be sent to him before this call. I then asked him whether it was a cash order or a subscription one. The reason for asking this is because we have two books in which orders are entered. He said he had paid for them at the time; his name would therefore be in the cash orders. Having got the date and his name, I referred to my book, and found the order as he stated. I read out to him the name and address, to which he replied, ‘That is right’. Here is an exact copy of the entry in the order book: ‘Sat., Dec. 6th, 1890. Mr. J. S. Thompson, 154, William Street, Hebburn Quay’. The above was written in pencil ; on the margin was written in ink, ‘Dec. 16,’ which, is the date on which the negative came to the office, named and numbered, and ready to go to the printers (Stead, 1921, p212-213).
Unfortunately, it appeared that Mr. Thompson’s photographs had not yet been printed, but Dickinson assured him that if he would simply call again later that day, he would be certain to procure some of his photographs. Mr. Thompson “weariedly and rather impatiently declined, when he said he could not call again”, and abruptly left, ignoring Dickinson’s shouted offers to put them in the mail. Well, this episode had Dickinson rather discombobulated as he was loathe to lose the good-will of a client, thus he resolved to have the matter investigated by his brightest employee, a certain Miss Simon.
He then wrote a memorandum that the prints were to be posted. At nine o’clock when his lady clerk, Miss Simon arrived he handed her the memorandum, and asked her to put the prints in hand at once, as the man was in a hurry. She then told him that an old man (Thompson’s father) had called the previous day, Friday, and asked for these very photographs and that he had seemed much disappointed not to get them. Mr. Dickinson then asked for the negative, and on looking at it immediately recognized his caller of an hour before (Holms, 1927, p460).
Mr. Dickinson and Miss Simon resolved to expedite the processing of Mr. Thompson’s negatives, but in their rush to extricate the particular negatives from the stack of work to be processed, managed to accidentally drop them (negatives at the time were glass plates). The negatives were broken and ruined, but Dickinson was a proud professional, and quickly drafted a letter asking Mr. Thompson, profusely apologizing, and offering another sitting free of charge as recompense. On Friday, January 9th, Miss Simon summoned Mr. Dickinson to the front office, as a certain Mr. Thompson had arrived and was inquiring about the photographs. Dickinson was shocked when he was then faced with an elderly gentleman (Thompson’s father), who had previously called on Friday, as reported by Miss Simon, whereas the younger Thompson had visited on Saturday. Thompson’s father pointed out that at the time of his son’s ostensible Saturday visit to Dickinson’s shop his son had in fact been home in Hebburn, surrounded by family, deliriously asking about the photographs. The younger Mr. Thompson had then died Saturday, January 3rd at 2:30 P.M. At the time Dickinson reported his encounter with the younger Thompson, he was already unconscious and nearing death, which would be an unlikely time to take a jaunt out to the local photographers.
There was of course, no satisfactory explanation for how a dying man, bed-ridden and in the final throes of his ultimate demise, could have evaded his family and nurses, walked five miles to a photographer’s studio, and returned unnoticed, before quietly slipping into a coma and dying. Sadly, he never even got his pictures. I mean, doppelgangers are only willing to go so far to help you out, since they clearly have other interdimensional concerns, but I guess it’s the thought that counts. Perhaps the lesson to be learned from this is that the traditional doppelganger is an “appearance”, hence our obsession with photographic proof of all manner of paranormal phenomena, when in fact we should probably pay attention to photographer Duane Michals, who said, “Photography deals exquisitely with appearances, but nothing is what it appears to be”.
Holms, A. Campbell. The Facts of Psychic Science And Philosophy. Jamaica, N.Y.: Occult Press, 1927.
Stead, W. T. 1849-1912. Real Ghost Stories. New ed., New York: G. H. Doran Co., 1921.