Yesterday my friend Ray and I went out to Walter’s Falls another place in the Grey Bruce area that I have never visited. It’s out past Bognor in an isolated part of the county about midway between Chatsworth and Meaford. What we found there was a 14 metre high waterfall (as was to be expected at a place named ‘falls’), the shell of an old woolen mill, the scattered, rusting parts of an old saw mill, a forklift that got mired in the muck one day and was left abandoned ever since, an inn & spa, the Bruce Trail and some very imaginative wood carvings.
The story of Walter’s Falls begins in 1852 when John Walter of Toronto claimed 300 acres of land on the south branch of the Bighead River. A saw mill was built in 1853 and the town grew up around this. By 1865 the town had a grist mill, a woolen mill, a post office, a tavern, a blacksmith, a wagon maker, two carpenters, a millwright and a tinsmith. 1 The village had a population of about 200 people in 1887.The sawmill remained until it burned down on October 15, 1984.
Hubbert, Mildred (1983). The Paths that Led to Holland, Vol 1. Canada: The Historical Society of Holland Township. p. 1 ↩
He lost his family to Belgian colonial enforcers, was put on exhibit at the St. Louis World’s Fair and lived in the Bronx Zoo. This is the story of Ota Benga a Mbuti (Bambuti) Pygmy born in the Congo in the 1880s and died by his own hand at the age of 32 in the United States of America.
At the turn of the 19th century it was a white man’s world. 1 It was the age of empire and the pinnacle of colonial expansion. Queen Victoria sat on her throne and ruled over an Empire so vast it was commonly referred to as “the empire on which the sun never sets.” 2” Pax Britannica straddled the globe reaching from Canada to Hong Kong, from India to Ireland, from Egypt to Australia, from South Africa to Jamaica. Britain was not alone in the colonial exercise as the French, Dutch, Belgians and Germans, along with the fledgling United States of America competed in dominating overseas properties.
The lands, resources and people of the world were seen to be the white man’s to be surveyed, managed and exploited, but it was also considered “the white man’s burden” to bring the perceived benefits of the light of Christianity, scientific knowledge and civilization to what were regarded as the ignorant and savage, primitive classes of humanity. 3
In 1884 a leading exponent of colonialism, Jules Ferry stated : “The higher races have a right over the lower races, they have a duty to civilize the inferior”. 4 In that time this was considered a perfectly rational and acceptable statement to make regarding the relationship between the white Euro-centric world and those who were not white. Evolutionary science of the time supported the notion that white people were at the top of a biological hierarchy and anthropology, the study of humanity, grew out of the requirements of colonial expansionism to observe, record and manage the ‘exotic’ people the colonials encountered 5
Ota Benga lived in what was then the Belgian Congo. His wife and children were slaughtered by Force Publique enforcers while he was out hunting. Congolese villages were required to meet rubber and ivory quotas or face extermination. Over decades an estimated 10,000,000 Congolese were slaughtered in the pursuit of rubber. 6
Ota Benga was himself captured by slavers and in 1904 was traded for “a pound of salt and a bolt of cloth” 7 to Samuel Phillips Verner who was assembling individuals for an exhibit to be displayed at the St Louis Worlds Fair. The intent was to illustrate contemporary notions of cultural evolution “representatives of all the world’s peoples, ranging from smallest pygmies to the most gigantic peoples, from the darkest blacks to the dominant whites” to show what was commonly thought then to be a sort of cultural evolution8
Ota (along with his fairground neighbour Apache leader Geronimo) proved to be a popular attraction at the World’s Fair. His sharp filed teeth and tiny stature made him a national representative of the ” savage African cannibal” to the throngs who saw him at the fair. When the fair ended he returned for a time to Africa but found he no longer fit in and he returned to the States.
For a time he lived at the American Museum of Natural History where he functioned as a living exhibit acting as a “primitive” in front of a “civilized” audience. In 1906 he was taken to live at the Bronx Zoo where he was encouraged to befriend apes and monkeys. A sign was made for him:
The African Pigmy, “Ota Benga.”
Age, 23 years. Height, 4 feet 11 inches.
Weight, 103 pounds. Brought from the
Kasai River, Congo Free State, South Cen-
tral Africa, by Dr. Samuel P. Verner. Ex-
hibited each afternoon during September. 9
Initially Ota roamed freely but was eventually made to display himself along with the apes. not everyone found this acceptable and public pressure eventually drove the Bronx Zoo to turn Ota Benga loose. This was not an easy transition for Benga. For a time he was placed in an orphanage and later with the McCray family of Lynchburg Virginia. At this time his sharpened teeth were capped as attempts were made to assimilate him into society. He went to school and worked in a tobacco plant. never feeling at home Ota wanted to return to Africa but in 1914 World War I broke out ending the likelihood of travel. “On March 20, 1916, at the age of 32, he built a ceremonial fire, chipped off the caps on his teeth, and shot himself in the heart with a stolen pistol.” 10
Earlier this month I visited some friends in Ottawa and their youngest son drew and labelled a map of the world which I have coloured in. He did this all on the fly. I’m impressed at his geographical knowledge (click to enlarge).
Have you ever met your doppelganger? If you have you may wish that you hadn’t. Abraham Lincoln met his and we all know how things ended for him. Seeing your doppelganger was traditionally understood as a bad omen, but commonly the word, which comes from the German for double-goer or double-walker, is used to refer to any twin or look-alike, the sinister implications being generally set aside.
According to Merriam-Webster “doppelganger” first appeared in print as an English borrowed word in 1851 1 However the concept was popularized by Catherine Crowes best selling compendium of supernatural phenomena The Nightside of Nature which was published in 1848. The idea of the ghostly double of a living person goes back at least to Ancient Egypt with the concept of the ka. The ka was an aspect of the multiple soul constituents that the Egyptians believed made up the individual. The ka was understood to be the intangible double of an individual which followed the body like a shadow in life but survived after mortal death; in other words a ghost.
The doppleganger is found in Norse legends as the vardøger 2 a phantom double who could be seen undertaking the actions of a living person before they happened. Described as déjà vu in in reverse, “where a spirit with the subject’s footsteps, voice, scent, or appearance and overall demeanor precedes them in a location or activity, resulting in witnesses believing they’ve seen or heard the actual person before the person physically arrives 3” A similar idea appears in Finnish mythology, with the etiäinen or “firstcomer”. In Breton, Cornish and Norman French folklore, the doppelgänger is a version of the Ankou, a personification of death (Grim Reaper). In Ireland there is the fetch, ghost or spirit of a still living person identical to the German doppelganger.
The idea of the doppelganger also appears throughout literature as in Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Prometheus Unbound” (1820) where a double is described as a counterpart to the self. In Edgar Allan Poe’s story “William Wilson” (1849) a man encounters his sinister double (which was inspired by a Washington Irving story wherein a man kills his double. In “The Double” (1846), by Fyodor Dostoyevsky a clerk encounters his double who succeeds in everything at which he has failed. The clerk’s double eventually replaces the original. The 1956 film “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” also plays with the notion of the evil double who replaces a person, but in this case the doubles are the products of an alien invasion, and grown in pods like plants.
Anecdotes concerning encounters with doppelgangers can be found throughout history: John Donne, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Goethe, Catherine The Great, Queen Elizabeth I, Abraham Lincoln, and Guy de Maupassant all were said to have had encounters met their ghostly doubles 4
In psychiatry and neurology, heautoscopy 5 is described as for the hallucination of “seeing one’s own body at a distance” and can occur as a symptom in schizophrenia and epilepsy.
The idea that we have a double out their somewhere in the world continues to intrigue people as evidenced by the current the Twin Stranger project which uses social media to connect people with their look-a-likes. “Devon born journalist Sophie Robehmed was fascinated by the idea that there might be someone out there in the world who looked exactly like her and – a few years ago – began searching for her Twin Stranger or doppleganger. What began as an experiment using social media quickly grew into a mission and gained Sophie plenty of attention and interest, but in the end it was actually through a friend that she found her closest match.” 6
Should you encounter your doppelganger would you be shocked, thrilled or disturbed? Has a stranger ever mistaken you for someone else? Maybe you are born with a twin? Share your thoughts and experiences of doubles in the comments section below.