1845-1846: Emélie Sagée's Companion

In 1859, Robert Dale Owen [1801-1877] told the remarkable tale of a Livonian school-teacher's paranormal difficulties, as related to him by a witness to the events.

        Owen was a Scottish-born immigrant who became a citizen of the United States and pushed for many social reformations in his country of choice. But late in life he also developed an active interest in paranormal phenomena... and this interest is why Mademoiselle de Guldenstubbé told him about her rather unusual experiences at the 'Pensionnat of Neuwelcke', a private girl's school which had forty-two resident students in 1845, comprised of "chiefly daughters of noble Livonian families." The school was located near the town of Wolmar, in the state of Livonia, Russia (now the town of Valmiera, in the country of Latvia).

        In 1845, Mademoiselle Julie, second daughter of the Baron de Guldenstubbé, was thirteen years old when Mademoiselle Emélie Sagée, a thirty-two year old French lady from Dijon, was hired to be a new teacher at the school. Owen describes Sagée as "of the Northern type — a blonde, with very fair complexion, light-blue eyes, chestnut hair, slightly above the middle size, and of slender figure. In character she was amiable, quiet, and good tempered; not at all given to anger or impatience; but of an anxious disposition, and as to her physical temperament, somewhat nervously excitable."

        A few weeks after Sagée's arrival at the school, rumors started to spread to the effect that the new teacher often seemed to be in two places at once. When students were trying to find her, it was not unusual to have one student claim Sagée was in a particular room, only to be corrected by another student who said they had just seen her in an entirely different part of the school. These situations were at first considered to just be mere mistakes; but these 'mistakes' continued to happen at a growing rate. When other teachers were asked about these matters, they simply explained it as "fancy and nonsense," and told the girls to ignore it. Then came the day that confirmed what many had started to suspect.

        Mademoiselle Sagée was teaching a lesson to a class of thirteen students, which included Guldenstubbé in their number. The teacher was eager to express a point to the students, and was writing on the chalkboard to illustrate the matter...

[Larger version here]

...and then suddenly there were two Mademoiselle Sagées standing in front of the class, clear as could be. The real Sagée, intent on her work and with her back to the class, continued to write on the blackboard. The duplicate which had suddenly appeared, and which resembled Sagée in every aspect, also intently wrote with her back to the class; but this second Sagée was not holding chalk, nor writing on the board. Despite this, the second Sagée mimicked every more the real Sagée made as she wrote, a three-dimensional mirror image of the teacher.

        The other teachers, and the directors of the establishment, could no longer downplay the stories. The thirteen students were each questioned separately and quietly, and it was found that each one of the girls agreed as to the appearance and actions of the second Mademoiselle Sagée.

        Another incident occurred soon after. One of the students, Mademoiselle Antonie de Wrangel, was planning to attend a garden party with some of the other students and was busy dressing for the occasion. Sagée had offered to help and so was hooking the clasps on the back of Wrangel's dress, when Wrangel saw in the mirror that there was apparently a second Mademoiselle Sagée trying to hook the clasps as well. Shocked, Wrangel fainted.

       Other reported incidents included occasions at dinner when Sagée's duplicate appeared to be standing behind her, copying her actions as she ate... except the duplicate had no utensils or food. Sometimes, however, Sagée's duplicate didn't imitate her actions. Occasionally when Mademoiselle Sagée rose from a chair, her duplicate was left behind, still sitting.

        Sagée was generally in good health during the year and a half she worked at the school, only becoming really ill once, with influenza. During this illness, young Mademoiselle Wrangel came to sit by Sagée's bed to read to her. Sometime during this, Sagée suddenly became stiff and pale, and appeared as if she might faint. Wrangel, alarmed, asked if she was feeling worse, but Sagée replied, weakly, that she was not feeling any sicker. A moment later, Wrangel had occasion to look behind herself and perceived Mademoiselle Sagée's duplicate walking about the room behind her. Less surprised this time, Wrangel kept her cool until she headed downstairs where she reported the strangeness to some of the other students.

       The most notable occurrence during Mademoiselle Sagée's stay at the school was one day when all of the students were downstairs in a common room practicing embroidery. The windows of the common room looked out onto the garden of the school, where Mademoiselle Sagée was seen gathering flowers, a favorite activity of hers. The students all sat around a single long table, at the head of which was an armchair with one of the other teachers sitting in attendance with them. For some reason or another, the teacher sitting with them had to leave the room, and so the students were left alone... for a short time.

        Suddenly, Mademoiselle Sagée was sitting in the chair at the head of the table. A quick look out the windows confirmed that Sagée was still, in fact, out in the garden picking flowers; but something was different. She was moving much slower than before, as if drowsy or exhausted.

        The second Sagée in the chair looked absolutely real, but didn't move in any way. Now familiar with the strange phenomena, two of the bravest students walked to the second Mademoiselle Sagée and tried to touch her; they felt only a slight resistance, as if a thin material was present. One of the two of them, in passing before the chair, actually stepped through a portion of the seated Sagée. Soon the figure started to fade from view and, as it slowly disappeared, the students noticed that the real Mademoiselle Sagée in the garden slowly regained her original vigor of action. Asked by some of the students about the occurrence later, Sagée simply replied that she had been somewhat annoyed to have seen the other teacher had left the room, as she thought the girls would get into trouble if not watched.

        The occurrences generally happened anywhere from a week to several weeks apart, and continued for the entirety of Sagée's employment with the school. The duplicate seemed most likely to appear when Sagée herself was very interested in what she was doing, and careful observation confirmed the tendency for the real Sagée to become stiff and slow the more distinct the duplicate appeared. Stranger still, Mademoiselle Sagée never saw the duplicate herself. She knew of it only from what other people had told her, and often only realized it had appeared because of the reactions she saw in the people around her. She also didn't seem to notice when she was slowing down and speeding up; perhaps it all seemed the same to her. The duplicate was visible to everyone who was available to see it, and reflected in mirrors. Not only the students and teachers had repeatedly seen the duplicate, all of the servants in the school had too.

        Perhaps not surprisingly, these strange phenomena soon had a detrimental effect on the school as a whole, as some students didn't return when they went to visit family for holidays and other occasions. Some of the students had been frightened; some of the parents feared it was all a bad influence on their daughters. Still, the directors of the school were reluctant to dismiss Sagée, as she was an excellent teacher with exemplary behavior; but by 1846, the school's attendance had dwindled from forty-two students to just twelve. It was clear that either Mademoiselle Sagée must leave, or the school would close... and so she was dismissed.

        Guldenstubbé heard Sagée lament the situation: "Ah! The nineteenth time! It s very, very hard to bear!" when questioned about this statement by some of the students, Sagée admitted that she had been a teacher since she was sixteen and that she had been dismissed from eighteen previous schools, all because of her duplicate. But because she was an excellent teacher, and she always had the respect of the employers she left, she always had favorable reviews to show to the next school, generally chosen for its distance from the last and the unlikelihood of rumors regarding her 'problem' having reached them.

        Guldenstubbé stayed in contact with Sagée as she went to stay with a sister-in-law, likely because Guldenstubbé's father, the Baron Ludwig von Guldenstubbé, was very interested in ghostly and strange phenomena himself. Guldenstubbé visited Mademoiselle Sagée there, and noted that the sister-in-law's young children -- three to four years of age -- were in the habit of saying that "they have two Aunt Emélies." After this, Mademoiselle Sagée set off to look for work in Russia, and Guldenstubbé lost track of her former teacher.

        Owen quizzed Guldenstubbé, but there were no answers available for many of his queries regarding the teacher... it had not been asked if the duplicate had existed previous to Sagée's sixteenth year, or if anyone else in her family had experienced similar problems in the past. At the time that Owen was given the details of the matter, he was still able to contact the directors at the Pensionnat of Neuwelcke to confirm the accuracy of the account.

More Details and Modern Re-Writes

        The book Owen published his account of Mademoiselle Sagée's problem in, Footfalls on the Boundaries of Another World, was his first book on the topic of paranormal phenomena. In the introduction, he explains that he had only really become interested in strange matters in 1855, after some experiences he couldn't explain away had led him to look deeper into the subject. Given that the book itself was first published in 1859, it's reasonable to guess that he heard the account of Sagée's duplicate from Mademoiselle Guldenstubbé sometime between 1855 and 1859, when she would have been around 23~28 years old.

        It needs to be noted at this point, however, that there is a problem with the account as it stands above. I can find no traces yet to demonstrate that Mademoiselle Julie de Guldenstubbé existed. The man said to be her father, Baron Ludwig de Guldenstubbé, has the same name as a very well-known investigator of ghost accounts from the time, so it would seem to be a proof of the story... except that the Baron Ludwig de Guldenstubbé who was interested in the paranormal was apparently born in 1820. If Mademoiselle Julie was his daughter, and she was thirteen years old in 1845, then Ludwig would have been only twelve years old when she was born in 1833! I have been unable to trace any other likely 'Baron Ludwig de Guldenstubbé' to be her father (there's not too many Barons, after all); so the main witness for this account may not have existed.

        I've caught Owen apparently inventing another account of the paranormal that he claimed was true; and that event was included in the same book as the account of Emélie Sagée, his 1861 book Footfalls on the Boundary of Another World [for more on that, see the link for 'The Unknown Navigator' below]. So it's perfectly possible that he invented the story of Emélie Sagée's companion as part of his book; so finding proof of Mademoiselle Julie de Guldenstubbe is absolutely necessary before this account can be trusted... though it seems as though nobody else noticed this problem, as the story continued to be presented as if absolutely true by later authors.

        Owen's accounting of the events was reprinted twenty-four years later in 1883 in the English magazine devoted to strange topics, Light, with one difference: Emélie Sagée's name became Emilie Sagée. Strangely, the magazine claimed that Owen's previous presentation of the account in his own book was an "abridged" version, which implied that what Light was presenting had more details... but, other than changing Sagée's first name, the reprinting is word-for-word the exact same as Owen's earlier account.

        In 1909, a greatly simplified version of the events was presented in Cesare Lombroso's book, After Death -- What?. Lombroso only presented the account of Emélie Sagée's strange problem as one of many examples of human apparitions to support a larger argument he wanted to make regarding his beliefs in ghosts, so he literally reduced the whole affair down to just two paragraphs... and in addition, he changed Mademoiselle Sagée's name and got numerous facts wrong:

"In Livonia, in 1845, in a girls' pension of forty-five pupils, one of the teachers, Madame Sage, was seen at the same time in two places. The two Sages were seated, — one at the blackboard, making a mathematical demonstration with the chalk, while the other had none. On another occasion Madame Sage was in the refectory eating in the presence of all the scholars, while her double stood behind her chair without eating, but imitating all her gestures. One day she was ill in bed with a cold, and a friend of hers, Madame Wrangel, was keeping her company by reading to her from a book, when she was suddenly stupefied with fear to see Madame Sage's double walking about the room.

"Another day all the girls were working at their embroidery when they saw Madame Sage in the garden near by gathering flowers, while her double was seated in the hall in a large armchair, silent and motionless. Two girls went up to her and perceived that her body had a gaseous consistency, and little by little it gradually disappeared. Madame Sage, who had at first been working in the garden, remained as if in a state of sleep, and, on being asked, said she had thought of the empty seat and had been in fear lest the children, missing her, would make too much noise. This continued eighteen months, and she was finally dismissed on account of it. When leaving, she said, 'This is the nineteenth time I have had to leave for the same reason' (Askakoff, p. 500)."

The source he referenced -- "Askakoff, p. 500" -- is the book Animisme et Spiritisme [Animism and Spiritualism, 1906] by Alexander Aksakof that presents a French translation of the Light's version of the account; so there's no clear reason why Lombroso changed Sagee's name to Sage, claimed the school had forty-five students instead of forty-two, or placed the duplicate in a hallway instead of at the table during the garden incident. Likely, Lombroso was more worried about making his larger argument regarding life after death in his book than worrying about details in his evidence being correct.

        The Lombroso version of the story was transformed further in 1976 by Reader's Digest in their book Strange Stories, Amazing Facts. This volume describes the situation as if 'Madame Sage's' duplicate was essentially a full autonomous being, giving as example: "One, for instance, would be sitting facing her class while the other was writing on the blackboard." It also states that only two students witnessed Madame Sage being in both the garden and sitting indoors at the same time. The strange appearances of the duplicate were presented as if they were a controlled and purposeful use by Madame Sage, claiming she told the directors of the school that it was a 'trick' she used to help her maintain discipline, by allowing her to keep her eyes on the class when she turned her back. We're then told that "There is no record of the teacher-in-duplicate's first name."

        Unfortunately, most modern accounts of Mademoiselle Emélie Sagée's strange problem are based entirely on the two least accurate versions of the story, Lombroso's 1909 account and the 1976 Strange Stories, Amazing Facts version... and in all acses, there is still no proof that the events, as described by Owen, ever happened.

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