Greta Thunberg and her historical lookalike, who appears in a photo from 1898. (Rueters/University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, Hegg 3209)
A US library has confirmed the photograph of a girl who bears a striking resemblance to teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg is authentic, but has ruled out time-travelling conspiracy theories.
- The photo has not been doctored to include Ms Thunberg’s likeness, Washington University said
- It went viral after a woman noticed the photo hanging on a wall at a dining hub in Seattle and posted it to Facebook
- The collection’s director is “delighted” the photo attracted attention because it highlights the importance of libraries
The photograph, taken by Eric Hegg during the Klondyke gold rush in 1898, has been shared across the internet in recent days.
While some claimed time travel could explain the girl in the photograph’s likeness to the Swedish teenager, others queried whether the image was photoshopped.
In a blog post on Friday morning, the University of Washington, dismissed both claims as “most definitely not the case”.
“As part of the UW Libraries Special Collections, the photo in question is an original,” the post said.
So who is the girl in the photo?
We don’t know.
The library record of the photo does not list the name of the girl or the two other children.
Hegg’s caption simply read: “Youths operating gold mines on Dominion. Klondyke, YT”.
There aren’t any other details about the girl, which could fuel the mystique.
But it’s likely the girl’s name was never recorded as an important detail. It’s also possible details about her were lost somewhere along the way.
“The Hegg collection came into the Libraries Special Collections in the 1960s, pre-dating modern record keeping that would illuminate more detailed information, such as who donated the collection, or prior ownership,” the Washington University post read.
Washington University says the photo is authentic. (Supplied: University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, Hegg 3209)
The image was taken at Dominion Creek, a remote location in Canada near the border with Alaska.
It was taken during the Klondike Gold Rush between 1897 and 1901, which saw more than 100,000 people flock to the region, hoping to strike it rich.
The population boomed, but many left when they found locals had already claimed the gold-bearing creeks for themselves. It’s possible the girl moved on from Dominion Creek after the rush.
Where — or when — she went to next is the topic of wild speculation in comment threads.
Thunberg a time traveller?
The first rumours of Ms Thunberg’s time travelling were whispered a few weeks ago, after Allison White noticed something remarkable about a historical photo she saw during a dinner at Pier 57, a popular dining hub in Seattle.
“We were leaving the restaurant and it’s just a random hanging picture directly opposite of The Crab Pot,” she said.
“I glanced in the general direction and totally lost it — she stuck out, I knew immediately who the pictured child resembled.
“I’m a huge fan of Greta and everything she’s doing.”
Ms White said she immediately spotted the resemblance between the girl and Ms Thunberg. (Allison White)
Tweet from Jack Sam Strange: “So, ‘Greta Thunberg’ is in a photo from 120 years ago, and it’s my new favourite conspiracy. Greta’s a time traveller, from the future, and she’s here to save us.”
The photo was shared and reposted on social media hundreds of thousands of times, appearing on news sites from CCN to People Magazine.
Author Jack Strange posed the time-travelling theory in a tweet that attracted more than 50,000 likes.
In a subsequent blog post, he speculated this time-traveller could have originally been on a mission to stop Leo Hendrik Baekeland, a chemist credited with pioneering modern plastics in the early 1900s.
“Clearly, she didn’t kill the inventor of plastic,” he wrote.
“So she had to move on somewhere new. Ahem, 2019.”
He also pointed out Ms Thunberg’s popularity appeared to come out of nowhere, “almost as if she flew into our space time continuum”.
Ms Thunberg was yet to comment on the viral photo.
Some might say her silence on the issue is telling, but most others would argue it has something to do with the fact she is currently on a yacht headed for Portugal.
Tweet from Greta Thunberg: “We had to slow the boat down to avoid some really rough weather ahead, but now we’re back on track at full speed. Hopefully we will arrive in Lisbon, Portugal, sometime in early December.”
“Conspiracy theories aside, we are delighted that the collection is receiving attention because it underscores the historical importance of the images as well the unique role that Libraries and other archives play, not only in safekeeping, but in telling these stories, and ensuring accessibility,” interim director for the UW Libraries Special Collections Lisa Oberg said.
Ms White told the ABC she thought the conspiracy theories were a bit of fun, hopeful the teenager’s climate advocacy makes a difference.
“I hope the world will listen, not just to her, but to scientific facts,” she said.
“The answers are in front of us, we just need our political leaders to jump on board.”