Is This Photo Proof That Greta Thunberg Is a Time-Traveling Gold Prospector Here to Save the World? We’ll Let You Decide

An 1898 photo showing the climate activist’s uncanny doppelganger has spawned its own conspiracy theory.

Eric Hegg, Three children operating rocker at a gold mine on Dominion Creek, Yukon Territory (c. 1898). Image courtesy University of Washington Special Collections.
L: Eric Hegg, Three children operating rocker at a gold mine on Dominion Creek, Yukon Territory (c. 1898). Image courtesy University of Washington Special Collections. R: Greta Thunberg, courtesy Getty Images.

The climate is in peril, and by 2050, many of you reading this might be underwater. Donald Trump wants to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, and his Environmental Protection Agency seems to be working for the fossil fuel industry. No wonder 16-year-old climate change activist Greta Thunberg is fed up with the way our leaders are approaching global warming. “I want you to act as if the house is on fire,” she has said, “because it is.”

It’s bleak, for sure. But in this era of impending doom we need all the levity we can get. Enter this 1898 photograph, taken during the northwestern Canadian gold rush and posted on the historical images Twitter account @history2cool yesterday. It appears to show a young woman who sure looks a lot like Thunberg operating a “rocker” at a gold mine.

The internet, which loves a good conspiracy theory, swiftly stepped up to claim that Thunberg, subject of another recent internet controversy because a San Francisco mural bore more of a resemblance to Vladimir Putin, is actually a time-hopper, sent to 2019 in order to save the Earth. Of course, there are a few holes in this story (why would late 19th-century Greta know what the 21st century holds?) but that hasn’t stopped the online mobs.

The photograph in question is held in the University of Washington’s Special Collections archive. We reached out to staff there to get their take on the wave of interest in the doppelganger image; they seemed none-too-pleased at the Greta-Thunberg-is-a-time-traveler theory.

“Unfortunately I think that there is too much attention being given to conspiracy theories. Maybe it would be more useful for you and the news media to focus on the issues that Greta Thunberg is actively trying to advocate for,” Kristin Kinsey, Digital and Visual Materials Specialist at the University of Washington Special Collections, wrote in an email.

Fair enough.

“The historical photograph in question is an important part of the history of the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush and the University of Washington Libraries Special Collections division is grateful to house such an extraordinary collection,” she continued. “Maybe if the public perused the rest of our collections, they could find similar hidden treasures as well that represent the interesting and fascinating history of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.”

Or maybe they’ll find other examples of Greta Thunberg across the ages? There’s no way to tell, really. (While you’re hunting, you might as well donate to the Environmental Defense Fund.)


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