Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Rj. Rj Wonders, “Is there anything fake in the world?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Rj!
For many kids, nothing can top the holiday that comes several weeks before Thanksgiving. That's right. We're talking about Halloween. An entire night dedicated to canvasing neighborhood after neighborhood for free candy — all while pretending to be someone you're not!
The candy is a sweet treat for sure, but the chance to dress up and pretend to be someone else for a whole evening has its own special appeal. Most of us will only experience what it's like to pretend to be someone else each time Halloween rolls around.
However, over the course of history, there have been many people who have made it the goal of their entire lives to pretend to be someone else — maybe even several someone elses! We call such people impostors.
There was one person who was perhaps better at impersonating others than anyone else in history. His name was Ferdinand Waldo Demara, Jr., and he became known as the "Great Impostor."
No one knows for sure why impostors do what they do. Sometimes they seek fame or fortune. Perhaps they simply want to escape who they really are. There are probably as many reasons as there are impostors.
Over the course of the next several decades, he would travel all over the United States, posing as a wide variety of different people. Some of his false identities included the following: Trappist monk, Navy officer, religious psychologist, sanitarium orderly, college professor, high school teacher, Catholic monk, law student, civil engineer, zoology graduate, and an assistant warden at a Texas prison.
How did he successfully impersonate such a wide variety of people? It wasn't by blending in. Demara stood six feet tall and weighed 350 pounds. Historians believe Demara had a photographic memory and an extremely high IQ.
His most daring impersonation occurred when he assumed the identity of Dr. Joseph Cyr and joined the Canadian Royal Navy. He was assigned to be a trauma surgeon aboard the HMCS Cayuga, a navy destroyer bound for Korea where Canada was involved in the Korean War.
Demara studied medical textbooks and memorized basic surgical procedures. During his time on the ship, he had to perform operations — including amputations and major chest surgery — on 16 enemy combatants.
Despite his lack of medical training, he saved all 16 men and became a hero. Unfortunately for Demara, the real Joseph Cyr's mother read about his exploits and contacted the authorities. The Canadian Royal Navy, however, refused to press charges.
During his lifetime, Demara was not always so lucky. At various times, he was arrested for fraud, forgery, theft, embezzlement, and resisting arrest. Time after time, though, he would return to impersonate someone new. In 1960, Demara's story hit the big screen in the film "The Great Impostor," starring Tony Curtis.