I was heading into a store not long ago when I caught sight of Bill Wilson, longtime photographer for The Anniston Star, getting in his car. I shouted a greeting —“Hey Bill, how’s it going?” — and no sooner had the words left my mouth than I realized my mistake.
It wasn’t Bill.
It was Dan Spaulding, senior curator at the Anniston Museum of Natural History, known for his knowledge of animals and snakes.
I corrected myself before Dan could do it for me, but was still embarrassed to have made the mistake. People get the two of them confused all the time, but I was so sure I’d never be one to do that.
According to Bill, I can join the crowd.
“This has been going on for many years,” he said. “I can be in a store or a restaurant and hear people talking and realize it’s me they’re talking to, as if they know me.”
Bill will politely interrupt to say, “Actually, I’m not Dan.” This usually elicits a surprised chuckle and a comment about how alike the two look.
Dan experiences the same thing, almost on a weekly basis. “One day I was in Walmart in Jacksonville with my daughter when a man stopped to tell me how much he enjoyed my photography,” he said.
Instead of correcting the man, as he normally would have, Dan just pretended to be Bill and took the compliment. He can still remember the look on his daughter’s face. “She was staring at me like, ‘You’re not a photographer!’” he said, with a laugh.
On another occasion, Dan attended the funeral of a museum board member when another board member approached him and said “Hey, Bill!”
Dan was flabbergasted.
“There I was, wearing my museum shirt with my name tag on it!” he exclaimed.
But that’s not the one that takes the cake.
The most surprising case of mistaken identity has to be when Dan’s own brother, who was working as a golf pro at Cane Creek, chided Dan for not sticking around to talk to him after he saw him having lunch at the 19th Hole restaurant.
“That’s because it wasn’t me,” Dan said. “I was nowhere near there that day.”
Bill can relate to all of these stories.
“Lots of times people, out of the blue, just start asking me questions about snakes,” he said. “I tell them what I know — that they slither and can bite.”
These cases of mistaken identity have been going on regularly for more than 20 years, and Bill believes it will never end. It occurs more frequently, he said, whenever he lets his hair grow out. “That’s when I’m sporting a Dan-Do,” he said.
Dan has learned there are some fringe benefits to being mistaken for Bill, like the time he went to a newly opened Mexican restaurant for lunch. The owner, who spoke broken English, greeted him warmly, while pointing to Bill’s photography work displayed on the wall. Dan tried to explain that he wasn’t Bill, but the message didn’t come across and he ended up enjoying a free lunch that day.
With the newspaper office resting so close to the museum, Dan and Bill cross paths frequently. “The museum has a long association with the Star,” Dan said.
But these two men — do THEY think they look alike?
On those occasions when Bill is shooting a picture of Dan at the museum, he admits that looking through the viewfinder can sometimes feel like he’s looking in a mirror.
Dan also acknowledges the resemblance, but unlike most everyone else in the community — “I would never confuse me with him,” he joked.
Donna Barton’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at email@example.com.