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Time Traveler Caught on Film?

There’s a video making the rounds and creating buzz on the internet and we thought we might as well join in. Filmmaker George Clarke from Ireland is a Charlie Chaplin fan, and saw something unusual in a 1928 Chaplin movie called “The Circus.” In a crowd scene at the opening of the movie there appears to be a woman (or a man in drag) talking on a cell phone as she walks in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. In the video above, Clarke goes on about it for awhile, but at about 2:40 in, you can see the footage. This person has all the mannerisms of someone walking down the street and talking on a cell phone.

Screen grab of Clarke's zoom in of the Charlie Chaplin film 'The Circus.'

I’ve been checking around the web and no one seems to be able to come up with a good explanation, although there are lots of questions, such as, how could she be using a cell phone in 1928 since there were no cell phone towers or satellites at that time? Across the internet there are discussions of “Back to the Future”- like Walkie Talkies, alien homing devices, and pretty much everything else you can think of. My favorite discussion comes from the Washington Post, which claims this person is the worst time traveler ever, and the only reason no one has noticed this person before is “Because this may be the first time in history that someone has watched the DVD extras of “The Circus.” Forget the DVD extras! People didn’t even watch “The Circus” when it came out!”

It doesn’t appear this is a movie set, just film from taken out front of a real location. Anyway, its a weird video and there’s lots of discussion out there, but what are your thoughts?

Via SciBlogs


Nancy Atkinson is currently Universe Today's Contributing Editor. Previously she served as UT's Senior Editor and lead writer, and has worked with Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • TheGhost October 30, 2010, 9:06 PM

    Sorry about that,
    I meant to reference the subjects Left Hand in Paragraph four; Sentence one, of the previous post.
    The Ghost In The Machine

  • Agnes October 31, 2010, 3:09 AM

    This lady was just talking, saying maybe anything… because she knew they where filming her.
    Actually, if you look at footage from the first part of the 20th century -especially news footage showing people in a situation where they knew they where filmed – you will see that most of them are talking, to give themselves a pose before the camera. Check out any images of historical moments from that time and you will see that there is nothing unusual about that lady talking “to herself”.

    Warmest regards to Nancy!

  • wjwbudro October 31, 2010, 8:43 AM

    Thanks Ghost but, per Wikipedia, “fading” as pertaining to cinematography describes the whole scene fading (in/out) not individual objects or subjects within the scene. Then again I do recall this effect (but not as cleanly) in films in the 40’s like “the invisible man”. In our case here, she slowly and completely disappears at the end of the clip. And why would they go to the trouble of using the technique for this clip?
    Could it be that she time shifted back to her origin or shifted somewhere/time else?
    Maybe she was only caught in the right frame frequency of the film and was otherwise invisible to the folks in and out of the scene and that’s why she was completely ignored.
    Spooky…kinda fits into the season..lol

  • wjwbudro October 31, 2010, 10:02 AM

    Sorry folks. Looked again and it seems the whole scene (with the lady) fades out and fades in to a different scene (without the lady). After further research, it seems the cinematography technique was at least described as early as 1918.

  • TheGhost October 31, 2010, 10:59 AM

    Greetings to All,
    We really must remember to be totally accurate when dealing with thinking people!

    To WJWBUDRO, The technique used appears to be a ‘Cross-Dissolve’ wherein one clip is “Dissolved” into the next. We used the term “Cross-Fade” when replying before to transition from your post to the information being provided. (We tried to patch the verbal hole by posting “… now known as …”)
    In a Cross-Fade the lead clip is faded to black (Most Common) or white, while the second clip is faded in from black or white usually at the same rate.
    In the Cross-Dissolve the two clips are in effect mixed, without the brightness of them being changed. This results in the effect of non-common items in the two clips appearing to fade-out or fade-in. (A good example of this can be seen about two and one-half minutes into this clip: http://www.uscg.mil/yard/8Min-EAGLE_In_Yard-HIGH.wmv.(The phantom forklift? We think not.))
    We deeply regret any misunderstanding our faux pas may have caused.

    Getting back to the object causing so much trouble; gauging by the enlargement at the top of this column, what actual size do you think it is? The device may be about the size of a medium sized remote control, but we noticed that it may be wider than it has been accredited. We noticed that the front of the object seems to span from the palm / finger joint to the bottom of the glove, while the back portion appears to be about two inches wide. Possibly making it triangular in shape? Possibly nothing more than a black handkerchief?

    We may never know,
    But eternity is a very long time,
    The Ghost In The Machine

  • wjwbudro October 31, 2010, 12:47 PM

    My sincere apology Ghost, I am getting a bit lazy in my old age. I didn’t engage the gray matter and distinguish btwn cross-fade and cross-dissolve.
    I suppose 1928 isn’t that long ago.Never too old to learn something new.
    Many thanks for the enlightenment.

  • kepler October 31, 2010, 6:57 PM

    If you check this link http://www.climatestations.com/images/stories/los-angeles/LACV1928.GIF you will see that the temperature in Los Angeles during the last week of January 1928 was between 70-80′ F, so our ‘time traveler’ seems to be overdressed for the climate. If you look at the face of the person, he or she really doesn’t seem to be very old, possibly middle age. And the footwear is odd. Strange pointed shoes. Are those really period shoes? The person also has a limp and is favoring their left leg. This is more obvious at normal speed if you look. And how far away was the camera? How large was it? Was the person aware of it being there? In any case, the person, despite looking in the direction of the camera, continues talking and doesn’t rally seem to be paying attention to any camera if they were aware of it. I have no idea what any of this means in relation to the cell phone claim, time traveler hypothesis.

  • Effie October 31, 2010, 11:21 PM
  • kendingo November 1, 2010, 3:55 AM

    I reckon this is a dictaphone see link http://www.ehow.com/about_5218837_history-dictaphone.html.

    Also J Edgar Hoover believed that Charlie Chaplin was a communist/ subversive who was having his movements monitored. Is it possible this could be an undercover agent posing as an extra? He was speaking into the dictaphone perhaps taking notes on Chaplins movements.

  • wjwbudro November 1, 2010, 7:20 AM

    @EFFIE. For listening yes, not talking.
    @KENDINGO, I like that idea. lol

  • wjwbudro November 1, 2010, 7:29 AM

    @EFFIE. Then again, as previously speculated, maybe she liked to hear herself talk into her new aid.
    Time to bury this dead horse maybe?

  • Effie November 1, 2010, 10:55 PM

    :) Indeed WJWBUDRO :) She is using it for listening and she is also talking to herself!! The lady has a few problems :) Have a good day

  • Nyx November 2, 2010, 2:20 AM

    There is no point in going to the past, wearing that attire to mingle with the people there, and then using in public an impressive device that screams: “hello I’m not from your time!”. And with a camera that is filming you too. Nobody seems to care about her, like if there were nothing extraordinary.

    I expected some debunking from the article above though, but Nancy asked what we think about that and the comments here are interesting.

  • HolyAvengerOne November 3, 2010, 5:51 PM

    Notwithstanding the above debate, for some crazy reason, the first thing I thought as I watched that video was that time travelers, if anything, wouldn’t look like fat ladies.

  • icecycle November 4, 2010, 1:52 AM

    Personally, I tend to think this is a joke added to the DVD.
    It would not be that hard to do and the best practical jokes lately (ala Aphex Twin) are found by accident.
    My second guess would be an almost human alien from a near by universe, but that is a very poor disguise and phoning home is a dead giveaway.
    “Hi, just checking on the hatchlings; well, try the microwave, that always works.”
    In any case not long for this world; roaming charges are our first line of defense against ET.

  • ntukka November 5, 2010, 8:51 PM

    Fun though it is to bash the idea that she/he is using a cell phone, I like to think people are too closed minded sometimes. Not to say I think she/he is time traveling, but, like most respectable people, I’ve taken some time to surf the web for everyone’s explanations. Basically, most people think it’s fake. But the best one I’ve heard so far (and the one I tend to believe) is that it’s a prank. Not something edited in afterwards, goodness no, but I’ve read in many places that it seems Chaplin liked to believe in the ability to time travel himself. Also, he may have perceived that communication devices would gradually shrink in size and that sometime in the future people might use small handheld devices. So wouldn’t it be just hilarious to ask a woman/man to walk past the camera talking into a small black box? That way when the time came that people DID use such devices, it would cause all this hype and hoopla about thie video’s special feature. Chaplin was joking around. I’m quoting from my previous source, “It may be the greatest Hollywood prank of all time.”

  • a_rat November 6, 2010, 12:27 AM

    Actually, I took it as a bit of a “take the Micky” sort of thing,
    and it gave me an excuse to reflect on some things.
    But seeing as so many here are taking this seriously, and doing both their credulity and/or mortality some serious trauma, let me end it now.

    The reason physics formula will not give “the arrow of time” a direction, can not be understood until you stop using Euclidean geometry, and start representing the universe with the fractal geometry of which is so obvious everywhere we look.
    When you understand the formula for the fractal shape of space, then the fractal shape of time will become obvious, as will the way space and time interlock and how one drives the other – THEN you will understand the so called “arrow of time”
    it IS a cell phone, I was so excited when i realized where i was, i forgot myself. It took a minute and a fair bit of swearing to figure out why my calls weren’t going through.

  • Begin November 9, 2010, 11:04 AM

    she doesn’t have a cell phone, she has schizophrenia
    and an ear ache.

  • imagine November 10, 2010, 10:08 AM

    A majority of you folks posting here who quickly dismiss theories are real sticks-in-the-mud. You lack imagination to any interesting depth. Sort of takes all the fun out of life doesn’t it? If you dismiss without KNOWING for sure what in the heck that dang man-lady-whatever is really doing, you are just close-minded or too skeptical. Life shouldn’t be as boring as you make it. You angry dorks! I guess i’d say that what we see in the video is explainable but not necessaryily truly knowable with 100% certainty. Therefore, any explanation, as we see in the posts above, are being imagined and can be possible.

  • Koowie May 14, 2011, 4:18 PM

    That is the worst time traveler. You would think he has an iPhone and not that junk.