Whoops. A time traveller has made an epic boo-boo and got themselves caught on film in 1928. And now filmmaker George Clarke has exposed their clumsy arse to the world.
I’ve mentioned this particular urban legend a few times recently. That’s because it inspired my short story, The Charlie Chaplin Time Traveller, which was published last month in Tigershark Issue 11. In the story, facts and fiction are mixed, so let me now present the uncooked facts.
In 2010, Belfast filmmaker George Clarke posted a video on YouTube explaining that he had discovered evidence of time travel in a Charlie Chaplin DVD extra. The extra was a short behind-the-scenes clip of the premiere of The Circus at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood in 1928. The Circus is one of Charlie Chaplin’s most popular movies, the seventh-highest-grossing silent film in cinema history, and still attracts high praise today. So it’s a wonder it took seven years for someone to notice this (the DVD came out in 2003).
Anyway, 20 seconds into the clip, you see a bunch of circus animal statues outside the Chinese Theatre. Walking behind a fake zebra is a large woman in a hideous dress, hooded coat, pointed shoes and a black top hat. But her terrible fashion sense and looking a bit like a man in drag is not what caught George’s eye. It was the item she was holding to her ear and talking into.
George says in the video, “If you look carefully, she’s talking on a thin, black device that is held to her ear. If you notice, also, that the knuckles are bent in the flat shape of a phone. The phone is to her ear. Right now the only conclusion that I can come to, which sounds absolutely ridiculous I’m sure to some people… it’s a time traveller.”
George’s YouTube video became an internet sensation, attracting millions of views in a couple of weeks and the attention of the world’s media. Everybody was analysing the clip and searching for an explanation, including major newspapers and magazines like The Daily Mail, CBS and The Atlantic.
When you watch the clip, it really does look like this woman is on the phone to someone, decades before mobile phones existed. Some people cite this as more evidence that time travellers are among us, linking it to other alleged instances of time travel. The Rudolph Fentz hit-and-run. The Moberly-Jourdain incident. The Vanishing Hotel. Time travel in the vicinity of Loch Ness. Out of place artefacts said to have come from the future. The time travelling hipster. Andrew Carlssin…
While a few of these cases have been debunked, others remain inconclusive and are used to show proof of a conspiracy to conceal the existence of time travel and the actions of time travellers (which forms the main hook of my trilogy, Million Eyes, and its linked short stories).
Sceptics have other ideas. In 1924, tech company Siemens filed a patent for a pocket-sized carbon amplifier hearing aid device, the latest in hearing aid technology. Sceptics believe this was probably the device that the woman in the clip was holding. If not, it might’ve been a Model 34A Audiphone Carbon Hearing Aid invented by Western Electric in 1925.
But there are two problems with the hearing aid theory. 1. Who is she listening to? She’s walking by herself and nobody’s talking to her. 2. A hearing aid is for listening, so why is she talking into the device?
Hearing aid proponents don’t have definitive answers to these questions, except to say that she could be testing the device out. She could be speaking into it and listening to her own voice. Now I’m not saying, necessarily, that she’s a time traveller, but this argument doesn’t ring true. When you watch the clip, it really does look like she’s having a serious conversation. Look at the way she stops and turns towards the camera. She almost looks angry, like she’s shouting at someone. Okay, so maybe she was senile. But would a crazy old lady who has arguments with herself in public really be in attendance at a high-class Hollywood premiere at the Chinese Theatre?
Other have said, well, it can’t be a mobile phone because there were no signal towers in 1928. To that I have a simple response. If in the future we have the ability to travel through time, I’m sure we’ll also have mustered the ability to phone each other without needing signal towers. I bloody hope so anyway. The latest smartphones are so sophisticated we can all but fry an egg on the other side of the ocean with the touch of an app. But a wee trip to the countryside? That’s just too much.
One argument against this woman being a time traveller (apart from time travel being impossible, yada yada) is that she must be the dumbest time traveller ever. She’s walking around a busy area with a device that hasn’t been invented yet, right where a camera crew are filming. Someone that stupid probably shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a time machine.
Unless she thought nobody could see her, that she’d switched on her cloaking device or put on her invisibility cloak, or something. It does take pretty big ovaries to go around dressed like that. 😉
And if this lady is indeed a time traveller, who is she on the phone to? Could it be her boss from the future? What’s her purpose being there? Is she just there to observe? A time travel tourist, if you will? Or might she be there to tinker with the timeline?
You can read my fictional take on this mystery in Tigershark Issue 11.
Next week: as it’s almost Halloween, I’m looking at the enigmatic Meon Hill, home to phantom black dogs and the infamous unsolved murder of a suspected witch…