“Time-traveler” in 1928 Chaplin Film

“This short film is about a piece of footage I (George Clarke) found behind the scenes in Charlie Chaplin’s film “The Circus”. Attending the premiere at Mann’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, CA - the scene shows a large woman dressed in black with a hat hiding most of her face, with what can only be described as a mobile phone device - talking as she walks alone.

I have studied this film for over a year now - showing it to over 100 people and at a film festival, yet no-one can give any explanation as to what she is doing.

My only theory - as well as many others - is simple… a time traveler on a mobile phone. See for yourself and feel free to leave a comment on your own explanation or thoughts about it.

George - 20th October 2024″


Thank you to Stevyn Colgan.

If you like this, try:

85 comments to “Time-traveler” in 1928 Chaplin Film

  • Stevyn Colgan

    Great isn’t it? I was amazed when I first saw it.

  • Vanessa

    I thought it would shock me more. I don’t mean to be mean, but it could be anything, like an old woman whith an itch on her ear talking to her husband, or someone with arthrytis trying to conceal her face, knowing she was being filmed. I do find it strange, and strangely similar to someone talking on a mobile phone, but seriously, it could be anything.

  • gdb

    Without a signal, I would presume.

  • Richard

    If it isn’t just an old lady scratching her ear and talking to herself (which it probably is), then it might be some kind of old fashioned hearing aid. Some kind of speaker that the person would hold up to their ear that magnifies sounds. Comparitively large hearing devices did exist in the twenties. She’d have hidden the wire to the battery in her clothes so it would fit invisibly into her hand so as to not draw attention to it.

    She may just be holding the speaker up and talking out loud to test if the device is working? She’s smiling because it is?

  • David

    Just holding his wig on? Yeah, could be anything. I don’t see an object in the hand at all. Nice bit of viral publicity for his movies I guess.

  • gdb

    Looks to me something like: http://www.hearingaidmuseum.com/gallery/Carbon/WesternElectric/info/westelect34a.htm

  • gdbro

    Looks like one of these to me: http://www.hearingaidmuseum.com/gallery/Carbon/WesternElectric/info/westelect34a.htm

  • John

    If it is a mobile phone, who is she talking to and on what network?

  • Matt Jones

    If it *is* a time traveller with a mobile phone, then who is she talking to and via which cellphone towers? Also, can you not see the contradiction in saying “It’s not an AM/FM radio because it’s 1928″ and then saying that it could be a cellphone?

  • Loki

    Um, how are they using the mobile phone? It’s not as if they had a GSM infrastructure back then with all the mobile masts and whatnot. I suppose you could argue that if they’ve invented time travel they could quite easily be transmitting it back to their timemachine and thence back through the time vortex back to now, but seriously, Occam’s Razor and all that: either they have an itch or they’re hiding themselves from the camera.

  • Sarah C

    Although… Look closely and you’ll see she isn’t holding anything. Front dark bit is shadow from her hand, back dark bit is her hair. Really - have a look.

  • Lewis Webb

    If it’s a phone - who is she talking to? who’s providing the mobile network for her to be communicating?

  • DiscoNastie

    I wouldn’t imagine she’d get too much reception back then, unless it’s some kind of space phone and she’s talking to the mothership.

  • David

    If it *is* a mobile phone, how did she get a signal?……

  • Ian Freeman

    Definitely covering her face against the filming.

  • travispuk

    More importantly, if it was a mobile phone, which wireless company was providing the service and where exactly was the cell tower that her phone was connecting to… and who was she talking to? Were there others in the same timezone that also had these communication devices that she was talking to? Maybe it was a communication device that she was linked to the control centre on the Time Machine HQ.

  • Janet Smith

    Poor old dear, I remember a time when this would not have seemed strange. Even today I’m not sure who are on mobile phones and who are talking to themselves.

  • Tom Smith

    If you take an Occam’s Razor approach to this, you simply have to ask… which is easiest…

    a. Time travel
    b. Video-editing
    c. Making something out of nothing

    It’s the oldest trick in the book to say the evidence exists over there, go look for yourself ( i.e the bible etc) knowing full well nobody will. You could have both easily acted, then added that person in.

    It also wouldn’t be beyond the realm of fantasy for a video editor at the company that re-masters these DVDs to do the same thing.

    It is still more likely to be nothing. The “phone” you talk about could easily be a shadow, a trick of the light, someone scratching their ear whilst coughing (it WAS the 1920s, people had itchy ears and coughs).

    But most importantly, why would someone from our future in 1928 be using a retro 3G iPhone rather than an embedded ear-piece? That’d be crazy.

    So, as you can see… there are many more massively more likely explanations and even your guess that it’s a phone has to be way off…

    But still, I think it’s a time-traveller too :-)

  • Tom Smith

    To all those people who say, “if she is using a mobile phone then who is providing the signal” … well …

    … if there’s ever a way to go back in time, then the phone companies will also have the ability to go back in time and find a way of charging exorbitant “time-roaming” charges. Stands to reason.

  • Tom Smith

    If there’s ever a way to go back in time, the phone companies will find a way to go back in time too and apply “time-roaming” charges. Stands to reason.

  • Donald

    Aside from the thought mentioned above about who she is phoning in an era with no networks (but then Doctor Who got around that one) I’m wondering why she would consciously attract so much attention. Remember when mobiles were new and how weird it was to hear people walking about apparently talking to themselves. Must have have been an urgent call!

  • Whoyouknow

    Amazing! And notice how the man in front of her pulls out an iPod Touch from his breast pocket just before he walks off shot.

  • Tom Smith

    Yes, I’ve never seen an unusually dressed lady walking around talking to herself, ever.

  • Laurie Pink

    Alas, I suspect her hand is empty & she’s shy of the filming. Regarding her being a chap in drag - she’d have to be a small chap. She looks little against that zebra, and also the chap who strolls out in front of her. I agree with SarahC - just as the dissolve kicks in, you can see that the black is the shadow of her hand.

    Her heavy gait is far more likely to be due to 1928 feet that have grown up in unforgiving lady shoes & her butch look just the face of a Handsome Woman.

    Still, it does look awesome.

    (Plus - considering she’s able to travel through time, a less obvious communication device would probably not be out of the question)

  • Noel Donnellon

    Come on guys, it’s L.A. she is probably a he in drag and talking in to a spare shoe

  • heyho


  • gdbro

    On second thoughts, I’m going with what I thought when I first saw this, which is the shadow of her hand. Some of the youtube comments suggest it might be a hearing-aid device, some of which looked a little like that in 1928, but with fresh eyes again, it’s clearly the shadow of her hand. Done.

  • Cheri

    I think her knuckles are bent because she has arthritis and she’s holding her hand to her head while fretting about something out loud, possibly because she has a headache or she’s been out all day and is tired. It’s more than possible that it’s her husband in front of her and she’s talking to him.

    However, what is also clear is that this guy created the entire thing for shameless self promotion. If he didn’t go on and on about his films at the beginning I would have actually considered this sincere.

  • Richard B

    Gosh, yes, I think it’s FAR more likely that humanity has, at some point in the future, invented time travel, set a drag queen back to the era of Chaplin and had them walk in front of a camera whilst chatting on an early 21st century mobile phone.

    The other explanations, that it’s just a shadow or a hearing aid or a woman scratching her ear are WAY too far-fetched for my liking.

    Thanks for taking over 8 minutes to explain this, too, instead of the 2 minutes a lesser film-maker would have employed. Brevity is over-rated!

  • Gary

    I’m pretty sure she’s just scratching her head. In the last couple of milliseconds, a couple of her fingers are extended and under her hat. As for the talking, I think maybe she’s just cursing at the discomfort.

  • Becky

    “Dag-nabbit! These young whippersnappers and their new-fangled motion picture cameras! Lemme alone!”

    I feel kind of sorry for this production guy…her seems a mite foolish.

  • Ray Martin

    I was all ready to launch into a sceptical exposition, when I saw that many had already done so. It’s good to see that fellow Retronauts are also critical thinkers :)

  • Evidence for time travel?

    [...] [...]

  • Martin Frampton

    For the hard-of-patience such as myself, the footage is between 2’42″ and 2’48″ (and repeated several times thereafter.) The rest of the clip is superfluous waffle.

  • Ibin Nibi

    Just ask Homeland Security for a transcript. She’s dressed in black, clearly with terrorist intent, likely on the watch list.

  • Warren

    She’s shielding her eyes from the glare of the sun. Look at the shadow she’s casting, it’s clearly a very bright and sunlit day and the sun is low on the horizon (her shadow is quite long).

    The only odd thing would be that her fingers seem rather more curled (as if they were holding something) instead of what you might expect as the more normal action of extending one’s fingers more fully when doing a sun-shielding action. But if you mime it yourself - and imagine a sun or other light source pointed directly at your left ear - you’ll see that if you hold your hand straight up, you don’t shield as much of your eyes as if you curl your fingers slightly to provide more lateral coverage. The only way to get more coverage would be to stick your elbow out awkwardly and hold your hand with the thumb pointing upwards instead of to the side.

    Why is she doing this and not the man in front of her? Because the man knows where he’s going and she isn’t sure, or else she’s looking for someone she’s supposed to meet there. This is evidenced by the fact that she’s walking more hesitantly, and even comes to a complete halt as she scans around.

  • Alex

    This explains the poor AT&T network quality! Bandwidth is being siphoned off into the past and funneled into the future to allow the time traveler’s to communicate with their own time!

  • Jorel

    “Hello Dear. I’ve made it! I’m going to Chaplin’s premiere of course, what’s more interesting to do back in ’28?”

  • Bohoe

    I have seen the footage a good few times and I can not see any sign of a phone - though I can understand why you would think she would be holding one, as we have learnt to observe this posture and hand shape. THERE IS NO PHONE, you can not see any device, and it becomes clear the hand is empty when after looking to the camera her thumb moves inward towards the palm. She is covering her face from the sun, while singing or talking to herself - not an uncommon practice.
    SO, She is a woman.
    She is not holding anything.
    And she is singing while walking outside a Circus.
    So you can now relax and go about your live.

  • Amanda Uren

    I paused it and went frame by frame at one point. At about 5.07-5.10 as the shot dissolves it looks like sh opens her hand a little more an I’m sure if she was holding something she would have dropped it.

  • michele

    There is clearly nothing in her hand. However I do believe it is a time traveler sending a nod out to the future. Why else would she stop & stand so obviously in center frame.

  • Terry Kinder


    French Electric “Camera”

    This aid, manufactured by the French Electric Co., around 1930, is housed in an interesting camera-style case. This is an unusual example of an electrical concealed hearing device.

  • Jacques Kilchoer

    “I have studied this film for over a year now – showing it to over 100 people and at a film festival, yet no-one can give any explanation as to what she is doing.”

    You mean, out of those 100 people, and the attendees at a film festival, no one could come up with the possibility that she was shielding her eyes from the sun / scratching her face / holding on to her hat / keeping her wig from flying off ?

  • Kyle Bennett

    If none of a hundred friends could explain this to you, you need new friends.

  • Leif

    “What? Yes I know I’m dressed like a woman you idiot! For the love of MIKE! No I haven’t found area 51! This damn phone doesn’t work for crap! Get me outta here these heels are killing me!”

  • Bart Hall (Kansas, USA)

    I’m surprised no-one has yet got the underlying flaw — which is that things cannot exist in an era in which they did not exist. More to the point, any putative time travel could only be forward from its point of invention, otherwise the time travel device and time traveller would instantly vanish in the manner of matter:anti-matter reactions.

    Secondarily, assuming it *is* a cell phone, it would be one from circa 2024 based on how the hand holding “it” is configured. Therefore, such time travel would need to have been invented at some point prior to 2024 or so.

    Do you think we might have heard about that by now?

    Alternate explanations are not needed, for the underlying assumptions are physically impossible. And even if one could possibly travel backwards in time, because the time travel machine was finally developped in 2319 it is very odd that the traveller is using a 300-year-old piece of kludge.

    It is as though despite our GPS units of today we chose to use an astrolabe for navigation.

    I always knew these “creative types” were developmentally challenged when it comes to logic, reason, and basic science, but this bloke demonstrates the problem astoundingly well.

  • Stan

    Can you hear me now?

  • Jon

    Poor old lady is obviously sheilding herself from the harsh mid-day sun (and i’m sure also those obtrusively glaring production lights), possibly self-consciously clasping her moldy outdated clara bow wig or mabel normand hat, and probably (more than likely) mumbling quips of distain to her caplunking husband/ man friend galloping several feet in front of her (slow down winston - where’s the fire). She’s obviously distraught over the whole cheesey carnival atmosphere of a pompous hollywood premeire and is clearly (look at dissolve) holding nada, conversing even more nada to (you guessed it) nada-one. But oh wouldn’t it be wonderful, the ability to transgress back in time to witness first hand the magic anf wonder of events pass! I guess the old adage is correct - we see what we want to see. But of course its an illusion - ask marty mcfly, professor brown and captain kirk - space time continuum and prime directive stuff! Still would be a wonderful what if!

  • Richard

    I’m going to make a point of never watching this guys movies. This viral campaign has been ridiculous!

  • Chris

    Ha! I just saw that this has made it to CNN!

  • Andrew

    What a bunch of kill joys! Come on people, It’s as easy as pissin yerself to poke holes in this scenario. You are all so eager to show how intelligent you are by pointing out the obvious. Of course there were no cell towers in 1928. The creative thinker tries to imagine a way this is possible. Perhaps the woman is using a hand held phone instead of an ear piece because in the future the support infrastructure is all contained in the users phone. Consider the public health policy ramifications, If this woman is from the future, the food police have failed! A fat woman from the future? The future is indeed bright, Bacon is still legal!

  • Kay

    This is not a time traveler. No possible way. There would be no reception because there are. no. towers. Simple. The woman looks as though she is holding onto her hat and talking to herself. I do that. All the time. :)

  • Vaughan Clark

    Sorry but the ‘black bit’ is just shadow from her gloved hand. However, the time-travelling lady is definitely holding something curved or circular in her left hand. It’s concealed and not necessarily bigger than a DVD or make-up mirror! Look at the way her fingers are angled. My guess is that she’s applying make-up. That’s a pity! I prefer to think she’s phoning home!

  • joey delapaz

    ok maybe she was fixing her wig?

  • Matt Grey

    how can nobody see what she is got

  • Spiros

    Some short of autism… hand near head and talks to herself…

  • Richard

    FFS, the BBC has picked up this “story”! http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-11646933

    Hats of to the fella for getting himself this much publicity for free, over nothing.

  • Amanda Uren

    I copied and uploaded to Flickr a still from the film about 5mins 10secs in. You can just make out her hand and it looks to me that her fingers are spread too wide for her to be holding anything.


  • jackie jones

    I think it’s Captain Kirk in disguise from one of the Star Trek episodes when they go back in time usually to somewhere in LA .. he’s communicating with his handset to Capt Scott to beam him up cos he’s just been rumbled..

  • Thornley

    Back, and to the left.
    Back, and to the left.

  • Mark G

    That’s impossible. A machine could never fly like a bird!

  • DF

    I wish I could time travel back and watch my parents conceive me. Just kidding, actually I would call them on the phone and interrupt them so I would never have been born…no wait, then how could I go back in time if I had done that…Im so confused…



  • Nigel

    Another great find!
    I was amazed at the lady’s shoes and gait. Could be someone in drag. However we have to bear in mind this is Hollywood and Los Angeles where anything has been possible for decades.
    The cynic in me poo-poos yet another viral marketing campaign, yet the innocent abroad in me hopes it is more interesting!
    Keep up the good work! :-D

  • Rachel

    I wonder what company she is with….if I ever find myself in the 1920′s, I would like to be able to use my phone…

  • Barb

    To be honest, the lady looks like she is just thinking. And bullshit she was talking in a device, can’t see anything but shadow there. Just looks like she has her fingers pressed against her temple, and possibly thinking aloud

  • Lois

    How about this 1928 radio: http://vintageradio.me.uk/magazinecvr/bright.htm ?

  • ChumbaWumba

    I thought it was an iPhone 4 but on further viewing I think its a black 3GS. So obviously he/she comes from a narrow time period 2024-10 basically. I think they set up a micro network for the group of travellers. Hope she doesn’t accidentally bump into her own grandmother and set up an awful time paradox!

  • SloMo

    I just saw someone walking down our road without a mobile phone. No iPod either. That means they must’ve time travelled from the past. Wow.

  • Xavier

    I have to say, there’s a far more impressive clip on the same Charlie Chaplin DVD showing a fascinating experiment made by the camera crew. Apparently, in order to speed up delivery of film to europe, they actually shot the whole film on two camera’s side by side. Then one smart-alec realised they could do 3D!
    It’s not on youtube yet, but it’s rather amusing watching two guys waving their hands infront of two cameras whilst making the first 3D movie..

  • Stuart

    Just a few issues. If she’s talking on the phone, she must be talking to someone else- which would mean two time travelers who each have a cell. But the main issue is that there are no satellites circling the earth in that year and of course there are no cell towers. So it would seem impossible- there must be another explanation.

  • Daniela

    it was a radio!

  • Neil

    So many negative and sarcastic comments! Thank you very much for this truly interesting footage.

  • spike91nz

    It is an ear-horn and rather common for the period, as hearing aids were not yet available. It appears to be a portable model, as opposed to the larger ones, more commonly used at home. She is listening to someone and talking. The ear-horn would allow for amplification of sound into her “good ear”.

  • sarah

    LOL this could be a time traveller and most of these replies are asking about the network!! dont worry about HOW this person and a mobile came to be in 1928 ..the potential that people could time travel is far more of an issue than what network

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  • Rob

    If it is a mobile phone, who would she be talking to in 1928? Unless they have the technology, presumably the same technology that allows time travel, to send a phone signal forward though time. Also just before the scene fades out the woman adjusts her fingers in a position that would be difficult to hold a phone with and moves her hand up to adjust her hat. It’s during the fade but it’s quite clear.

  • Roman

    She’s obviously using Verizon…

  • Ernst Borgnine

    She is holding the eight minutes, thirty one seconds of watching this video that none of us are getting back.

  • Karl

    Heck, it’s one of the crew from the Enterprise using a communicator hence no cell towers needed, on one of their trips back into time.

  • markzism

    We won’t know..

    I do not think it is a timetraveler, not because of the lack of reception, which should’t be a problem for the techlevel of timetravelers but for the fact that if we found out we would change the course of their history substantially and therefor he/she wouldn’t be there… ;)

    xcuse the spelling

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    [...] can make guesses. I can try and work out what's going on. But the one thing I'm pretty sure about - and I'm afraid I have to disagree with the chap who first pointed this out - is that it isn't a time traveller. (Why would the woman be on a mobile phone anyway? She couldn't [...]

  • Bill Tandy

    Everyone keeps making the point of “what cellphone network is she on?”. SO Assuming that this person has the ability to transport her physical self through time: Voice communication through time would have most likely been perfected well before transporting a whole human body.

    Just saying, the network issue isn’t what makes this a crazy assertion. That’s a small mental hurdle.

  • Penney

    she is my aunt babs, time traveller and thief

  • Pedro P

    Ian Freeman
    October 25, 2024 at 1:18 pm

    Definitely covering her face against the filming.

    (Same obvious words)

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