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Charlie Chaplin’s Time Traveler is an Internet urban legend surrounding a footage from the premiere of the 1928 silent film The Circus written and directed by Charlie Chaplin. Available on the 2004 DVD, a pedestrian woman can be seen walking in the background while holding what appears to be an electronic device close to her ear.
The Circus is a silent film written and directed by British actor and filmmaker Charlie Chaplin. Originally released in 1928, the plot revolves around a circus ringmaster who hires Chaplin’s Little Tramp as a clown, only to discover that he can make people laugh unintentionally. The Circus premiered at Mann’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California and was re-released in DVD format in 2004.
The woman in the background of the Hollywood premiere went seemingly unnoticed until October 19th, 2010, when Irish filmmaker George Clarke uploaded a vlog post to his YouTube channel arguing that this woman was a time traveler who was holding up a cellphone to her ear. As of May 2012, this video has more than 6.2 million views.
Within nine days of its original posting, the YouTube video accumulated 1.4 million views. The video was initially picked up by Mediaite on October 26th and subsequently featured on various news sites and blogs, including ABC News, The Telegraph, the Huffington Post, The Daily Mail, CBS News and Vulture. On October 31st, Clarke compiled a blog post, noting that the video had received more than 4 million views and 40,000 comments in the 12 days it had been online. He also received more than 20,000 additional emails with theories and requests. Some of these theories suggested that she had a toothache and was holding an ice pack to her face, that the footage was doctored or that she was a government agent who held some sort of advanced technology. On YouTube, there are approximately 600 videos featuring various explanations, speculations or parodies of Clarke’s video.
The New York Daily News posited that the woman in the clip may have been using a pocket-sized carbon microphone/amplifier, a hearing aid technology that was patented in 1924. Alternatively, the Atlantic suggested it could be an Audiphone Carbon Hearing Aid developed by Western Electric in 1925. Other science news publications like LiveScience and Discovery Network also supported the notion that the actress was using a hearing aid device, drawing expert analysis from scholars and historians in the academic community.
Many YouTubers responded with satirical explanations for the scene, offering alternative scenarios like involvement of hologram technology or even the famous actor from the Verizon Wireless commercials.
The Daily Mail – Is this a time-traveller in a Charlie Chaplin film?
Huffington Post – ‘Time Traveler’ Caught In 1928 Charlie Chaplin Film?
The Telegraph – Charlie Chaplin time traveller spotted in old film