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Posted at 9:10 AM ET, 10/29/2010

The Siemens 1924 hearing aid: Apparently the answer to the Charlie Chaplin time travel mystery

By Jen Chaney

The mystery of the alleged time traveler at the 1928 premiere of Charlie Chaplin's "The Circus" has now been solved.

As first posited yesterday by a writer at the New York Daily News as well as other bloggers and online commenters, the device in the woman's hand definitely seems to be a 1924 Siemens hearing aid, based on the video below:

But some questions remain.

The main one, which I raised in yesterday's post about the viral video phenomenon of the week, being: If she's just using a hearing aid, why does she also appear to be talking into it? The obvious answer is that she's just chattering to herself, or perhaps trying to get the attention of someone around her. But she's probably not using a mobile phone.

And of course, there's the other big question: if it took interested parties on the Internet less than a day to solve this -- actually, if the running time on the video above is any indication, it took 25 seconds -- then why didn't Belfast filmmaker George Clarke, the man who discovered the "time traveler" footage and created the swiftly circulating YouTube clip, figure this out himself? Did he really do this just to promote his movie work? Or he did he consider his efforts a public service that would give bored office drones something to discuss until today, when they can fully focus their lost-productivity efforts on Halloween?

I don't know. All I know is that, while the hearing aid explanation may be the most logical one, I much preferred thinking that lady was actually the Doctor from "Doctor Who." Here's the original video again, if you want to reminisce about how awesome it was when you first watched it 22 hours ago.

And if you want to keep believing that time travel is possible, you can always cling to the hope that the guy in this photo jumped back to the '40s:

By Jen Chaney  | October 29, 2010; 9:10 AM ET
Categories:  Pop Culture, Viral Video  
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Looks like self promotion to me. I'm no science geek, so I can't figure space/time theory to explain how to receive a satellite technology signal in 1928...unless we play the alien angle.
I would imagine that people walking the streets doing weird stuff & talking to imaginary people is not solely a phenomena of our time.

Posted by: nonsensical2001 | October 29, 2010 10:18 AM | Report abuse

Another possibility is that the DVD producers put in this anachronism, as a form of copyright protection. Adding deliberate "mistakes" is an accepted way to protect content.

Posted by: finleyd | October 29, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

nonsensical2001: as you said, you're no "science geek", so here's a primer. All cellphones are based on cellular radio, so no satellites are used in order to keep our iPhones working now or in 1928. Cellular towers are the only transceiver most cellphones talk to (or else Tom Hanks would have been saved by a simple cellphone in "Cast Away"). Satellite phones are used by a few companies such as GlobalStar and Iridium at prohibitive prices, but it's a safe bet that 99% of the public has never seen one.

Posted by: DisposablePet | October 29, 2010 1:36 PM | Report abuse

And who would she be talking TO?

It's just like Bigfoot, Nessie, etc. There can't be just one of them

Posted by: GWGOLDB | October 29, 2010 4:40 PM | Report abuse

The "no cell tower" argument just doesn't seem to hold water, to mix tower types.

IF time travel were possible, and IF someone from the far future were to send somebody back to 1928, there is no reason to believe that an ability to send a person through time would exist while the ability to send radio or other light/radiation/etc. signals through time/space would not.

I mean, IF they could send a person, they could certainly send such signal through time/warps/etc.

Posted by: cgweeks | October 29, 2010 5:54 PM | Report abuse

I wonder how many of the Siemens hearing aids were produced between the patent date (1924) and 1928, and whether this woman can be tracked down if the sales were relatively small in number....Let's get the History Detectives on it lol.

Posted by: cgweeks | October 29, 2010 6:09 PM | Report abuse

according to the einstien field equations and general relativity...if you could make a traversable wormhole and accelerate one opening to near light speed with time dilation slowing time down at opening and not the other...going through the wormhole opening affected by time dilation, you would actually travel back in time
ex: there is a clock at both openings of the starts at 2010..accelerate one opening of the wormhole to near light speed...and once it stopped the watch that didnt move said 2020 while the watch with the accelerated wormhole says 2015...the year is 2020 but going through the wormhole you would have effectively traveled to 2015
the einstien field equations predict this behavior...time travel is theoretically possible

Posted by: hoss6556 | October 29, 2010 8:41 PM | Report abuse

In the 1940 shot, I'm not amazed by the guy's sunglasses as much as I am by his clothes--that's a hoodie over a stamped T-shirt.

Posted by: chunche | October 31, 2010 10:34 AM | Report abuse

Dear Jen Cheney:

Did you bother to read the Siemens website? It shows that the Siemens hearing aid from 1924 was not a small, self-contained handset, but an earpiece on a tube, similar to a stethoscope, attached to a heavy, non-portable case. The ear-piece was held in the hand quite differently than a cell phone, as the full Siemens image shows on both the older man and the young girl: (

Further, the Siemens website says its first portable device was introduced in 1929! These devices were made to converse with someone in a close range. Who would she be listening to walking alone on a street?

Of course there were no cell towers back then, so it's not a "cell" phone per se, nonetheless this certainly seems to be some sort of wireless telephony, something an advanced civilization could certainly provide its space/time travelers.

This is the WASHINGTON POST!!! You owe it to your readership to research your articles thoroughly, especially when the information is so readily available. A retraction seems in order!

Posted by: MauricePeterson | October 31, 2010 11:34 AM | Report abuse

It's *not* the hearing aid. It's a cigarette case. She's hiding her face with that hand and just happens to be holding a cigarette case -- not uncommon in this era and it's just the right size. She's talking to the cameramen, asking them not to put her in the picture. I've seen my mother make this same gesture to keep someone from filming her -- minus the cigarette case -- and the same sheepish smile at the end when she finally consents to be filmed.

Posted by: cwalniuk | October 31, 2010 4:49 PM | Report abuse

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