Quite a few people have sent me this interesting video showing a few moments from a 1928 Chaplin film in which a woman appears to be on a mobile phone!  Take a look at the footage…

Any ideas?  I suspect that the answer to the riddle is here.  What do you think?  Could she have been testing the device by talking into it and seeing if she could hear herself?

UPDATE: Adam Wood has suggested that it might have been a ‘Lutz Ferrando ear trumpet’. Details here.

If you are interested, the full video about the original footage is here.




  1. The item you linked to the _microphone_ is the large square box – there is a separate in-ear ear piece on a long wire. Why would you hold the microphone up to your ear like that?

    1. You wouldn’t … unless you were holding it up to the speaker on your cell phone! Resolved.

    2. Who said she had the microphone pointed at her ear? It could have been pointed at her mouth.

  2. Of course. And why anyone could think it was a cell phone is beyond me. Just how are you supposed to find any coverage in 1928?

    1. Also who would she have been talking to, it would have to have been some sort of transdimensional time obsolete device to contact people back in the future that doesn’t actually exist yet?

  3. Perhaps she was just scratching her ear…

    Or it’s this:

    During archeological excavations in Greece they found a piece of copper wire. Archeologists concluded that ancient Greeks must had telephone for communication.
    The archeologists in UK then made a discovery in their excavation. it was a piece of glass fiber. The conclusion was that the ancient inhabitants of the island were using fiber-optic digital communications.
    Finally the archeologists in the USA decided to search for clues. After many years they found nothing. The conclusion was that the ancient Americans were much more advanced and they have used wireless technology.

  4. I cant see it being a microphone… if it is, she would be listening to someone, so who is she talking to?

    The nearest person to her is the man in front of her, but he doesnt appear to be talking to her and he is miles ahead when she starts talking…. very odd indeed!

    Perhaps this is a fake, which has been doctored? Has anyone seen this on the original?

    1. Apparently it is not a fake. Have spoken to several reliable people who all inform me that it is on the actual dvd. You can also watch this version “The Circus” on youtube. The actual clip is near the start of the film.

  5. i dont think its a hearing aid because the hearing aid already came with an ear piece, plus why would she be talking into a hearing aid receiver? makes no sense… don’t think its a cell phone either though because there weren’t any satellites back in 1928.. getting a good signal would be difficult

  6. Looked like she was talking to the man ahead of her whilst carrying a purse and shielding herself from the camera with her hand/purse.
    Don’t forget people were less forthcoming with forms of mass-media than they are today.

    1. Personally I think time travel MIGHT be possible. But I dont think youll be able to go back to a time that took place before the inventing of time travel.

      I think that sweatynumbthumb´s explanation is the most likely so far. Looks like she is covering up from the camera.

  7. Like the people above, I’m going with a non-mechanical solution. I think this person is suffering an ear- or headache, and clutching at the offending body part.

  8. The answer is…. a Lutz Ferrando ear trumpet! It’s much more likely that such a “peasant” of the times had this simplistic, phone/purse shaped ear trumpet, than the posh expensive one!

    Google “Lutz Ferrando ear trumpet” 😉

  9. There were personal radios since the early 1920’s, but it’s not one of those (they were too big and bulky); there was also an oblong-shaped hearing aid (brought out in 1924 by Siemens), though the most likely explanation, I don’t think it’s one of those since you don’t usually talk into them, let alone shout out “NO” into one. It isn’t an ear trumpet because look at the hands of the person holding it, the object being held near to the ear is oblong-shaped and fairly-flat (just like a mobile phone). She (or he) isn’t holding a diary up to her face in an attempt to obscure her face from the camera. This person is walking along and talking into whatever she is holding to her face. It is clear she is having a conversation with somebody, utilising the device (whatever it is) which is facilitating the conversation. If it was a modern film, I would say that this person is talking on a phone: I watched several people in the town centre yesterday perform similar actions and all of them, without exception, were talking on a mobile phone. Since this film is 1928, the phone scenario seems a fairly remote (but not totally out of the question) possibility. In my opinion, s/he is, more than likely, using a device which was available in 1928 but none which has been mentioned (Siemens hearing aid, personal radio) above.

  10. look at the funny way they are holding the phone. who puts a finger over the top of their phone?? no one i’ve ever seen. holding it like she doesn’t know how she should be holding it i say

  11. she looks like a witch. and even if it was a time traveller there wouldn’t be any towers to get reception to talk to anyone. and how would she charge the phone…were electrical sockets a different style in 1928?????. like today, things from europe don’t plug into my wall socket at home. different plugs. Plus the person knew they were on camera, so i think it’s someone playing a joke.

    “Hey Director…you want me to walk in front of the camera prentending to talk on some cordless phone thing?”



    “it’ll really mess people up 80 years from now, when they have real cordless phone things and flying cars.”

    i mean come on it’s 1928 hollywood…time travel isn’t real i can prove it15 hours

  12. hearing aid? i don’t mind the analysis. but clearly that person looks like talking (mouth movement). s/he stopped for a bit like what people normally do when talking or having conversation on mobile phone.

    (i agree with MOT’s comment earlier)

  13. Not only can I confirm that it’s a time-travelling transvestite, I can even tell you what he’s saying:

    “Sorry, dear, got to hang up now. One of those quaint 1920s-era video recording devices has just caught me talking on this quaint 2000s-era audio communication device. Yes, I know I shouldn’t have been using it in public, but I assumed they would simply think I was crazy. What’s that? Take me away? Lock me up in a what? Sorry, dear, you’re breaking up. I must be losing reception on this quaint 1920s-era cellular network. Anyway, I’ll call you back after I’ve stolen the footage and erased the filmmaker’s memory. We wouldn’t want any anachronisms creeping into–eh, what’s that? YouTube? Shit.”

  14. She’s talking to the little girl who appears in the last half second or so of the film — you can see her dress right at the bottom left hand corner emerging. It’s why the woman slows down and turns a little.

    1. No, if you look carefully, the little girl is not in the same footage as the old woman, she’s in the next footage that is fading in as the old woman’s footage is fading out.

      There is another explanation I haven’t seen anyone make. This could be a publicity stunt by the company that released the DVD. Vintage film cameras from that era still exist, and it wouldn’t be very difficult or costly to dress some people up with 1928 era clothes and recreate the small setting with the stuffed zebra and so on. I’m sure a ton of these DVD’s are going to sell because of this.

  15. @meme: it’s obviously an iphone, that’s why she’s holding it funny. Maybe apple developed an app for time travel, but couldn’t sort out the whole “how to hold your handset” problem 😛

  16. She might be talking to the gent who is charging ahead of her asking him to slow down or she is turning to ask the girl to speed up, whilst heard the aid to help hear their responses ( a weary grunt from her husband probably.) My great gran looked like her and was a fearsome battleaxe.

  17. As far as I can tell, it’s not clear that she’s holding anything at all. Occam’s razor – she’s not holding a cell phone, she’s holding her hand to her ear because it hurts or itches or any number of perfectly mundane reasons. Maybe she has a toothache, but it’s definitely not a cell phone and it takes a bigger stretch of the imagination to believe she’s holding a cell phone than to see Jesus in a toilet seat. I suppose some of us have become so used to the sight of people talking on cell phones while walking down the street that we see it everywhere.

    1. Look at the shape of her hands. See the way the fingers are wrapped around something solid. When s/he turns to the camera you can also see that it is a small, black, rectangular-shaped object.

    2. I can’t see anything in her hand. The only black I see is shadow, certainly nothing that looks remotely like a rectangular object. The fingers are curled up, but that could be a natural posture or the result of arthritis. Certainly they are far more curled than the way I’ve ever seen anyone hold a cell phone. Then just before the fade to the next footage the first two fingers move like they’re scratching an itch, not a motion associated with holding a cell phone. There’s nothing there but the preconceptions of members of a society where cell phones are commonplace.

  18. Cell Phone! No way, no terrestrial or satellites exists to provide service. Clearly its a Star Trek like communicator and she’s trying to get back off world. Case closed. 😉

  19. everybody knows that time travel became impossible after the great meteor shower of 2014. oops, i don’t think i was supposed to say that

  20. As other people have said, it cant be a mobile phone as she wouldnt have reception.

    But if time travel were possible, then perhaps she has a phone that can communicate through time as well.

    Then again, would a time traveller be so indiscreet as to walk around talking in public! I doubt it

  21. don’t you people read your history books? the day he was inaugrated in 2013, president biden signed the bill outlawing time travel and income tax, causing widespread panic in europe, and china to apply for statehood?

  22. If she is a time traveller, the time machine would had to have been built back in 1928 or earlier, due to the fundamental properties of the universe. We learnt this at TAM London at Marcus Chown’s talk. I am sure that I can’t remember why though.

    And yes, that means Back to the Future is impossible…

    1. That’s if you use the wormhole method of time travel (you’d anchor one end of the wormhole temporally at the moment of its creation, while the other end would move to the future at the normal rate, thus allowing time travel from that moment onward). It’s the most likely method, but not the only proposed way of time traveling.
      Not that I believe she’s a time traveler, but if she was, she could’ve used some other means of travel.

  23. Why do so many of you say “it couldn’t be a cell phone because there was no satellite back then” and things like that? First is the issue of time travel. Second, if it is possible why would it be from today-why not 200 years from now? Do you think we’ll still be worried about “coverage” then? Don’t be sooooooooo closed minded and narrow.

    1. Okay, even if we assume some sort of futuristic cell phone that does not need sattelites or antenna towers, we still have the problem of who she’s calling in a phoneless world. Unless you assume there’s multiple time travelers present, and she’s calling one of her companion travelers.
      Or, of course, unless she’s The Doctor’s companion and he’s rigged her phone like he rigged Rose’s.

    2. I suppose it depends on what we’re arguing. If the claim being made is that it is a cell phone, since the “cell” stands for cellular network, as I’m sure you’re aware, it’s called that because the towers form a network of cells around them in which your phone will work. It could be something more futuristic, but it is not a cell phone, nor is it a satellite phone. Of course, Richard and the guy in the original video use the more European word “mobile phone”, which could be something else entirely, but is that what they’re thinking of? And when we reach a future where time travel is simple enough that an idiot who gets caught talking on his communicator on film can do it, and we can communicate without any apparent background infrastructure whatsoever, then I would think we would be sufficiently advanced not to have a handset at all. Of course, it could just be a walky talky. Or, since you can’t see anything in her hand but shadows, the most likely explanation is that it’s nothing at all.

  24. The body shadows are interesting at the beginning. When the man’s shadow is reflected against the wall you only see the the top half of his body as a shadow, however, when the lady walks past her whole body shadow appears on the wall. Possibly doctoring of the video here?

  25. Why do people keep saying it can’t be a cell phone as there were no towers back then? Maybe it is a walkie-talkie and she it talking to another ‘traveler’ my company makes these that work about 15 miles and you just need 2 of them. They don’t care what year it is!
    People saying the cell phone coverage towers etc, simply sound ignorant to our technology.

  26. How big is this woman that her hand can make a case somewhat larger than three D batteries laid sideways disappear? 7¾” by 4″ is a good sized brick.
    Was everyone just more gigantic in general as recently as four generations ago?
    They must have been truly huge when they built the Pyramids, though it probably only took most of a weekend.

  27. “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. So many of you are thinking inside the box-whether we say “cell phone” or not-the issue is what is she talking into. I agree this is surely nothing, but do any of you out there know what technology we’ll have 200 years from now? To talk so limited, only seeing “towers” and “coverage” or our immediate technology makes me feel like we are unwilling to actually think about things.

  28. I have seen the video in regular and slow motion speeds. I have also seen all the hearing aid devises from that era. Folks, the thing she/he is holding is no the same as these devises. Also it is more than obvious that this person is talking into it. So I’m not buying the hearing aid theory! It might not be a time traveler thing, but we have to do better than this.

  29. I think there is one thing we are over looking here. That person was part of the cast. Chaplin was considered at the time to be a brilliant film maker.It was no accident that he/she was there. Perhaps there are letters or documents stating who all was in the film, that can be found with a little or alot of research.

  30. I’d like to hear from someone that can read lips- what is she saying? THat might give some clues as to what is going on. If she’s talking about the alien probes, it might explain everything 😉

  31. She’s a time traveller, obviously. So why has she got a 200n-style mobe?

    Probably either because their research into what would be inconspicuous in 1928 was subcontracted to the lowest bidder — a barely sentient slime mold analogue from Pluto.

    Or the time transport device, aimed at 200n, was built by the same lowest bidders, and reintegrated itself in our brane a little early in 1928.

    Either way, it is simply proof that barely sentient slime mold analogues from Pluto will form an important part of future earth’s economy.

    It’s that simple.

  32. The more important question to me would be WHY a person with such advanced technology would allow the whole world to know of its existence?!!

    My thoughts….”they” are sending a message.

    Follow me on this….If it is indeed a cell phone, then you’d have to assume that the beings who created the time machine woudl probably want to keep it on the downlow. Instead they made certain that it was seen in the movie (notice the person made no effort to hide it….in fact she/he actually stopped and looked towards the camera while using it).

    Secondly, if you’re going to show it at all why would you reveal it in the opening of a movie with the most popular actor in the world at the time….more popular than most of the A-list actors today combined.

    There is a message there…just not sure what it is.

    Maybe just a bunch of college kids from the 23rd century just f**king with us knowing that at our time the internet would be relatively new and this would be a joke that would not reach maturity for 80 years.
    making it the longest punchline in recorded history 🙂

  33. If it is a message they blew it cause it took over 80 years for us to find it. Couldnt someone back then have said; “Look at that crazy broad talkin to a box.” But no, I guess the aliens over estimated our intelegence. BIG TIME!

  34. Why even entertain the idea ? It’s just some loser looking for publicity to promote his lousy films. Christ !

  35. Well that “loser” is getting his 15 minutes of fame, which is more than you or I have ever had. And please leave Christ out of this. His name is not a profane word. Thanks.

  36. Apparently the womans name was audrey manningham, she was 62 when this film was shot, she suffered from dementia and constantly talked to herself,, she was re fixing a comb she had in her hair at the time, the man who walks in front of her was George Manningham her husband.

  37. I think she’s a delusional schoizophrenic, talking into a gerbil, thinking that she has a direct link to the Messiah. It’s a much more reasonable hypothesis than cell phone use.

  38. Well, it could be Audrey Manningham though this film is 82 years old, the truth would be in either the directors copy of the script (notes) or in the credits, if they had any.
    Another thought is, in watching this person walk, it’s not a woman at all, but the director Charlie Chaplin, directing the scene and doing a fill in cameo. He’s dressed in black to stand out (when others are dressed in light clothes per the season) and hiding his face so he wont be recognized and calling out direction as he walks along. mr Chaplin was a small man, so he could pass for a woman and if you do a close up of the figure, you will note a rather large and pointed nose, which Charlie had as well.
    This concept isn’t new, Alfred Hitchcock also did cameos in many of his films as well. This one is a bit different in that it is a silent film, so the director can talk all he wants and it wont be recorded..

    Just a thought 😉

  39. I agree with GUSSNARP (see above), in this video at about :57 – :59 you can see a close up of her hand, really watch the fingers, nothing else, they seem to move in a way (close almost) that if she had something in her hand it wouldn;t be able to close like that. Plus i watched a longer video (Irish guy who says he discovered it), where at 4:27 in his video the guy got it large enough and slow enough that when she tilted her hand it also looked like she had nothing in her hand. By the time theoretical time travel (and no i don’t believe in it) would ever be possible cell phones or recorders would be so small that she wouldn’t use any device like that anyways – nor would they let her use anything so obvious in public, heck i doubt she’d even be allowed to bring something like that with her, if she lost it who knows the catastrophe it could cause in the time line.

    1. yeah watching again, watch that middle finger at about :58, it 100% slides forward and moves. Like she is fixing her hair or something, and/or nothing is in her hand.

    2. my dad just watched it, and first take i didn’t tell him what the video was or what people thought it was (the cell phone thing) as its very suggestive to tell people what they will see, and i think he nailed it!

      “what this lady doing dad?”

      BAM! he nailed it, nothing in her hand, its sunny, she is walking with her husband and putting her hand up to shield her cataracts. Look at the shadows they cast, it is sunny on that side. Her husband probably stops just off screen to wait for her, notices the camera man, and says “honey you are being filmed”, and she stops looks at the camera laughing and says “whaaaat?”

  40. The video you have here is of a fairly poor picture quality as it was recorded directly from somebody’s television (notice the “Samsung” logo at at the bottom middle of the screen. A clearer picture version can be found here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJ0VR0ktmRo which is the actual footage of this film (the clip is 20 seconds in). From my perspective, there is definitely something in her hands which she is speaking into. I liked the explanation by ‘anothertime’ that the ‘woman’ in the film could be Charlie Chaplin in disguise (which would explain the huge clown-like shoes).

  41. My observations
    1. It doesn’t seem like the person is holding anything as large as a cell phone, especially due to the finger position. The index and middle finger are together and the thumb hidden from view with the last two fingers free. Almost the same way it would be if the person was holding the rim of the hat. It is most clear at the end of the clip.
    I don’t think it is a ear scratch cause the fingers don’t seem to twitch.

    2. The person seems to utter something only at the end of the clip. Lips remain parted until that point and the word seems to me almost mono syllable. Some thing like Yeah said twice with a pause in between.
    3. Very strong shadows being cast away from the cameraman. Photographers would position themselves that way to avoid direct glare from the light source.
    4. The person seems to be following the man at the front. They are probably together, if not a couple. Toward the end of the clip, she pauses, looking straight then left uttering something and proceeds in that direction.

    The person is following the man, covering his/her face from the strong light coming from behind the cameraman by holding the rim of the hat such that it casts a shadow on her face. Toward the end of the clip, the man (now out of frame) probably stops and suggests a change of direction to the follower, to which he gets an agreement in the form of a yeah yeah and she follows in that direction.

    It is much nicer to think this was time travel. 🙂

  42. Finally the archeologists in the USA decided to search for clues. After many years they found nothing. The conclusion was that the ancient Americans were much more advanced and they have used wireless technology

  43. Not that it has anything to do with the “cell phone” speculation, but this is NOT footage from the film, “The Circus”, it is footage from the PREMIERE of the film (like they show on E!). You can see in the opening frames of this clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJ0VR0ktmRo…the people are in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

    The only point I’m making is that these are “regular people” on the street, not actors in a movie.

  44. That was my grandad! My grandmom recognized him.He got out of the mental hospital that day. She said he liked to dress like a woman and talk to himself. Silly silly grandad. you were such a character. Ha Ha Ha.

  45. This device would not be the answer. I recall my great uncle had one similar. The box is a precursor to the microphone, not a speaker or an earpiece. So if she was holding it up to her ear, she would be using it backwards, like holding an analog telephone handset upside down. For what it’s worth, though, I have referenced your blog in mine, which presents another theory. THanks!! : ) http://siliconcowboy.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/charlie-chaplin-time-traveler-video-debunked-explained/

  46. I can testify that you will be an expert at your data I would be launching a web site quite soon, and your material will probably be really useable for me. Many thanks for all your support and wishing you all the achievement in your company enterprise.

  47. Yea cus cell fones are SOOOOOO muche biger now than ther were 5 yeas ago i it makes sens that les say……….in 100 years were time travle can be a thing they have the fones of that sise

  48. The device the woman holds in her hand is most probably a Detective Dictograph. It was first developed around 1907 as a covert listening device. The woman was probably reporting on the filming, hiding the battery and wires under her clothes.
    She also seems to be moving her fingers, perhaps turning the device on and off.

    see: http://www.pimall.com/nais/nl/audiohistory.html

  49. The entire video is fake and I can prove it beyond the shadow of a doubt. There is one MAJOR give away. Zebra stripes couldn’t be seen on video footage back then. The “horse” in Mr. Ed was actually a zebra. You can look this up anywhere. Because of the problem with video quality until the late 1970’s and 1980’s, stripes and certain other patterns could not be picked up on film. Going back and touching up the footage would not leave a zebra looking like that. This leads to the real question- Why would people go through so much trouble for such a weird hoax? This video is fake and the huge visibly striped zebra in the middle of the picture completely gives it away. You are welcome!

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  51. How could she have been talking into her ear piece? People must also remember the personalities of people in 1920 – a rich lady wouldn’t walk around talking into her own ear piece in the streets.

    What about the theory that Chaplin staged it?

  52. No one has suggested an alien disguised as a human and reporting back to their ufo mother ship

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  58. It is a walkie-talkie. It turns out that Motorola the creator of walkie-talkies was established in 1928 and for sure started developing technologies long before. It does not take high tech to make a device to communicate with members of a set in a movie from pole to pole in ranges of 10 meters. The y started experimenting with this since the creation of the phone. High classes and entrepreneurs are always ten or fifteen years ahead of us poor people in technology. I am sure Bill Gates has 3d graphs computers like the Iron Man movies.

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