Time travel. It has been the theme of countless science fiction books, TV shows, and movies, and has both captured the imagination and blown the minds of those who have contemplated it. But what if time travel was more than just a fantastical construct of science fiction? What if it were real? Even more, what if there are already time travelers out there amongst us? Although there is much debate on whether time travel is even possible at all, that certainly hasn't stopped the tales of those who have allegedly achieved it, and there are numerous bizarre cases of supposed time travel. This article is not going to go into the specifics and logistics of the process of time travel itself. I am not going to blow your mind with talk of quantum physics, the space-time continuum, and paradoxes. What I am going to do is present you with some damn strange cases of purported real world time travel and the people who claim to have done it.
Many of the claims of real time travel come in the form of anomalous photos that have turned up purportedly showing evidence of time travelers caught on film. Perhaps the most notorious of these, and the one which really stirred up a lot of debate when it was found, is a photo that turned up at the virtual Bralorne Pioneer Museum, from British Columbia, Canada. The photo in question was taken at the opening of the South Fork Bridge in Gold Bridge, British Columbia, in 1941. At first glance, the photograph is not particularly exciting, and rather seems to just show a group of people standing around to watch the opening, but a closer look turns up something odd. Standing amongst the people is a man who looks quite different than those around him. While everyone else is wearing formal clothing of the era, this man, who is noticeably taller and younger than everyone else, is wearing what appears to be casual modern urban clothing, including a knitted sweater over a printed t-shirt with a logo emblazoned on it and modern-looking sunglasses. Additionally, he has a decidedly modern haircut and appears to have what looks like a digital camera.
What became known as the “Time Traveling Hipster” photo caught the Internet by storm when it was first found, and there have been a lot of people who have held it up as evidence of time travel due to the man’s very unusual, quite modern appearance compared with others in the photo and indeed of the era, and the fact that this was a genuine, authentic photograph that had apparently not been doctored in any way. Skeptics have pointed out that, although uncommon at the time, sunglasses had caught on as early as the 1920s, and the top looks as though it could be a sweater with the sewn on emblem of an ice hockey team of the time, the Montreal Maroons. The camera has been suggested as being a Kodak Folding Pocket model, which was available at the time but actually rather bulky. Despite these arguments, it is not completely known just what is going on in the photo and it is still debated as perhaps being of a time traveler.
Perhaps just as famous as the Time Traveling Hipster is a piece of film footage from 1928 allegedly showing a woman who appears to be talking on a cell phone. The piece of footage is from the premiere of Charlie Chaplin’s film, The Circus, at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles. The clip, which was among behind the scenes footage added for the DVD release of the film, shows some individuals walk across the screen and a zebra, and then a heavy-set woman wearing a coat and hat walks alone across the scene holding what looks like a thin, black device reminiscent of a modern cell phone against her ear as she seemingly talks to someone. People who saw the footage were convinced that this was footage of a time traveler caught unaware in the act of communicating on her modern device.
The video immediately went viral after it was first discovered and uploaded to YouTube in 2010 by Northern Irish filmmaker George Clarke, and received a massive amount of hits. It also appeared all over mainstream news programs and generated intense Internet debate. It has been suggested that she may have been using a portable hand-held hearing aide called an “ear trumpet,” which had just been developed around that time and was a device held up to the ear to be pointed at what one wanted to hear. Some of the more expensive models were not trumpet shaped, but rather rectangular, although why she is apparently talking when she is clearly on her own is anyone’s guess. It is unknown what is actually going on here, and many are still convinced that the mysterious woman is in fact a time traveler.
Cell phones have a way of frequently popping up in these alleged images of time travelers. In footage from 1938 we have yet again a woman who appears to be talking on a handheld phone-like device. The black-and-white footage itself shows a crowd of factory workers leaving a a DuPont factory in Massachusetts in 1938, and among them can be seen a young brunette woman in a dress who is smiling at the camera while clearly talking on some sort of device held up to her ear. This footage also ignited a large amount of debate on the Internet and talk of time travelers. Again, it is unclear just what we are looking at here, although a woman has come forward claiming to be the grandchild of the woman in the video, and says that the woman had been employed at the telecommunications section of the factory and had been testing out a new experiment with wireless telephones. According to this alleged granddaughter, the woman was testing out the phone for a week and in the clip is talking to a scientist who is off to the right; another woman who also seems to be holding a similar device although not up to her ear. We will probably never know for sure if this is true or not, or indeed what is going on here.
There are numerous other alleged cases of modern cell phones turning up in images where they have no business being. One story that has made the rounds is an apparent smartphone showing up in a 1948 movie. In one scene in the film Fort Apache, actor Henry Fonda can be seen riding in a stagecoach, where he produces a slim, black device oddly reminiscent of an iPhone, which he consults in an effort to find his destination. The clip was widely circulated and latched onto by time traveler conspiracists, but unfortunately it is most likely merely a black, leather notebook, which Fonda’s character can be seen flipping through in other scenes in the movie.
Even weirder is the case of an iPhone that Apple CEO Tim Cooke claimed to have found in a 17th century painting. Cook was at the the Rijksmuseum during a trip to Amsterdam for the Startup Fest Europe when he noticed something odd about the painting imaginatively entitled Man Handing a Letter to a Woman in the Entrance Hall of a House, which was painted by Pieter de Hooch in 1670. In the painting, the titular “letter” was noticed to be uncannily similar in appearance to a modern iPhone made by Apple. Cook quipped: “I always thought I knew when the iPhone was invented, but now I’m not so sure anymore.”
Yet another iPhone allegedly shows up during a 1995 boxing match between Mike Tyson and Peter McNeeley, which was one of the highest grossing fights in history. During the match, a person can be seen to clearly hold up a shiny, smartphone-like device looking very much like an iPhone or similar device, complete with the characteristic visible circular lens in the top corner, to take a photo or record the fight. There were no smartphones at the time, nor any cameras of that particular design, and no one seems to have been able to figure out what it could possibly be, leading to the theory that it is a time traveler. Skeptics say that it was most likely a digital camera of the era, although exactly what model it could be remains a mystery and none available at the time really quite match what was is seen in the footage. The footage has incited a large amount of debate and media coverage, but ultimately no one is quite sure what it shows.
Phones and mysterious people are not the only strange things to show up in photos, videos or paintings of alleged time travel. In one civil defense educational film from the 1950s, the teacher gestures to a chalkboard on which can clearly be seen the words "With," "No," "Warning" and most bizarrely, ”Game 2 Giants 9 Rangers 0.” Sharp eyed time travel conspiracists were quick to point out that this was indeed the score of Game 2 of the 2010 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Texas Rangers. Its hard to quite know what to make of this one. Then there is a painting from the 1800s which has been claimed to show someone with a CD box from which a CD in its plastic case is being removed. It is most likely just a glass lid on a normal box that merely looks like a CD, but of course there are those who say it is proof of time travel.
Adding to these images, paintings, and videos are the numerous tales of people who are said to have travelled in time, ranging from the intriguing to the absurd. One of the most mysterious cases of alleged time travel revolves around one of history’s most mysterious disappearances. On 27 March 1938, renowned Italian scientist, engineer, physicist, mathematician, and Nobel Prize winner Ettore Majorana boarded a ship from Palermo to Naples and was never seen again. The unexplained disappearance was just at the height of 32-year old Majorana’s meteoric rise to fame and accolades within his field, and made headlines worldwide. People everywhere wondered: why would such a young, rising star suddenly disappear off the face of the earth? The mystery has been picked apart, researched and discussed ever since, offering up no evidence or answers as to what happened to Majorana and earning its place among the pantheon of the world’s most bizarre vanishings, but it gets even weirder still.
Among the many theories as to what happened to Ettore Majorana are that he was depressed and committed suicide, that he was murdered by the Mafia, that he joined the Nazis, or that he chose to escape the spotlight and intentionally disappear to start a new life, or that he had never even boarded the ship at all, but by far the most outlandish is the idea that he had actually created a time travel device and jumped not to another place, but another time. In 2011, it was announced that a photo had come forward of a man taken in 1955 in Argentina and which was claimed to be of Majorana. Analysis done on the photo purportedly showed that there were 10 points of similarity between the face of the man in the photo and Majorana, making them virtually identical, and it was believed that the 1955 photo was without a doubt Majorana.
The weird part is that some have claimed that it appears that in the 1955 photo, if the man is indeed Majorana then it looks as if he had not visibly aged at all in the nearly 20 years he had been gone. He looks practically the same in 1955 as he did in 1938, leading to talk of time travel, which could have been achieved through Majorana’s groundbreaking work in physics. Interestingly, the witness who brought the photo forward, a Francis Fasani, claimed that the man in the photo had called himself Mr. Bini, and had generally refused to be photographed, only allowing it on this one occasion. Could this brilliant physicist have actually invented a time machine to leap forth into the future, and did not want photos taken of him out of fear of being discovered? Is this 1955 photo just of someone else who is a doppleganger who just happens to bear an uncanny resemblance to the missing scientist? Did he just age very well? It’s hard to say, although it is worth noting that there have been lots of historical photos of people who look spookily similar to others, including celebrities like Nicolas Cage and Keanu Reeves, so perhaps here we have another photo into which people are reading too much. Who knows?
Indeed, various such historical photos have been used by at least one rather eccentric individual named Eugene Helton, who calls himself simply VonHelton, to bolster his own claims that he can time travel. VonHelton has looked through photo archives to compile a lineup of photos from throughout history that prove that he has the ability to travel through time. Although the photos all do somewhat resemble him, the fact that the man has created quite a reputation for ludicrous claims, such as that he is a vampire, the inspiration for Marvel’s Punisher character, that he had applied to NASA to be a "Space Marine," and was the inventor of the stealth fighter (when he was 7 nonetheless!) means that we are probably not dealing with a real time traveller in this case. However, it does serve to show that if one looks hard enough through enough old photos, one is likely to find at least some of people who look like them.
With VonHelton we come to the long list of deeply weird, bizarre claims from people coming forth and claiming to be time travelers. Certainly one of the most well-known of these is the man who called himself John Titor. In late 2000, a strange series of posts began to pop up on bulletin boards all over the Internet from a man who claimed to be from the future. Calling himself John Titor, the man claimed that he was a soldier sent back in time from the year 2036, and that he was on his way back to the year 1975, where he hoped to procure an IBM 5100 computer in order to supposedly prevent a catastrophic computer bug that he claimed would wipe out civilization as we know it.
Throughout his various posts, Titor, who often posted on the Art Bell message board, would give details and schematics on how his time machine worked, answer questions from those who responded to him, and offer a variety of predictions on what would happen in the future, ranging from the vague to the specific, which have proven to be fairly inaccurate. For instance, he predicted a disastrous American Civil War in 2008, and claimed that there would be a horrific nuclear war in 2015 that would kill 3 billion people and knock America practically back to the Stone Age, things which have obviously not happened. Among his other tidbits of information was the revelation that there were infinite multiple universes where all possibilities occurred, which he called “worldlines,” and that as a result the future was not set, but could be changed by veering off into different worldlines. This might explain why we did not experience the war he spoke of, because it happened in a different worldline. Or maybe he just succeeded. This wordline approach also avoided paradoxes, because if you, for instance, went back in time to kill your grandfather, you would still be born because you would only be changing your future in one potential timeline of an infinite number of them, rather than the one you came from, in which your grandfather is still alive and therefore you still exist to be there time traveling.
Throughout these posts, Titor generated a good deal of debate as to his authenticity, and went from some random poster to somewhat of an Internet sensation within a short period of time, with people calling him everything from a hoax to the real thing, and he was a recurring topic in mainstream media, on TV shows, in books, and on radio shows such as Coast 2 Coast AM. He was also exhaustively discussed and debated all over the Internet, all a pretty impressive feat for what started out as some anonymous message board poster. John Titor would write his final post in March of 2001, in which he said some goodbyes and addressed the age old question: if time travel ever is created, then where are all of the time travelers? In his final post, Titor would say in response to this question:
In the last few days I have found your choice of topics quite interesting and from an objective viewpoint I think it collectively answers one of your own questions, “If time travel is real, where are all the time travelers?” In the past, I have stated that quite frankly, you all scare the Hell out of me and I’m sure other temporal drivers would feel the same. But now I have an expanded explanation with two examples.
A while ago (on one of the posts), I related an experience I had with my parents while we were driving down a highway. Every now and then, we would pass someone who was in obvious distress with their vehicle. I was amazed that so many people could pass them by without stopping to help. Their explanation was fear. The risk of helping someone was too great and with today’s technology, they probably had a cell phone anyway. If they didn’t, the walk to a gas station would be good for them and teach them a lesson for running out of gas.
The other example is the plight of the homeless. When you pass them as individuals on the street I see the way people selectively choose an alternate path to avoid them.
Those two examples best define why time travelers do not show themselves. In trying to help you, we put ourselves as great risk and there’s really no point to it. We know the nature of time dictates that traveling between “exact” worldlines is impossible. Therefore, the only results we will see will be the ones we stay to see. Since worldlines, outcomes and events are infinite, we have better things to do. When I arrive in the “new” 1998 worldline on my way home I could easily start all of this again and continue to go through the same conversations with all of the same people. However, I already know you won’t pay any attention or believe me because we’ve already been through it on this worldline. Besides, I think the walk to the gas station will do you some good.
Who was John Titor? Was he really a time traveler or a fraud? Whole blogs and books have been devoted to dissecting this mysterious individual, and there has been a great amount of heated debate as to the veracity of his claims. Theories have been put forth that he was everything from the real deal to an ongoing joke most likely perpetrated by more than one individual. There is probably no way we will ever know, but one thing is for sure; that it is one of the most pervasive, widely circulated stories of an alleged time traveler that there is.
Even with the far-out claims made by John Titor, this is still not even the strangest tale of traveling through time. Upping the ante in bizarreness is the tale of a Swedish man named Håkan Nordkvist, who on August 30, 2006 claims that he vaulted into the future not through any technological wizardry, but rather through his kitchen sink. Nordkvist claims that on this day he came home to find a pool of water on his kitchen floor. Assuming that it was a leak, he got his tools and crawled into the cabinet under the kitchen sink, and it was here that he says he discovered a tunnel, which he followed until he reached a bright light. When he emerged from the light, he claims he found himself in the year 2042.
And when I say "found himself in 2042" I mean that quite literally, as in here he claims to have met his future, 72-year-old self. As proof, he offers “evidence” in the form of photos and video he took on his cell phone showing him with another man who bears a passing resemblance to him and who allegedly sports the same tattoo, which is also shown. Nordkvist claims that his future self knew information that only he could have known, and that he is convinced it was himself in the future. Besides the fact that this whole tale is quite frankly pretty ludicrous, it has also been pointed out that the older self is noticeably taller and is not an exact match appearance-wise.
Can we get even weirder? Yes, we can. If one wants to see perhaps the most surreal tale of supposedly real time travelers there is, one needs look no further than to the stories of Andrew Basiago and William Stillings. In 2004, American lawyer Andrew D. Basiago began claiming that in the 1970s he was part of DARPA’s top secret government operation Project Pegasus, which was supposedly a program that sought to achieve time travel and study its effects on the human body, as well as the effects of teleportation across vast distances, including to other planets. The official mission statement of Project Pegasus was supposedly:
Project Pegasus was the classified, defense-related research and development program under the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in which the US defense-technical community achieved time travel on behalf of the US government – the real Philadelphia Experiment.
Basiago claims that he was part of a study on these effects on children, and that he was involved in the project from 1968 to 1972, during which time he says he was involved in an array of experiments that propelled him into the far realms of time and space. At the time he says there were several time machines that had been created, which he claims relied on “radiant energy,” which was a concept allegedly discovered in documents written by Nikola Tesla and held the power to bend time and space. The machines would purportedly create shimmering curtains of light, which could be passed through to emerge in different points in history. There were also what he called “plasma confinement chambers” and “jump rooms” supposedly in use, as well as equipment that allowed users to travel in time virtually.
During his time with the program, Basiago claims that he made several trips to the 1800s as a “chrononaut,” and on one such occasion was transported to Gettysburg on November 19, 1863, when Lincoln would give his historic Gettysburg Address. He says that he had been dressed beforehand as a Union Bugle Boy in order to blend in, but complained that he had lost his shoes sometime during his temporal jump and that his replacement shoes had been too big. He had then found himself wandering away from the crowds, where he says his picture was taken.
Other tales told by Basiago are that he went back to the Lincoln assassination on several occasions and even met himself twice, although he didn’t have the opportunity to see the actual assassination, as well as the claim that the government used teleportation technology to send him to a top secret base on Mars. He also explained that his time jumps were to alternate, adjacent timelines, and that this was why there were no paradoxes created by what he was doing.
Basiago apparently had comrades in his time travel adventures. One is named William Stillings, who claims to have been a frequent partner with Basiago. Stilllings really added to the whole lore of the project when he claimed that America had sent a whopping 100,000 people to Mars, but that only 7,000 had survived the journey. He also said that they had been joined on their missions to Mars by a Barry Soetoro, who would later go on to be known as Barack Obama. It is all pretty far fetched to be sure.
So how do these supposed time travelers do it? Although the very possibility of time travel has been oft debated and is unclear, there have been some devices that have been proposed over the years as actual time traveling devices. One is the Hyper Dimensional Resonator, or HDR, which is supposed to be a device invented in the 1980s that allows its users to astrally travel through time and space via inter-dimensional vortices. The supposed device has had plans appear on the Internet, which some people have claimed to have tried with positive results.
Then there is a device which does not allow physical time travel, per say, but rather enables one to look into the future or past. The Chronovisor is a device which allegedly allows a user to look through time to observe past or future events. It is claimed to have been designed and built by Italian priest and scientist Father Pellegrino Maria Ernetti, who claimed that he had made the thing along with notable Nobel Prize-winning physicist Enrico Fermi and German rocket scientist Werner von Braun.
The device itself is said to resemble a modern TV, and can allow a user to peer through time to observe events in the past and future. Pellegrino claims that with the use of the Chronovisor he has witnessed several momentous historical events, such as the crucifixion of Christ, a speech by Napoleon, numerous events from ancient Rome, and others. The team responsible for creating the machine then dismantled it, and its plans were apparently sequestered in the Vatican somewhere. When a picture reportedly taken through the Chronovisor apparently showing Christ on the cross turned out to be that of a carving by Cullot Valera at another church, there were murmurs that the whole thing was a hoax, but Pellegrino insists to this day that the device was real. A similar machine was supposedly described in an Iranian newspaper in April of 2013, in which there was talk of a device that enabled users to look into the future. The article was suspiciously removed a few days later and replaced with a notice stating that the Iranian government had no such machine, which has stirred whispers of a conspiracy.
Does time travel exist? Will it ever? Is it even possible? What effects would it have if it did and how would it work? While we are far from really understanding the answers to these questions, we can still ponder it and wonder what mysteries this universe holds. We may not be able to time travel (yet?) but we can still sit back and enjoy these tales of time travelers beyond just the world of fiction. Whether they are real or fabrications, they are still entertaining to think about. Now, if you will excuse me, I have some things to attend to yesterday.