The mystery surrounding a video that appears to show a young woman talking on a cell phone in 1938 may be solved. The explanation, if true, is sure to disappoint many conspiracy theorists.
The black-and-white footage shows a group of young people, possibly factory workers, walking out of a building. A brunette in a light-colored dress smiles into the camera, her hand pressed to her ear. She is holding what looks to be a large portable phone.
The Daily Mail reports that the clip surfaced online about a year ago and kicked off speculation about a time traveler caught on camera. Recently, a YouTube commenter who goes by the handle Planetcheck claimed to know the woman in the footage.
Though the version of the YouTube clip with Planetcheck's original comments has been removed, the Daily Mail and Yahoo! News blog The Sideshow copied some of Planetcheck's claims before the video disappeared.
According to the posts, Planetcheck professes to be the grandchild of the cell phone woman. Her name is Gertrude Jones, Planetcheck writes, and she was not a time traveler.
"She was 17 years old," Planetcheck writes. "I asked her about this video and she remembers it quite clearly. She says Dupont [the company that reportedly owns the factory in the video] had a telephone communications section in the factory. They were experimenting with wireless telephones. Gertrude and five other women were given these wireless phones to test out for a week. Gertrude is talking to one of the scientists holding another wireless phone who is off to her right as she walks by."
Wireless phones in the 1930s? YouTubers were skeptical.
Answering YouTube critics who questioned why such an amazing device received so little notice for several decades, Planetcheck blamed the factory owners:
Maybe they decided it was too far advanced for people and they abandoned the idea. ... Ideas are hatched, prototypes are made and sometimes like this phone they are forgotten until somebody discovers some long lost film of the world first wireless phone and marvels at it.
Planetcheck also claimed to still have the phone in a glass box somewhere. (We'll believe that when we see it.)
David Mikkelson, founder of Snopes.com, a website that specializes in analyzing popular Internet theories, told The Huffington Post in a telephone interview that videos like this one are as difficult to disprove as they are to prove.
"You can take any piece of WWII footage showing someone holding something to the side of their head talking, and claim it is a time traveling cell phone user," Mikkelson said. "Film clips aren't of sufficient resolution to see what the people are carrying. It could be anything from a handkerchief to a hearing aid, or who knows what. And this video is silent, so you can't even tell if the person is engaged in a two-way conversation."
Mikkelson added it is plausible Dupont could have been working on some sort of hand-held prototype, similar to a walkie-talkie. Still, he remained skeptical.
"I doubt it would have just been handed out to a young woman working at the factory," he said. "And why isn't there documentation?"
Neither Planetcheck nor Dupont could not be reached for comment.
A similar "time traveler" video captured the imaginations of conspiracy theorists in 2010. The clip consists of unreleased footage from a 1928 Charlie Chaplin film and shows a woman in the background walking while appearing to talk on a cell phone. Was she a time traveler, or was she just holding her hand up to her face as she passed in front of the camera?
And who could forget the photo of a 19th-century man who looks uncannily like actor Nicolas Cage? While some speculate that Cage is a time traveler, others joked that he might be a vampire. Cage has denied both rumors.