Caught on film! Mobile phones in the 1930s...

MOBILE MYSTERY ... an old lady on a mobile in 1928.
MOBILE MYSTERY ... an old lady on a mobile in 1928.

Some time ago, I penned a column in which I said that some of the best mysteries were not always paranormal ones. Mind you, at first glance some of them certainly seem to be.

Take time travel, for instance. Remember the bizarre piece of footage spotted on an outtake of an old Charlie Chaplin movie, in which a woman can be seen chatting into what looks like a mobile phone.

FUTURE TECHNOLOGY: This footage appears to show a young girl talking on a mobile phone... in 1938.

FUTURE TECHNOLOGY: This footage appears to show a young girl talking on a mobile phone... in 1938.

Well, since then other bits of old movie footage have come to light, some of which also seem to show people chatting on mobile phone long before they were invented.

Now I’d love to believe that these old movie clips actually showed people chatting on mobile phones...I mean, think about it! What an enigma that would be.

Alas, there is a fatal flaw with the notion.

Mobile phones can only send a signal over a relatively short distance and for the call to be relayed it needs to be picked up by a cellular network, which is basically a series of telephone masts.

If your phone isn’t close enough to a network, you won’t get a signal. And we’ve all been there, haven’t we?

Now here’s the problem; when these old movies were taken for posterity, there were no cellular networks.

Even if the people in the clips were holding mobile phones, it’s hard to see how they could have been chatting to anyone on them as there were no networks to connect to.

But this doesn’t solve the mystery. If anything, it only deepens it. What were those rectangular objects they were talking into, then, if they weren’t mobile phones?

Some suggested that they were actually crude hearing aids, and it’s true that back then such devices did exist.

The problem is that on several pieces of footage the users are clearly talking into the devices, not listening with them. No one has really offered up a good explanation to date.

We can safely say they weren’t mobile phones, but we just can’t explain what they were.

Since those first bits of footage found their way onto YouTube, dozens of others have followed in their wake.

Some of them – such as a wonderful clip of a young girl in the 1950s walking around with a laptop under her arm – are now known to be fakes.

Some are harder to explain, such as a curious piece of footage of a young boy playing football. The home movie was supposedly shot in the early 70s, and yet for a brief moment, as the camera pans around, a large house can be seen in the background that was definitely demolished in 1936. I haven’t seen it myself, but a colleague who has said he had no reason to doubt its authenticity.

Another interesting piece of footage shows something truly extraordinary; a man who seems to have travelled to the future and finds the entire White House has been turneed upside down!

There’s no doubting that if this footage was faked it would have cost hundreds of thousands to do, and this has led many to assume that it must therefore be genuine.

Check it out for yourself, and you’ll see.

Alas, breathtaking though this footage is, there is a perfectly rational explanation for it: the “upside-down White House is actually a bizarre tourist attraction in Wisconsin (

Ah, least we know the truth.

Sometimes there are no obvious answers to strange enigmas – paranormal or mundane. We can see the mystery, but sometimes we can’t even be sure exactly what the mystery is, let alone work out the solution.

All we can do is wonder.