Darcie spends her free time going down research rabbit holes and occasionally writing down what she finds.
There has never been proof of time travel, but that hasn’t stopped multiple people from attempting to provide it. Some of those attempts have been spread throughout the Internet and were fairly convincing, though still either provable hoaxes or at least impossible to actually confirm. The following are several stories of alleged proof of time travel that have been debunked—at least for the most part.
The Time-Traveling Hipster
Let's start with a short and simple case.
In 2009, the Bralorne-Pioneer Museum "Their Past Lives Here" collection was digitized and put online. Sometime after, one particular photograph from the 1940s gained attention after some people pointed out that it featured a man who didn’t seem to belong.
The man is wearing a modern-looking t-shirt and sunglasses, and he is holding a small camera. These details led some to allege that this was proof of time travel.
The photo is genuine and shows the 1941 reopening of the South Fork Bridge in Canada. And while the man in the photo does stick out from the crowd, there isn’t anything about him that makes his presence impossible for the time.
His shirt bears the logo of the Montreal Maroons, a hockey team that played in the CHL from 1924 to 1938. The kind of glasses he wore were not widespread in use, but they were available. And finally, Kodak did make smallish portable cameras at the time.
So in conclusion, the man is a bit odd, but not a time traveler.
In 2006, a video went viral which featured a man named Håkan Nordkvist, who claimed he had slipped through a wormhole under his sink while fixing some plumbing, traveled to the year 2042, and met his 72-year-old self. This claim probably would have been ignored, if it wasn’t for the fact that he had video wherein he recorded this meeting. In the video, the two compare tattoos, which is meant to prove that they are the same person.
Naturally, this led Internet sleuths to begin digging, and it was quickly discovered that this was actually an ad campaign for insurance company AMF Pension meant to promote pension plans. Another aspect of this campaign asked people to send in selfies in order for them to receive an aged version back.
An archive of the campaign is available to view on the website of the agency that created it.
In 2003 Weekly World News published a story titled “‘Time Traveler’ Busted for Insider Trading,” which detailed the story of a man named Andrew Carlssin who had been arrested for insider trading. Starting with an investment of $800, he had managed to quickly turn it into “a portfolio valued at over $350 million.” According to one article, “Every trade he made capitalized on unexpected business developments, which simply can’t be pure luck.”
While insider trading would seem to be the most likely explanation, Carlssin insisted that his secret was that he was actually a time traveler from the year 2256. A follow-up article about a month later reported that Carlssin “had been bailed out by an ‘unidentified benefactor’” and failed to show up for his court hearing. Carlssin then completely disappeared.
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If you’re familiar with Weekly World News, you’ll probably already know that this story is fake. For those unaware, Weekly World News is a tabloid that publishes fictional news stories and was a supermarket checkout line staple up until August 2007, after which it ceased print publication and moved entirely online. However, at the time this story was published, Yahoo! would occasionally reprint Weekly World News stories without making it clear that they were fictional, leading readers who were not familiar with the source to take them at face value.
The story would be reprinted in enough news sources that the FBI and SEC received calls from journalists looking to confirm the story.
In 1950 a man suddenly appeared in Times Square. He seemed out of place, his hair and clothing more suited to the Victorian era, and according to witnesses, appeared very startled. There was no time for anyone to question this odd man, as he was quickly struck and killed by a car.
A story was able to be put together based on the items found on the man. He was carrying old money, a letter with a date of 1876, and a business card that gave his name as Rudolph Fentz. Police were able to track down a woman who was the widow of a man named Rudolph Fentz Jr., who informed them that her father-in-law had suddenly disappeared in 1876.
This is the story that’s often passed around as an unsolved mystery, but a story is all it is. It comes from a short story by Jack Finney titled “I’m Scared” that was published in an anthology in 1951. However, two years later another writer named Ralph Holland would reprint the story without permission and without indicating that it was fiction.
Holland presented the details of “I’m Scared” as a true story for his own purposes, as he was part of an organization called Borderland Sciences that still exists today. According to their website, the Borderland Sciences Research Foundation has the goal of “the curation and distribution of historical papers and books on energy, healing, and consciousness, providing a framework for understanding and continued research, and offering support to scientific minds exploring the unconventional regions of thought we call ‘borderland’.”
The pamphlet in which Holland published the story would be the primary vehicle through which the story spread outside of its original context.
The claim is that in the 1950s, a Benedictine monk named Father Pellegrino Ernetti invented a device that could view and film the past. Depending on the source, Ernetti was additionally a musicologist, exorcist, and quantum physicist. Ernetti was a real person, and those first two claims seem to be accurate, but he almost certainly didn’t have a degree in theoretical physics, or at least one that anyone could verify.
But let’s take these claims at face value for a moment.
Father Pellegrino Ernetti, along with his friend, another Roman Catholic priest named François Brune, said they worked with a team of twelve famous scientists—a team which included Enrico Fermi and Werner von Braun, with the other famous scientists remaining unnamed—to develop a time machine that would later come to be called the Chronovisor.
However, this time machine didn’t work in the way that we traditionally think. It couldn’t physically send someone back in time; instead, it allowed users to view and record the past. Ernetti claimed that he had used the Chronovisor to view the Crucifixion and see a performance of Quintus Ennius’s lost play Thyestes. As proof of these claims, a still from the Crucifixion was released and published in the magazine La Domenica del Corriere in its May 2, 1972 issue, and Ernetti produced what he said was a full transcription of Thyestes.
Depending on the source, and assuming the Chronovisor existed, it was either dismantled by the team that built it in order to prevent it from falling into any malicious hands or it is currently in the possession of the Vatican or some other secret organization.
As might be assumed from the fact that this is on a list of hoaxes, neither of the pieces of evidence produced by Ernetti held up to further scrutiny.
The still from the Crucifixion coincidentally happened to be a perfect match for a photograph of a wood carving by the sculptor Lorenzo Coullaut Valera. The version of the play Ernetti produced was oddly only 120 lines. When Dr. Katherine Owen Eldred, an expert on Quintus Ennius, read over this version of the play, she concluded that the writer didn’t seem to be especially fluent in Latin, which is strange considering it was meant to have been written by the “father of Latin poetry.”
After Ernetti’s death, an anonymous relative came forward to say that he had given a deathbed confession owning up to writing the play and falsifying the Crucifixion photo. Interestingly, this same source also claimed that Ernetti maintained that the Chronovisor was real and actually worked. Additionally, François Brune claimed that Ernetti had been coerced by some organization into making a false confession.
As a final note, the Chronovisor does bear some resemblance to the device featured in the novelette E for Effort by T.L. Sherred, which was published in May 1947.
It wouldn’t be a list of time travel hoaxes without John Titor, perhaps the most famous alleged time traveler on the Internet.
On the Time Travel Institute’s forum, a guest poster who gave their name as “John Titor” wrote their first message in late 2000. Over the next several months, they would post many more messages detailing their improbable backstory.
Titor claimed to be sent from the year 2036, and gave a picture of their future: America would go through a second Civil War, World War III would begin in 2015 once the US and Russia nuked each other, and a computer virus finished off what the nukes didn’t in 2036. Titor’s mission was to go to 1975 to obtain an IBM 5100, which could somehow stop the virus. However, they were taking a break in the year 2000 to visit their three-year-old self.
Titor would post for the next four months and answer questions from other forum users, explaining away any potential future discrepancies by saying that alternate realities existed, and that this reality might not be the one that they were trying to save. Titor would also share some photos of their “time machine” as well as the technical specs. Titor’s final post would be on March 24, 2001.
In 2003, JohnTitor.com was launched by Oliver Williams, and it serves as an archive of their posts and predictions. In 2004, Marlin Pohlman, a computer engineer, filed a patent for a time machine that was supposedly “back-engineered” from the John Titor posts, which of course led to speculation that Pohlman was Titor.
In 2003, the most likely—but still unconfirmed—suspect for who made the John Titor posts created a for-profit LLC called the John Titor Foundation. Investigations into this foundation and its website JohnTitorFoundation.com eventually led amateur detective John Hughston to a lawyer named Lawrence Haber, who was listed as the LLC’s CEO.
In 2006, Lawrence Haber contacted George Noory, then-host of Coast to Coast AM, claiming to be representing Kay Titor, the mother of John. Noory would conduct an interview with her through Haber, and the show would continue to occasionally track the timeline given by the John Titor posts.
This is all suspicious, though Hughston has accused Lawrence’s brother Morey of being John Titor rather than Lawrence himself.
As for why the John Titor story continues to interest people despite the predictions in the posts not coming true—and thus seeming to indicate that Titor’s story was made up—one explanation is the Zeigarnik effect. People tend to remember tasks or events that were interrupted or remain incomplete. So because most people suspect John Titor was a hoax, but don’t know for sure who John Titor actually was because no one has ever claimed credit, that case was never wrapped up.
That loose end has allowed the story to continue preoccupying the minds of those who learn of it.
In spite of the efforts of many people, there has never been a definitively proven case of time travel. At best, we have cases that are probably not true, but are not 100% debunkable because of the nature of the claims, as is the case with the Chronovisor and John Titor.
Perhaps time travel simply isn’t possible, or perhaps we just haven’t been looking hard enough.