Extraordinary claims. Ordinary investigations.

Archive for the 'Fortean' Category

Pulled by a ghost

Duppy is a Jamaican Patois word of West African origin meaning ghost or spirit. Much of Caribbean folklore revolves around duppies, generally regarded as malevolent spirits.

Well, one of them is allegedly haunting an 11-year-old boy, causing commotion in Martin Street, Spanish Town. You can jump to 0:40 and then 1:55 for some duppy action. At first glance, the boy really seems to be pulled by an external force. A classic “Poltergeist” case involving a child, thrown objects and distraught families.

Though the two action scenes above may look interesting, these ones below, in a follow-up by the same news channel, of the same boy now confronted by a local bishop, Rohan Edwards, will probably not be that much. The not-so-interesting new duppy action scenes start at around 1:35.

It’s clear the boy is throwing himself, and in retrospect, one can note that although he does a much better job at it in the first scenes, one can also interpret them without resorting to any external force. Much less any supernatural force.

When it looks as if he is being pulled from his chair, note that he moves before the chair, indicating that he is source of motion. Michael Faraday used the same tell-tale sign to prove people moved spiritualistic tables, and not the other way around, back in 1853. The effect is also helped by the fact the “duppy action” only lasts for a few seconds, as the boy is almost immediately grabbed by his mother, into which he finds support, in more than one sense. Something that can’t be ignored.

The immediate consequence of the boy’s behaviour is the comfort of his mom”, told us Psychologist Ana Arantes, suggesting an hypothesis to better understand the events. “The ‘paranormal phenomenon’ can be maintained by very strong social reinforcements – social attention, comfort and protection from the mother and probably other members of the family – and in this context, it’s quite possible it has been modelled and learned within that community.

On one level this is simply a boy making some interesting moves, but this is certainly not everything that’s going on here, just as almost all Poltergeist cases are not simple hoaxes – nor simple Poltergeists. From the original story of the Fox sisters and the Cottingley fairies, to modern Poltergeist cases such as Enfield, each and every one of theses cases has a very long story and background.

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Understanding the “Time Travellers”


David Carr created this funny explanation for the “Charlie Chaplin time traveller”, a reference to Magritte’s “The Treachery of Images”.

Many suggested the old woman was using an early electric hearing aid (such as this one from Siemens), but Jeremy Hsu from LiveScience found the ear trumpet above, used from mid to late 19th century. An ear trumpet, more affordable and common, available in countless forms, is probably what the woman was holding.

As we noted, “her index and middle fingers are more extended, exactly as would be expected if she was holding not a candybar style mobile phone, but a more round object. Like an ear trumpet.


So this is yet another example of contemporary fashion interpreted outside the context of past eras. Nowadays we have inconspicuous tiny electronic hearing aids, but people go around holding phones to their ears. A century ago people held hearing aids in exactly the same fashion, though that probably wouldn’t have been that fashionable.

HiLobrow compiled more examples of “time travellers” with cellphones and PDAs, the best of which must be this one of Apollo taking a picture with his phone – or as someone mentioned, perhaps trying to get a better signal from the transtemporal carrier?


It illustrates perfectly what goes on here, our contemporary mannerisms cast upon past snapshots. Or evidence that a Greek god with a transtemporal iPhone also dealt with bad reception. [via BB, TDW]

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Time Traveller in Charlie Chaplin Movie?

In a behind the scenes footage, part of Charlie Chaplin’s “The Circus” (1928) DVD, George Clarke found:

“A large woman dressed in black with a hat hiding most of her face, with what can only be described as a mobile phone device – talking as she walks alone. I have studied this film for over a year now – showing it to over 100 people and at a film festival, yet no-one can give any explanation as to what she is doing. My only theory – as well as many others – is simple… a time traveler on a mobile phone.”

Now here’s to our ordinary investigation, which I must say beforehand, won’t come to any definite conclusion since all we have is some seconds of a 1928 film where we can’t actually see what the woman is holding.

It could be anything, including nothing.


Theories abound, and besides the tantalizing idea of a cell phone from a time traveller, two more prosaic possibilities have been discussed. The first and to me, the most probable, is that the woman is simply using an ear trumpet, like this one, from Collect Medical Antiques:


To support this idea, note that her index and middle fingers are more extended, exactly as would be expected if she was holding not a candybar style mobile phone, but a more round object. Like an ear trumpet. Compare how she holds a supposed object with these pictures from Getty Images (left 1974, right 1954)


Those fellows, including English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams at right, were not using cell phones, but simple ear trumpets, available in those forms since very long agoo.

Then again, the woman attending the premiere of Chaplin’s “The Circus” could be holding nothing at all, and simply scratching her head (with her index and middle fingers) or merely blocking the glare of the Sun coming from her left.

The glare of the Sun, by the way, is what projects a shadow of her hand into her face, which is probably what many have confused with evidence of a black cell phone. Fact is, we can’t see what she is holding, if she is holding anything at all.

Granted, she does speak after she stops walking. Someone may have shouted that she was being filmed. If someone spoke to her at all.

But not to end this ordinary investigation without anything at all, let’s answer at least one little puzzle: Clarke wondered if the subject was even a woman, since her shoes seemed much too long. This is simple to explain: the aspect ratio of the image he captured from his widescreen TV is wrong.

If one corrects it, the elliptical sign at the background (“Now Playing Charlie Chaplin ‘The Circus’”) gets round again, and the horse and everything else, including the woman’s shoes, return a more normal aspect.


Even her hand and fingers seem more natural. And in my personal opinion, it seem she is actually using an ear trumpet.

Why would she use it while walking on the street, I don’t know. And judging from the many friends who suggested this topic to be blogged here (thank you all!), the idea that she was a time traveller using a communications device – with a transtemporal Eternal cell phone carrier – is certainly much more attractive.

The cellphone lady is just one more time traveller, along with the hipster and the punk.

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The Floating Cube

Simple and nice illusion. [via Fogonazos]

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Fred Astaire in a Flying Saucer (of the Gods?)

In this clip from the musical “Dancing Lady” (1933), Fred Astaire and Joan Crawford dance over a circular rug which then starts to fly around the sky until it comes back to ground, cheered by a crowd.

To us, of course, the flying carpet actually looks like a flying saucer, and the tassels may even be interpreted as exhaust plumes (or force field?). This is because more than a decade after the MGM musical, the flying saucer would enter popular culture in 1947 through Kenneth Arnold’s sighting.

By coincidence, this month’s Fortean Times also has a piece by founder Bob Rickard about the depiction of a vimana in a 1986 Indian TV series of The Ramayana. The “UFO-like flying platform” looks almost exactly the same as Astaire’s flying rug. fortean_times_8725_7

Flying platforms, once the stuff of fantasy, from the Ramayana to musicals, have already been developed as technological prototypes such as the Hiller flying platform of 1955:

Though that didn’t go very far, in more than one sense. [with thanks to Mary Castner and Martin Shough]

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