Welcome to a new Time Travel Nexus Investigates! At TTNI, we’re playing detective, hunting the TTTs (time-travelling tourists), and attempting to solve some much-talked-about cases of real-life time travel.
So… does the Mandela Effect prove that history has been changed?
Origin of the claim
Paranormal researcher Fiona Broome coined the term ‘Mandela Effect’ back in 2009, during a light-hearted conversation in the ‘green room’ at Dragon Con, with Dragon Con’s security manager and a few celebrity attendees.
Broome mentioned that she remembered Nelson Mandela having died tragically in a South African prison in the 1980s. She even remembered the news coverage of Mandela’s funeral.
But Nelson Mandela, we know, didn’t die in the 80s. He was in fact released from prison in 1990 and became president of South Africa between 1994 and 1999. In 2009, although he’d retired from public life amid failing health, Mandela was still alive. He died from a respiratory infection on 5th December 2013.
Broome realised during the conversation at Dragon Con that it wasn’t just her who remembered Mandela dying in the 80s. There were others. So, after returning home from the convention, she started a website about this ‘Mandela Effect’ to find out just how many.
She discovered that a lot of people across different countries remembered identical details about Mandela’s death and funeral in the 80s. Then new visitors to the site started mentioning other alternate memories, including the Berenstein/Berenstain Bears memory and the colour sequence on the Pepsi and Chevron logos. After that, the Mandela Effect went viral.
What began as a fascinating and perplexing discussion about alternate timelines and parallel universes was eventually co-opted by conspiracy theorists, who sensationalised and politicised the concept beyond recognition. As Broome never intended to suggest that time, reality or memory was deliberately being altered by sinister conspirators, she began to distance herself from the whole thing.
The Mandela Effect has since featured in the X Files episode The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat and a 2019 movie called The Mandela Effect, and there’s even an annual International Mandela Effect Conference. I’ve spoken to Broome myself and she told me that she wasn’t consulted on nor has any associations with the movie, the episode or any organisation or event that uses the term.
At the end of last year, I wrote my own story, which is part of the Million Eyes Series, about the Mandela Effect. Like all of the stories in the Million Eyes Series, it is a conspiracy story about time travellers. And because Broome expressed her concerns to me about drawing attention from conspiracy theorists, I haven’t featured Broome as a character as per my original intention; instead I’ve invented a character based on her.
Nature of the claim
The Mandela Effect is when someone has a clear memory of an event, image or saying that doesn’t accord with the established facts. Fiona Broome defines it as a memory of something that didn’t happen in this reality.
Along with the example that gave the phenomenon its name, there are many more that have become similarly as famous.
Sinbad in Shazaam
There are people who are adamant that comedian Sinbad played an incompetent genie who granted wishes to two young children in a movie called Shazaam in the early 1990s. Several people have claimed to remember vivid details about Shazaam. These include the children wishing for their dad to fall in love again after their mother died, and Sinbad being unable to grant the wish, and the movie’s finale taking place at a pool party.
People remembered the cover art for the video, too, featuring ‘Sinbad’ in big letters, dwarfing the rest of the wording, and an image of Sinbad—arms crossed, with an annoyed expression—standing back to back with an 11- or 12-year-old boy against a purple background.
However, there is no such movie. Even Sinbad himself has denied ever starring as a genie.
Shazaam truthers who remain convinced they have seen this movie believe that its non-existence is the result of parallel universes colliding or that the timeline has been altered and they’re remembering how things used to be…
The clock that was never fixed
In 1980, the Bologna Centrale railway station was bombed by a terrorist group and 85 people were killed. The station’s clock was broken, stuck reading the time of the blast—10.25am. Shortly after, it was fixed. Then it stopped working again in 1996 and a decision was made to set it to the time of the bombing to commemorate the massacre.
However, a 2010 survey revealed that 92% of people who regularly saw the clock were absolutely certain that it was never fixed and had read 10.25am ever since the blast.
A false memory? Or has reality been tweaked?
Pepsi and Chevron—blue or red on top?
Some people are convinced that the logos for drinks brand Pepsi and petrol brand Chevron have swapped their colours around. Although history says that Pepsi’s logo has always had red on top, blue on bottom, some remember it being blue on top, red on bottom. Vice versa for Chevron.
Some have suggested that the colours were the opposite way round in a different timeline. Others have suggested that the differing colour sequences are a deliberate marker for those travelling between parallel universes to help them understand which reality they’re in.
Climbing Liberty’s torch
The Statue of Liberty attracts millions of visitors each year, many of whom climb to the top of the statue to get an awe-inspiring view of New York City. A lot of tourists have said that the view is even better from the torch Lady Liberty is holding.
The problem is, no tourist alive could have climbed to the torch platform. It’s been closed to the public since 1916. During the First World War, Germans bombed a munitions supply close to the statue and damaged its torch-bearing arm. Since then, there’s been no public access at all.
So how can people claim that they’ve visited the torch and taken pictures from it if it’s been closed for over a hundred years? Perhaps because they did—in a different timeline or reality.
The Berenstein Bears
A lot of people have fond childhood memories of The Berenstein Bears books, TV series and toys. Except The Berenstein Bears never existed. The franchise is actually called The Berenstain Bears, named after creator Stan Berenstain, the name ending in “stain” not “stein”.
However, people are convinced that they remember the books and series being called The Berenstein Bears and the pronunciation of the name being “stein” not “stain”. Some who recall the different spelling have again put it down to time travel or parallel universes. A more down-to-earth but highly conspiratorial explanation is that the franchise owners quietly changed the fictional bears’ surname to make them sound “less Jewish”.
As to whether these Mandela Effects (along with the many others you can find all over the web) are evidence of conspirators tinkering with the timeline, first requires a closer look at whether they themselves hold water.
Shazaam is an interesting one. Scientists and sceptics have explained it as a confabulation of memories of Sinbad wearing a genie-like costume during a TV presentation of the Sinbad the Sailor movies in 1994 and an actual movie called Kazaam, starring Shaquille O’Neal, in 1996. The cover for Kazaam is similar to the memories of the Shazaam cover; it features the genie and a young boy against a purple background (although not back to back) and the main star’s name is bigger than the rest of the text.
However, Shazaam truthers have pointed out that these similarities are no different to the similarities between Antz and A Bug’s Life—two very similar movies released around the same time. There are plenty of other examples, such as Finding Nemo and Shark Tale and Turner & Hooch and K9. There are many who claim to remember both Shazaam and Kazaam. Similar movies, but both very real. One person has said they deliberately never watched Kazaam because it looked like a rip-off of Shazaam.
The Bologna Centrale railway station is very curious. 92% remembered that the clock was never fixed? That’s a LOT of people. And these were people who walked past that clock every day and surely would have actually used it to tell the time.
There is a video on YouTube, uploaded in 2007, showing footage of San Francisco in 1969. The footage shows the city’s famous cable car. At the 1.22 mark, look at the Pepsi logo on the back of the car. And again at 3.05. It would seem to be proof that the colours were once the other way around. The video is innocuous amateur footage of the city, nothing to do with Pepsi or the Mandela Effect, and was uploaded before the Mandela Effect was even a thing. It’s therefore very unlikely to be doctored. So is this evidence that the Pepsi truthers are right about the colour swap?
Possibly. Or it could be evidence of something thoroughly mundane: a printing error. A Reddit user shared an image of a whole bunch of Pepsi bottles in a vending machine, with the blue on top. They later confirmed that they’d solved the mystery—the labels had been misprinted on a small run of bottles. The user was annoyed that they’d missed the chance to buy a collectible item. Errors like these may have contributed to people’s false memories about the colour sequence.
Similarly, the son of Stan Berenstain said that confusion has existed over the family surname since his father’s childhood. A teacher had apparently insisted that the name was spelled “stein” not “stain” because of the prevalence of names ending in “stein”. Furthermore, the name was mistakenly spelled “Berenstein” in a handful of publications and on knock-offs of official merchandise. Like the Pepsi example, these errors—coupled with the fact that the series cartoons used an ambiguous pronunciation—may have contributed to the collective false memory.
The same could perhaps be said for memories of climbing Lady Liberty’s torch. Maybe it’s just people remembering climbing to the crown conflated with memories of seeing pictures or videos of people on the torch platform—whether these are old pictures from before the torch closed, or pop culture images like Michael Jackson dancing around the torch in his Black or White video (which was accomplished with models and special effects).
But is this all just false memory? On Fiona Broome’s website, she expresses as much skepticism for the false memory explanation as she does for the “conspirators did it” theories. Personally, while I can see that some of the Mandela Effect examples could be confabulations of memory, a couple of them have me stumped, not least of which is the one that started it all.
On her website Fiona Broome talks about remembering Nelson Mandela’s death in the 80s clearly, complete with news footage of his funeral, the mourning in South Africa, rioting in the cities and a heartfelt speech by Mandela’s widow. The fact that people she spoke to had very similar memories gives me pause. Broome herself argues that some Mandela Effects aren’t just simple errors in memory but “fully constructed incidents from the past” that would “seem to exceed the normal range of forgetfulness”. Strangest of all is the identical memories of others. She sums up her thoughts as follows:
“There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the Mandela Effect. Some could be faulty memories. Some could be errors in news reports, and online pranks. But others…? Nobody knows, yet.”
Since the books and stories in the Million Eyes Series are time travel conspiracy thrillers, it will come as no surprise that my favourite explanation for the Mandela Effect is that time travelling conspirators are responsible for people’s alternate memories. Indeed, the story Rachel Can See in my free-to-download short story collection, Million Eyes: Extra Time, is basically a Mandela Effect story. It’s about a young girl who is having alternate memories about her life and current events and starts attracting attention from nefarious agents. Though the Mandela Effect is not specifically mentioned (mainly because I hadn’t actually heard of the concept at the time of writing), Rachel’s predicament gets placed in context with the real-life Mandela Effects in the new story I’ve just written, entitled The Covid Effect. (Can you guess what’s been deleted this time?)
If these and other Mandela Effects are real and not just false or confabulated memories, then they are evidence that time or reality is being changed.
Some have asked why a coordinated time travel conspiracy would deliberately change the spelling of ‘Berenstain’ or switch the colours on the Pepsi logo. What would be the point?
But there may not be any point, because there may be nothing deliberate about it. Chaos theory says that a single action in one place can have totally unforeseen consequences in many other places. So, a small, completely unrelated tweak to the timeline by time travellers could have resulted in the Berensteins’ ancestors spelling it “stain”. Another could have led someone in the branding meeting at Pepsi deciding that the red should be on top of the blue. And another might have triggered Nelson Mandela to survive whatever was due to kill him in prison in the 80s.
But why are people remembering what the timeline used to be like? Before the changes? Well, perhaps because people like Fiona Broome have a special sensitivity to the space-time continuum, just like Guinan in the classic Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Yesterday’s Enterprise.
Of course, that doesn’t explain the 1969 video with the ‘original’ Pepsi colour sequence. If history’s been changed, how can this video exist? Most Mandela Effects are memories of events that no longer happened. But here we have a video of the old timeline! Well, unless it’s just a printing error… How’s about we go with the more provocative alternative: that whoever filmed this footage physically slipped into a different timeline and slipped back again.
The Mandela Effect is a fascinating concept. Though many of the examples you can find on the web are whimsical and silly, it’s fun to imagine that the more compelling ones are evidence that someone or something is tinkering with time.
That said, if there really are secret overlords controlling time, then they spent the whole of 2020 on vacation.