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John Titor, so far, withstands the test of time

Columnist Steve Lange finds that the tale of a time traveler has long legs.

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In the November issue of Rochester Magazine, I wrote a story -- almost 3,500 words -- about John Titor, "The Time Traveler."

I'm still getting messages two-plus months later.

John Titor was -- still is -- the most famous "time traveler" of our generation. Twenty years ago, he lit up the internet.

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He had come, he said, from the year 2036 to help save the world.

He had traveled to Rochester, back to 1975, to get the IBM 5100 portable computer. The 5100, Titor said, was needed to "debug various legacy code computer programs" in 2036. Here's something: It turns out the 5100 did have a unique feature -- an interface -- inside.


He then time traveled forward to Rochester in the year 2000 to check in on family. Grandparents. Even though he hadn't been born yet.

"Greetings," Titor wrote in November of 2000 on an obscure site called the Time Travel Institute Forum. "I am a time traveler from the year 2036."

Over the next four months, Titor described life in 2036. Gave us a glimpse into our future.

Titor's 570 or so Internet posts would describe an upcoming "civil conflict over a U.S. presidential election." Warn us about Mad Cow Disease. Tell us about nuclear war with Russia.

Sure, none of his predictions came true when he said they would. But lots of people believed him. Lots still do. Especially today. (See "civil conflict over a U.S. presidential election" above.)

On March 24, 2001, John Titor signed off. He was heading back to 2036.

But the John Titor phenomenon was not over. It was just beginning.

Those 570 posts would lead to a website (, books ("John Titor: A Time Traveler's Tale"), a movie ("Time Traveler Zero"), a stage play ("Time Traveler Zero Zero"), a video game ("Steins Gate").


After the Rochester Magazine story ran, I heard from people all over the world. India, especially. India loves John Titor.

I heard from people who claimed to know who was behind the hoax. (There are lots of theories.)

I heard from people who believe Titor actually traveled back (then forward) in time.

Two people who contacted me claimed to be John Titor. Both were offended -- to put it mildly -- that I hadn't interviewed them.

I heard from John Titor's girlfriend. She hinted at an intimate relationship with John while he made his stopover in Rochester. Even suggested -- and I'm not making this up -- that she was the mother of his son. A son born before his dad.

That story is the kind of piece that can take you down an Internet wormhole that you emerge from and say "Did I really just spend two hours on that?"

Now multiply that by 10.

Do I think John Titor traveled in time? No.


Skeptics, though, aren't simply disbelievers.

I want to believe that, maybe walking around Rochester right now, there is someone who, in another 15 years, will track down his or her dad.

A dad who is younger than they are.

Steve Lange is the editor of Rochester Magazine. His column appears every Tuesday.

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