'I've been loving this whole adventure of the elf cartoon mystery. That's the power of the internet.'
Editor's note: This article was originally published on September 14, 2022. It has since been updated.
There are few things people online love more than a mystery. From helping identify mysterious figures to unraveling the most complicated of enigmas, internet sleuths jump at the chance to provide answers to seemingly unanswerable questions and have built a pretty good track record of doing so. However, there's one puzzle that left internet users stumped for years: the identity of a nondescript cartoon elf that made an appearance in a Canadian family's 1992 Christmas photo. Many lost sleep trying to place the bearded elf, including Emily Charette, whose dad captured the now-famous photo at their Ottawa home three decades ago.
"It just drives you crazy. It's like when you think you can remember an actor's name or something is on the tip of your tongue," Charette told CBC News. So when the marketing agency where she worked at held an office photo-guessing contest in 2016, she submitted the photograph in the hopes that her colleagues might have some answers. However, when that proved a dead end, Charette and her friends turned to the internet, sure that someone online would be able to pinpoint where the character was from. Little did they know, it would take six years to unlock the identity of the elf with grey hair, a beard, glasses and overalls.
Canadian cartoon mystery solved six years later https://t.co/jAqaWs6isu Emily Charette, a young woman from Ottawa whose father took the photograph, began searching to identify the caricature. She explains that this mysterious figure... pic.twitter.com/ggjKMuXzOQ— Geeky.News (@The_Geeky_News) September 10, 2022
Among those to take up the challenge was Sophie Campbell, an illustrator for the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" in New York. She posted about the mystery elf on her Tumblr page and even offered a handsome reward for anyone who could solve the case with evidence. "All of these suggestions started coming in and my friend and I were watching all these old terrible cartoons," Campbell said. "For a week, this was my full-time job... keeping up with this stupid thing on Tumblr. And then, it kind of faded."
I was asked to write about the mysterious cartoon elf man for The New Yorker. I said yes. This will be my last word on the matter. Before you ask: yes, I realize how ridiculous this is.https://t.co/R3Zak9AKo1— Will Sloan (@WillSloanEsq) September 6, 2022
Will Sloan, a Toronto writer, first heard about the photo in 2019 from his girlfriend. Although he too created his own posts on Twitter and Reddit in search of the elf's identity, the trail quickly went cold. "Then a couple of days ago my partner said, 'Hey, you have more Twitter followers than you did in 2019. Could you post it one last time? Maybe we can finally crack this mystery once and for all,'" he said. The new post spread like wildfire online, sparking a new flurry of attempts at getting to the bottom of the years-long mystery. Finally, after six years and over 11 million views on social media, the enduring mystery was finally put to rest by two brothers from the U.S.
My gf and her friends have spent years trying to figure out what cartoon (glimpsed in the background of a family photo) is from. Dozens, maybe even hundreds of people have seen this image but nobody knows what it is from. If you recognize this man, please tell me. pic.twitter.com/nZibSf1QQH— Will Sloan (@WillSloanEsq) September 2, 2022
Lucas and Josh Rastia, from Green Bay, Wisconsin, learned about the mystery while on YouTube in September 2022. As it turns out, the answer that the internet had been seeking for years lay in an old VHS tape collecting dust in their house. Lucas Rastia had purchased the tape as part of a compilation VHS box set on eBay a few years ago while searching for a Christmas special that he grew up watching. Among the tapes was one for a TV movie called "The Soulmates: The Gift of Light," created by Canadian screenwriter Gabrielle St. George in 1991. "Finally, watching this thing all the way through, I'm like, 'Oh my God, this is it,'" Josh recalled.
I think I know what you’re looking for pic.twitter.com/UOqhiRLhzS— Rasuran (@Rasuran1) September 5, 2022
The answer soon found its way to Charette, who admitted that she never imagined a family photo taken 30 years ago would become such a phenomenon. "I was like, 'Holy crap,'" she said. "I've been loving this whole adventure of the elf cartoon mystery. That's the power of the internet. My parents just think it's awesome. We're definitely adding this movie to my Christmas movie list for years to come."