The Great Moon Hoax of 1835
On this day in 1980, the Washington Post ran a story on its front page by reporter Janet Cooke about "Jimmy," an 8-year-old heroin addict. The story eventually won her a Pulitzer Prize. But as pressure on Cooke mounted to reveal where Jimmy lived, so that he could be helped, she finally admitted that she had never met Jimmy and that much of her story was fictitious. Cooke resigned, and the Post, humiliated by the incident, returned the Pulitzer Prize. More…
Posted: Sun Sep 28, 2014. Comments (0)
On this day in 1995, the Weekly World News reported that a paper airplane thrown by a school girl in North Carolina had been lifted up by "turbulent winds" and landed in Portugal. The article promptly made its way onto the Internet, where many people mistook it for real news, including the producers of The Family Channel TV special Unbelievable, who admitted that they made dozens of calls trying to track down the girl named in the story. [Weekly World News]
Posted: Fri Sep 26, 2014. Comments (1)
Police in Boise, Idaho were initially stumped by the case of an apparent ghost in the house of Peggy Zimmerman. The ghost made knocking sounds on the floor and could rap out correct answers to questions. The mystery was solved on this day in 1973 by a TV newsman who realized that the source of the rapping was Mrs. Zimmerman's young daughter, Shelley, who was always present when the ghost was rapping. Shelley had the ability to surreptitiously crack her ankle by flexing it, thereby making a loud knocking sound. More…
Posted: Thu Sep 25, 2014. Comments (0)
On August 31, 1959, a remarkable human-interest story hit the news wires and ran in papers throughout the United States. Jean Naccarelli, a 46-year-old Pittsburgh housewife, had learned that she had inherited $2 million from a wealthy uncle named John Lennon who had lived in Aberdeen, Scotland. She had received the news via a cablegram sent from Scotland by her two aunts. The 78-year-old Lennon, Naccarelli explained to the press, had been a famous ship designer who had worked on the Queen Mary. He was her father's brother. She had met her uncle only twice, once in 1924 when she…Posted: Wed Sep 24, 2014. Comments (1)
On September 17, multiple pictures showing some kind of "UFO" hovering over Portsmouth, England were posted on Twitter. They trended with the hashtag #pompeyufo. Johnny Blackwell of Southsea told the Portsmouth News: "I don’t believe in UFOs, but when I saw this I didn’t know what it was. It didn’t look like a cloud, and it was moving very fast. It was a grey, disc-like shape, which I know sounds like a stereotypical UFO, but that’s what it looked like. I don’t know much about military craft, but this was very fast-moving and very odd to see." Animation Director Lewis…Posted: Tue Sep 23, 2014. Comments (1)
The disclosure that a grammar school in Newark, New Jersey had been using a fake lie detector to make boys "confess their errors" caused a storm of controversy. The operator of the machine (usually the school principal) would activate a hidden switch whenever he thought a boy was lying, causing a red bulb to start flashing. In response to criticism that the fake lie detector created a "jail atmosphere," the principal ordered the machine burned in the furnace.
Posted: Tue Sep 23, 2014. Comments (0)
On this day, the Houston Zoo admitted that the coral snake on display for the past two years was not actually alive. It was a rubber snake. Zoo curator John Donaho explained, "We have had live snakes in the exhibit, but they don't do well. They tend to die. Rather than kill snakes, we put out a rubber one for people to be able to see what they look like." The zoo's confession came after a concerned caller reported he hadn't seen the snake move in months. The zoo subsequently received a box from an East Coast zoo containing another rubber coral snake as well as "breeding loan" documentation.
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014. Comments (1)
Today Scotland votes on whether or not to remain part of the United Kingdom. And as Scotland's most famous resident, Nessie's views on this matter have become a contentious issue. People on both sides of the debate are claiming that Nessie supports their position. For instance, on September 12, camera-maker Autographer, tweeted that one of their cameras, set up to take automatic, time-lapse photos on the shore of England's Lake Windermere, had captured an image of something that "looks like the Loch Ness Monster." The company speculated that perhaps Nessie had "gone in search of new…Posted: Thu Sep 18, 2014. Comments (0)
The Futility Closet podcast discusses the Berners Street Hoax of 1810, in which a prankster created an enormous traffic jam in London by sending hundreds of tradesmen to make deliveries at a single, random address, 54 Berners Street. The last time I was in London I actually went to Berners Street to see if the house where this hoax happened was still there, but it wasn't. Seems that it was torn down long ago, leaving nothing to mark where the event occurred. As far as I could tell, the Sanderson Hotel now stands where no. 54 Berners Street used to be.Posted: Thu Sep 18, 2014. Comments (0)
In Sept. 1962, the Soviet Union's Sputnik IV satellite fell out of orbit, descending to earth over Wisconsin. A fragment was found in the lawn of a Big Falls, Wisconsin couple. But when NASA examined the fragment, the agency concluded it was a fake. At which point, 22-year old machinist Lyle Bailey admitted he had created it out of red-hot metal chips from a grinder. He had planted the fake fragment in the ground, then had doused it with fuel and lit it on fire, to give it a charred look. He explained it was simply a prank that had gotten out of hand. A real fragment from the satellite was found in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.
Posted: Thu Sep 18, 2014. Comments (0)
On September 9, Apple gave away U2's new album, Songs of Innocence, as a free download for all 500 million iTunes users. However, the giveaway met with some backlash after iPhone users complained about the album downloading automatically, and many people who didn't want the album discovered it was difficult to delete, prompting Apple to set up a website providing instructions on how to delete the album. But was this the first time U2 had given away their music? An image posted to Twitter by user JamieDMJ showed an old technology catalog from the 1980s offering a "Free U2 tape with…Posted: Wed Sep 17, 2014. Comments (0)
On this day in 1859, San Francisco resident Joshua Norton declared himself Emperor of the United States. He reigned for 21 years, walking the streets of the city dressed in a military uniform, completed by a plumed hat, gold epaulets, and a sword. Among his proclamations was the abolishment of the U.S. Congress, as well as the Democratic and Republican parties. At his funeral, over 30,000 people lined the streets of San Francisco. [wikipedia]
Posted: Wed Sep 17, 2014. Comments (0)
On this day in 1560, the French peasant Arnaud du Tilh, who had been posing as another man, Martin Guerre, was hanged outside the home of the real Martin Guerre. The real Guerre had mysteriously disappeared in 1548, abandoning his wife. Eight years later, du Tilh showed up, claimed to be Guerre, and moved in with Guerre's wife. But 4 years later, Guerre returned, exposing du Tilh's imposture. More…
Posted: Tue Sep 16, 2014. Comments (0)
Posted: Mon Sep 15, 2014. Comments (1)