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The Hoax Museum Blog
Hoaxes, mischief, and misinformation throughout history
August 3, 1965: Rex Heflin Photographs a UFO
On this day in 1965, highway maintenance worker Rex Heflin stopped his truck as he was driving outside Santa Ana, CA and took a series of photos that he claimed showed a UFO hovering in the sky. The photos gained widespread publicity, and have come to be considered classic UFO photos. However, they were soon labeled a "hoax" by the Air Force's Project Blue Book, and the Air Force was almost certainly correct. Heflin apparently created them by dangling a toy train wheel on monofilament fishing line out of his truck window. [The UFO Iconoclast]
Posted: Sun Aug 03, 2014 Comments (1)

August 2, 1967: Please Don't Douse Your Phone!
The British Post Office, in charge of the nation's phone system, issued an alert about a recent spate of phone calls in which a man, posing as a telephone engineer, informed people that in order to cure a fault on their line they had to drop their phone in a bucket of water. Several people had fallen for this ruse before it came to the attention of the Post Office. The alert also noted that, earlier in the year, a prankster had enjoyed "considerable success" by calling people and saying in an authoritative voice, "Get a large pair of scissors and cut the wire between your telephone and handset receiver. There is some danger."
Posted: Sat Aug 02, 2014 Comments (0)

August 1, 1956: I, Libertine Revealed
In the 1950s, bestseller lists were partially based on the number of requests for a title at stores. Nighttime deejay Jean Shepherd hatched a plan to throw a wrench in this system by having his listeners descend on bookstores en masse and ask for a non-existent book titled I, Libertine. Requests for the title eventually made their way to publisher Ian Ballantine who (once he figured out what was going on), decided to publish I, Libertine as an actual book. A month before the book's release, the Wall Street Journal revealed the hoax, and the resulting publicity helped boost its sales. More…
Posted: Fri Aug 01, 2014 Comments (2)

July 31, 1952: Suicide Rescue Hoax
Medal of Honor winner Maynard H. Smith was praised for his heroism when he dramatically rescued 21-year-old Ernestine Whomble on this day as she tried to commit suicide by jumping off the sixth-floor ledge of the YWCA building in Wash. DC. But praise turned to condemnation when Whomble later confessed the rescue had been staged as a way to gain publicity for Smith who hoped to run for the governorship of Virginia. Smith denied the charge but couldn't satisfactorily explain why he had been in the YWCA at that moment. He was convicted of causing a false police report to be filed and fined $50.
Posted: Thu Jul 31, 2014 Comments (0)


July 30, 1999: The Blair Witch Project Opens
The Blair Witch Project opened on this day in 1999 and quickly became one of the most successful independent films of all time. It owed much of its success to a marketing scheme centering around the blairwitch.com website, where web surfers could view detailed historical information about the legend of the Blair Witch. It was all so convincing that many people were fooled into believing that the Blair Witch was a real historical figure, which she wasn't. The entire tale was fictitious. More…
Posted: Wed Jul 30, 2014 Comments (0)

July 29, 1955: The MacNab Photograph
Bank manager Peter MacNab took this photo on a "hazy, warm" July afternoon in 1955. However, he didn't share it with the world until October 1958 on account of "diffidence and fear of ridicule." It quickly came to be considered a classic Loch Ness Monster photo. However, MacNab distributed two slightly different versions of what he claimed was the original negative, leading many (even Nessie believers) to suspect a hoax, because if MacNab did doctor the original image (either painting in the monster, or painting out a boat) he may created multiple "original" negatives during this process.
Posted: Tue Jul 29, 2014 Comments (0)

July 28, 1932: The Latin-Chanting Ghost of Joliet
As word spread of a ghost that chanted songs in Latin at midnight in the graveyard of the Illinois State Penitentiary at Joliet, crowds of hundreds of people (pictured) started gathering to hear the phantom crooner. Each night the voice was said to emanate from a different grave. But on this day in 1932, prison officials finally located the source of the singing. It was an inmate, William Chrysler, who had night-watch duty at the prison's quarry pumphouse behind the cemetery. His voice carried into the graveyard and seemed to "haunt" it. He was actually singing in Lithuanian, not Latin.
Posted: Mon Jul 28, 2014 Comments (2)

July 27, 1907: The Wedding of the Ancients
On this day, a widely reported wedding to unite John B. Bundren, Sr. (101-yrs-old) and Rose McGuire (100-yrs-old) was exposed as a fake. The couple were said to have been engaged 85 years ago, but could not wed at that time due to the objection of her parents. The romantic tale was a fiction created by 44-year-old John B. Bundren, an army clerk, who had worn a wig and beard to look like a senior version of himself in the wedding announcement photo. The bride-to-be was an actress. He did it, he said, in order to gather facts about longevity for a book he planned to write on the subject.
Posted: Sun Jul 27, 2014 Comments (0)

July 26, 2011: Internet Explorer Users Are Dumb
On this day, AptiQuant Psychometric Consulting Co. released a study revealing that Internet Explorer users scored lower on IQ tests than users of other web browsers and were therefore "dumb". This result was duly reported as fact by numerous news outlets. However, not only was the study fake, but also AptiQuant wasn't a real company. The graphics on its site had been copied from the site of a legitimate French firm. The hoax was the work of Tarandeep Gill, a Canadian web developer, who later said he had hoped to "create awareness about the incompatibilities of IE6." [wikipedia]
Posted: Sat Jul 26, 2014 Comments (0)

July 25, 1990: Operation Blackbird Hoaxed
On this day, the high-tech Operation Blackbird, whose mission was to record the creation of a crop circle by a UFO, appeared to meet with success. The monitoring equipment recorded flashing orange lights in a field, and the next morning two large circles had formed. But the hopes of the researchers were dashed when they found a horoscope chart and wooden crucifix in the middle of the circles — evidently the calling card of a hoaxer. The flashing lights on their equipment, the researchers admitted, had probably been the heat signature of humans running around. More…
Posted: Fri Jul 25, 2014 Comments (0)

July 24, 1907: The Old Librarian's Almanack
On this day, Edmund Leaster Pearson first mentioned the existence of the Old Librarian's Almanack in his column in the Boston Evening Transcript. It was, he said, a small almanac from 1773 that contained the "opinion and counsel" of a rather curmudgeonly librarian whose ideas were strikingly non-modern. For instance, the Old Librarian felt it was the duty of all librarians to "cast out and destroy" any book that was "merely frivolous." Pearson later arranged for the reprinting of this 18thC curiosity. Very few people realized that he himself had written it as a joke. [Internet Archive]
Posted: Thu Jul 24, 2014 Comments (0)

I.M. Chait auctioneer will soon be taking bids on what it describes as the "longest example of coprolite [i.e. fossil poop] ever to be offered at auction." At 40 inches, it's definitely quite long. A number of sites described this as dinosaur poop, which it can't be, since it's 40 million years too young to have come from the rear end of a dinosaur. But gawker's antiviral notes that it may not be a coprolite either. The object comes from Washington's Wilkes formation, and according to Whitman College Professor of Geology Patrick K. Spencer, there's nothing that would "suggest an organic origin" for this object, or any of the…
Posted: Wed Jul 23, 2014 Comments (0)

Many media outlets (such as NPR) recently ran a feel-good story about how a sixth-grader made an important scientific discovery. The discovery was that lionfish can survive in nearly fresh water, such as that found in estuaries. This is important to know since lionfish are highly invasive. The young scientist made this discovery as part of a science-fair project on lionfish. But it now looks like there's a seamier side to this story. It turns out that this information had been discovered before, as far back as 2010, by a marine biology grad student, Zach Jud. And Jud had worked with the sixth-grader's father, who's also a marine biologist. …
Posted: Wed Jul 23, 2014 Comments (0)

July 23, 1943: The Death of Ern Malley
The unknown Australian poet Ern Malley was said to have died of Graves' disease on this day, prompting his sister to send the poems she found among his possessions to Max Harris, editor of the Angry Penguins poetry journal, who then decided to dedicate a special issue to Malley's strange poems. But upon publication, Harris discovered Malley wasn't real. He was the satirical creation of two Australian poets hostile to modern poetry. Ern Malley remains Australia's most famous literary hoax. [wikipedia]
Posted: Wed Jul 23, 2014 Comments (0)

In an article in The Atlantic, Sam McDougle traces the origin of the often repeated belief that "you only use 10 percent of your brain." He writes: "According to Sam Wang, a neuroscientist at Princeton and the author of Welcome to Your Brain, the catalyst may have been the self-help industry. In the early 1900s, William James, one of the most influential thinkers in modern psychology, famously said that humans have unused mental potential. This completely reasonable assertion was later revived, in mangled form, by the writer Lowell Thomas in his foreword to the 1936 self-help bible How To Win Friends And Influence People. ‚ÄúProfessor William James of Harvard used to say that…
Posted: Tue Jul 22, 2014 Comments (0)

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All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.