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The Hoax Museum Blog
Hoaxes, mischief, and misinformation throughout history
August 10, 1840: The Fortsas Bibliohoax
Numerous book collectors arrived in Binche, Belgium, hoping to attend the sale of the library of the Comte de Fortsas, advertised as taking place on this day (Aug 10) in 1840. The Fortsas library only included 52 books, but each book was absolutely unique — the only copy of the title known to exist. But soon after their arrival, the collectors discovered there was no Comte de Fortsas, nor any of his books. The entire auction had been arranged by a local antiquarian, Renier Hubert Ghislain Chalon, as an elaborate practical joke. More…
Posted: Sun Aug 10, 2014 Comments (0)

August 9, 1962: The Hastings Rarities Fraud
Taxidermist George Bristow had a reputation for being able to find rare birds, which he stuffed and sold at high prices to collectors. But on this day (Aug. 9) in 1962 (15 years after Bristow's death) the journal British Birds published a study arguing that it was statistically impossible for anyone to have found that many rare birds in one small area, Hastings, of southern England. It's suspected that Bristow had imported frozen birds from abroad, then he had claimed to have found them in England, where their presence was unexpected, which allowed him to sell them at high prices. [Hastings Museum]
Posted: Sat Aug 09, 2014 Comments (1)

August 8, 1903: Trial of Thérèse Humbert Begins
Thérèse Humbert declared herself to be the sole heir of an American millionaire whom she had saved from food poisoning, and on the basis of this was able to obtain loans from leading French bankers for millions of francs. She kept the scam going for a quarter-century before being exposed. Both the inheritance, and the American millionaire, were fictitious. Given the magnitude of her fraud (she was referred to as the "swindler of the century" at the time) it was remarkable that she received only a 5-year sentence. [wikipedia]
Posted: Fri Aug 08, 2014 Comments (0)

August 7, 1926: The Midwife Toad Fraud Exposed
Biologist Paul Kammerer had observed that when he forced "midwife toads" to mate in water (they usually mate on land) their offspring, several generations later, had developed black traction pads on their forelimbs, which made water-mating easier for them. He offered this as proof of Lamarckian inheritance. But on this day in 1926, Dr. G.K. Noble reported in the journal Nature his discovery that the black traction pads were merely injected ink. The revelation destroyed Kammerer's reputation. He committed suicide less than two months later. More…
Posted: Thu Aug 07, 2014 Comments (0)


August 6, 1969: Naked Came the Stranger Revealed
The novel Naked Came the Stranger, credited to Penelope Ashe, had sold a respectable 20,000 copies. But it sold many more copies after 25 reporters from Newsday revealed, on this day in 1969, that they were all the true authors, having written it as a team in a deliberate attempt to produce a terrible novel. The satirical purpose of the hoax was to demonstrate that sex, rather than literary standards, sells books. Although, of course, the book's generous marketing budget, which included ads that ran in the New York Times for several weeks before its publication, didn't hurt either. More…
Posted: Wed Aug 06, 2014 Comments (0)

August 5, 1934: The Oldest Ear of Corn Debunked
After displaying an object for 20 years that it had believed to be the "oldest ear of corn" in the world (supposedly fossilized corn several thousand years old), the Smithsonian Institution admitted on this day that the object, upon closer examination, had been revealed to be a clay rattle shaped like corn. The museum had acquired the corn from a "collector of curios" in Peru. The rattle itself was interesting, as an ancient artifact, but it had no biological significance. More…
Posted: Tue Aug 05, 2014 Comments (0)

August 4, 1972: Female Wanted to Become Pregnant
An ad placed in a Philadelphia paper sought a "female to become pregnant" in return for a "$10,000 fee plus expenses." A reporter who called the number reached Leonard Goldfarb, who claimed he was representing a childless couple. But when news of the ad got picked up by the national press, prompting hundreds of women to apply, Goldfarb admitted there was no child-seeking couple. He was actually an "economic mathematician," and he had placed the ad in order to gather data about "what price pregnancy" as well as to "pinpoint a serious sociological problem."
Posted: Mon Aug 04, 2014 Comments (0)

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)

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