The Museum of Hoaxes
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Hoaxes Throughout History
Eras: 0-1699 1700s 1800-1849 1850-1899 1900-1949 1950-1979 1980s 1990s 2000s
Mid-20th Century Hoaxes (1950-1979)
The Brassiere Brigade, 1950
In September 1950, police in Miami, Florida accidentally discovered a crime ring that had been stealing thousands of dollars from the local phone company for years. The thieves were young women employed in the counting room of the Southern Bell Telephone Company. They were smuggling money out of the building by hiding coin rolls in their bras. The combination of attractive young women, lingerie, and money proved irresistible to the media, and the exploits of the "brassiere brigade" made headlines across the nation. More…
The Kidnapping of Nicole Riche, 1950
At 3 a.m. on the morning of Saturday, April 1, 1950 the 22-year-old French actress Nicole Riche walked into a Paris police station dressed in a flimsy white negligee. She had been missing for over two days. When the police questioned her about where she had been, she spilled forth a bizarre tale about being kidnapped by "Puritans" who kept her in a room without food while they lectured her about the immorality of her life. Finally, she said, her captors abandoned her in the Fontainebleau Forest, where she was found and helped to safety by kindly gypsies. The police believed none of her tale, and rightly so. Her "kidnapping" turned out to have... More…
Hugh Stewart’s Sextuplet Hoax, 1951
In August 1951, 59-year-old science reporter Hugh Stewart approached his editors at the Chicago Herald-American with a hot tip. He had learned that a Chicago mother was about to give birth to sextuplets. It would be the first time a confirmed birth of sextuplets had occurred in America. Stewart offered no verifiable sources for the news. He insisted that "if I break my informants' confidence it will ruin me." Nor could he disclose the mother's name because "critical medical and psychological problems necessitate such protection." Nevertheless, the Herald-American decided to run his story on its front page. It appeared on August 21 under the... More…
Ghost Artists, 1952
On February 5, 1952, a small ad ran on the theatrical page of the Washington Post offering the services of a company of "ghost artists": "Too busy to paint? Call on the Ghost Artists? We paint it, you sign it." The idea of ghost artists caught the interest of the media, and a report about the company went out over the wire services and appeared in newspapers nationwide. The ghost artists were said to be earning lucrative fees from executives who wanted to impress their friends. Satisfied clients included military men, government officials, doctors, businessmen, and a Wall Street broker who commissioned an entire exhibition in order to break... More…
Rudolph Fentz, Accidental Time Traveler
The story of Rudolph Fentz was long considered an unsolved mystery, and a case of possible time travel. In June 1950, Fentz was said to have suddenly appeared in the New York City's Times Square, as if from out of the blue, wearing old-fashioned clothes and sporting mutton-chop sideburns. Glancing around, a look of astonishment and then of panic flashed across his face. He sprinted forwards, and was then struck down and killed by a car. More…
The Great Monkey Hoax, 1953
Three young men reported running over a space alien on a rural Georgia highway. What made this case unusual is that the body of the alien was lying on the highway to prove their tale. The incident quickly made national headlines. But when scientists from Emory University examined the 'alien,' they determined it was actually a Capuchin monkey with its tail cut off and fur removed with depilatory cream. The boys confessed they had created it as a prank. More…

Douglas R. Stringfellow, 1954
Oct. 16, 1954: Douglas R. Stringfellow confesses on-air that his heroic past was a hoax In 1952 the political newcomer Douglas R. Stringfellow was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Republican from Utah. Much of the appeal of his candidacy lay in his decorated past as a hero during World War Two, a past which he made frequent references to during his revival-style campaign speeches. According to him, he had served as an agent of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during the war. This was the agency that later turned into the CIA. He claimed that at one point he had participated in a top-secret mission to rescue a German... More…
I, Libertine, 1955
In the 1950s, bestseller lists were partially based on the number of requests for a title at bookstores. So 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 this title, relayed by puzzled bookstore owners, eventually made their way to publisher Ian Ballantine who (once he figured out what was going on), decided it would be interesting to publish I, Libertine as an actual book. Author Theodore Sturgeon was commissioned to write it, and the book was released to stores (for real) on Sep 20, 1956. More…
The Third Eye of T. Lobsang Rampa, 1956
The Third EyeThe Third Eye, by Tuesday Lobsang Rampa, was first published in 1956. It purported to be his autobiographical account of growing up in Tibet and studying Tibetan Buddhism. Rampa claimed he had been born into a wealthy Tibetan family and had studied in Lhasa to become a lama. He had then undergone an operation to open up the "third eye" in the middle of his forehead. This operation had bestowed upon him amazing psychic powers. More…
The Olympic Underwear Relay, 1956
Route of the 1956 Olympic torch relay, from Cairns to Melbourne. In 1956 runners bore the Olympic flame across Australia, on a path from Cairns to Melbourne, where the summer games were to be held. But before the flame even got as far as Sydney, it had to endure a series of setbacks. Torrential rains soaked it. Burning heat almost overwhelmed the runners. The flame even went out a few times. Then in Sydney itself it encountered a situation unique in Olympic history. Cross-country champion Harry Dillon was scheduled to bear the flame into Sydney, where he would present it to the mayor, Pat Hills. After making a short speech, Hills would pass... More…
The Swiss Spaghetti Harvest, 1957
On April 1, 1957 the British news show Panorama broadcast a three-minute segment about a bumper spaghetti harvest in southern Switzerland. The success of the crop was attributed both to an unusually mild winter and to the "virtual disappearance of the spaghetti weevil." The audience heard Richard Dimbleby, the show's highly respected anchor, discussing the details of the spaghetti crop as they watched video footage of a Swiss family pulling pasta off spaghetti trees and placing it into baskets. The segment concluded with the assurance that, "For those who love this dish, there's nothing like real, home-grown spaghetti." The Swiss Spaghetti... More…
Emile Coudé, 1957
The French doctor Emile Coudé (1800-1870) was the inventor of the curved "Coudé catheter" used by urologists to relieve urinary obstruction. Except that he wasn't. The man and his biography were invented as a joke by Welsh medical students in the 1950s. However, some physicians didn't realize it was a joke and referred to the man in medical textbooks. A few sources still mistakenly claim that the coudé catheter was named after a French physician. In reality, the coudé catheter was invented by Louis Mercier (1811-1882). In French, coudé (the adjective) means bent; coude (the noun) means elbow. More…
The Little Blue Man Hoax, 1958
In early 1958, Michigan motorists began to report sightings of a glowing "little blue man," like a spaceman from a science-fiction movie, who would appear out of nowhere on rural roads, and then just as suddenly disappear. Eventually three young men confessed that the blue man was their work. They had created a costume consisting of long underwear, gloves, combat boots, a sheet, and a football helmet with blinking lights. One of them, wearing this costume, would hide in a ditch and leap out when a motorist approached, run along the road, and then make a quick getaway by jumping into the trunk of the car driven by his two accomplices. More…
The Birth of Bigfoot, 1958
While working on a rural road construction project near Bluff Creek, California, tractor-operator Jerry Crew found a series of massive footprints in the mud. Due to the size of the prints, the media began referring to the creature that created them as "Bigfoot." The name stuck and soon became the most widely used term for North America's legendary ape-man. However, it was suspected that Crew's prank-loving boss, Ray Wallace, created the prints by strapping carved wooden feet to his boots and stomping around in the mud. Wallace's family confirmed this after his death in 2002. More…
The Society for Indecency to Naked Animals, 1959
G. Clifford Prout was a man with a mission, and that mission was to put clothes on all the millions of naked animals throughout the world. To realize his dream, Prout founded an organization, the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals (abbreviated as SINA). It was left unexplained why the society was 'for indecency' not 'against indecency'. More…
Cacareco the Rhinoceros, 1959
The 1959 city council election in Sao Paulo, Brazil had a surprise winner: Cacareco, a five-year-old female rhinoceros at the local zoo. Not only did she win, but she did so by a landslide, garnering 100,000 votes (15% of the total). This was one of the highest totals for a local candidate in Brazil's history to that date. More…
The Sandpaper Test, 1959
In 1959, the Colgate-Palmolive company began airing three TV ads in America for its Palmolive Rapid-Shave shaving cream. All three commercials included a "sandpaper test" designed to demonstrate that Rapid-Shave's "moisturizing" action was so powerful it would not only soften up even the heaviest beard in seconds, but also make sandpaper shaveable. But what viewers were led to believe was a piece of sandpaper being shaved was actually plexiglass covered with sand. More…
The Great Rose Bowl Hoax, 1961
Caltech students succeeded in altering the University of Washington's halftime flip-card routine during the 1961 Rose Bowl in order to read "CALTECH". More…
Subways Are For Sleeping, 1962
On January 4, 1962, an advertisement appeared in the New York Herald-Tribune for a Broadway play titled "Subways Are For Sleeping." Judging by the ad, it appeared the play was a critical success. The names of seven well-known theater critics appeared in the ad, and accompanying their names were the rave reviews they had given the play. But, in truth, the quotations came from ordinary people who happened to have the same names as the critics. More…
Instant Color TV, 1962
In 1962 there was only one tv channel in Sweden, and it broadcast in black and white. On April 1st of that year, the station's technical expert, Kjell Stensson, appeared on the news to announce that, thanks to a new technology, viewers could convert their existing sets to display color reception. All they had to do was pull a nylon stocking over their tv screen. Stensson proceeded to demonstrate the process. Thousands of people were taken in. Regular color broadcasts only commenced in Sweden on April 1, 1970. More…
Kick A Puppy Today, 1963
Hollis and friends model his "protest-dappled" sweatshirts. May, 1963. In 1963 an entrepreneur conceived of a way to promote antisocial tendencies and profit from it. Charlie Hollis, a 37-year-old copywriter and Brooklyn College sophomore, printed up stickers that bore messages such as LOATHE THY NEIGHBOR and KICK A PUPPY TODAY. He then placed an ad for his misanthropic product in the Village Voice: More…
Yetta Bronstein for President, 1964
Yetta Bronstein, a 48-year-old Bronx housewife, ran for President in 1964 and again in 1968 as the candidate for the Best Party. Her slogans were "Vote for Yetta and watch things get better" and "Put a mother in the White House." Her proposals included national bingo, self-fluoridation, placing a suggestion box on the White House fence, and printing a nude picture of Jane Fonda on postage stamps "to ease the post office deficit and also give a little pleasure for six cents to those who can't afford Playboy magazine." She promised she would staff her cabinet with "people who have failed in life and learned to live with it." More…
Pierre Brassau, Monkey Artist, 1964
Paintings by a previously unknown avant-garde French artist named Pierre Brassau, exhibited at an art show in Sweden, won praise from critics, one of whom described Brassau's work as having "the delicacy of a ballet dancer." What the critics didn't know was that Brassau was actually a chimpanzee named Peter from Sweden's Boras zoo. A journalist had come up with the idea of exhibiting Peter's work as a way of putting critics to the test — would they be able to tell the difference between modern art and chimpanzee art? To the great amusement of the press, the critics failed the test. More…
Report From Iron Mountain, 1967
Front cover of Report From Iron Mountain. In 1967 the war in Vietnam was escalating and race riots were breaking out in many major U.S. cities. Popular distrust of the federal government was growing. It was in this context that on October 16 a book appeared titled Report From Iron Mountain on the Possibility and Desirability of Peace. It was published by Dial Press, a division of Simon & Schuster. Leonard C. Lewin, a New York freelance writer, wrote the introduction to the book. He explained that the report had been compiled by 15 experts known as the Special Study Group (SSG) who had been brought together by the U.S. government. The SSG had... More…
The Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot Film, 1967
Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin emerged from California's Six Rivers National Forest in Oct. 1967 with footage of what appeared to be a female Bigfoot. To this day, their short film remains the most famous evidence of Bigfoot's existence. But skeptics immediately suspected a hoax. Scientists noted the creature's anatomy was oddly mismatched (top half ape, bottom half human), as if it were a man in a suit. Other critics pointed out the remarkable coincidence that Patterson had been planning to make a film about Bigfoot, and then right away found a Bigfoot. There's also evidence he had bought and modified a Bigfoot suit before shooting this footage. More…
Carlos Castaneda and Don Juan, 1968
In 1968 Carlos Castaneda, a graduate student in anthropology at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), published The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. It described his encounters with Don Juan Matus, a Yaqui shaman from Mexico. Don Juan supposedly trained Castaneda in ancient forms of knowledge, such as how to use drugs to communicate with animals (or even to become an animal). Castaneda's book became a bestseller and was an important influence on the New Age movement. Castaneda was awarded a doctorate by UCLA in 1972. Castaneda insisted Don Juan was a real person, but this is widely doubted by scholars. Skeptics... More…
Elmyr de Hory
Elmyr de Hory fooled the art world for thirty years with his expert forgeries of works by Picasso, Renoir, and other masters. To this day, many of his forgeries remain undetected and are in museums and collections throughout the world. More…
Naked Came the Stranger, 1969
Newsday columnist Mike McGrady was convinced that standards of literary taste were plummeting rapidly in the United States. Sex alone, it seemed, could make a book a bestseller. This gave him an idea for an experiment. He convinced 24 other Newsday reporters to join him in deliberately writing a terrible novel that would have a minimum of two sex scenes per chapter. They titled their work Naked Came the Stranger. In the first week after its publication, it sold a respectable 20,000 copies, which McGrady felt was enough to prove his point. So he revealed the hoax. The resulting publicity made the book a bestseller. More…
Paul is Dead, 1969
In the Fall of 1969 a rumor swept around the world alleging that Paul McCartney, singer and bassist for the Beatles, was dead. In fact, that he had died three years ago on November 9, 1966 in a fiery car crash while heading home from the EMI recording studios. Supposedly the surviving band members, fearful of the effect his death might have on their careers, secretly replaced him with a double named William Campbell (an orphan who had won a Paul McCartney lookalike contest in Edinburgh). However, they also planted clues in their later albums to let fans know the truth, that Paul was dead. More…
The Stone-Age Tasaday, 1971
A primitive, stone-age tribe found living in a rain forest in the Philippines was later alleged to be an elaborate fake. More…
The Autobiography of Howard Hughes, 1971
This remains one of the most brazen literary hoaxes of all time. Clifford Irving forged the "autobiography" of the eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes, while Hughes was still alive. His hope was that the famously reclusive billionaire would be unwilling to emerge from his seclusion to expose the fraud. For a long time it seemed like Irving was going to get away with it, but ultimately his plan failed, because Hughes did emerge to blow the whistle on the scheme. More…
Robert Patterson’s Tour of China, 1971
In June 1971 Robert Patterson, a 66-year-old newsman, filed a series of five reports for the San Francisco Examiner detailing his odyssey through mainland China. His journey was inspired by the popular interest in Chinese culture following President Nixon's official visit to that country. The series ran on the Examiner's front page. Patterson discussed details such as his difficulty obtaining an entry visa, witnessing Chinese citizens doing calisthenics in the street every morning, and receiving acupuncture at a Chinese hospital for chronic hip pain. However, his reports caused Paul Avery, a reporter at the rival San Francisco Chronicle, to... More…
Dan Rattiner, the Hoaxer of the Hamptons
In 1960, twenty-year-old Dan Rattiner started a small paper during his summer vacation in the Hamptons. He gave copies of it away for free, making money from the advertisements. It was the first free paper in the United States. Gradually Dan started more papers, each of them serving a different community in the Hamptons. He called all of them collectively Dan's Papers, and they soon became the most widely read papers in the Hamptons. Dan wrote most of the content himself, but from the start he approached the task with a sense of humor. Many of the stories were humorous hoaxes, which earned him the nickname the "Hoaxer of the Hamptons." More…
Body of Nessie Found, 1972
On the day before April Fool's Day, 1972, a team of British zoologists from the Flamingo Park Zoo found a mysterious carcass floating in Loch Ness. Initial reports claimed it weighed a ton and a half and was 15 ½ feet long. More…
The Unraveled Weaving Hoax, 1974
At the 12th Annual Mid-Mississippi Art Competition, held in October 1974, there were gasps of surprise when artist Alexis Boyar walked up to the stage to receive the blue ribbon and $50 cash prize he had won for his entry in the weaving category. The shock wasn't caused by the art. Rather, it was caused by the artist himself since he was a 6-year-old Afghan hound dog. His owners explained that the weaving had originally been an old mitten Alexis found during a walk in the park which he chewed into a "rather interesting shape." They elaborated, "We thought it was interesting enough to enter in competition, but we were surprised when it won a prize." More…
The Steps Experiment, 1975
Artwork accompanying Ross's 1979 article describing the Steps Experiment. In 1975 Chuck Ross was selling cable TV door-to-door, and dreaming of becoming a writer. However, he felt the odds were stacked against him since the publishing industry seemed incapable of recognizing talent. To prove his theory, he typed up twenty-one pages of a highly acclaimed book and sent it unsolicited to four publishers (Random House, Houghton Mifflin, Doubleday, and Harcourt Brace Jovanovich), claiming it was his own work. The work he chose for this experiment was Steps, by Jerzy Kosinski. It had won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1969 and by 1975 had... More…
The Caltech Sweepstakes Caper, 1975
Caltech student Becky Hartsfield shows off the prizes she won. Caltech is known for producing world-class scientists and engineers. But a few of its students have also demonstrated a flair for the law, as a highly controversial 1975 prank that turned on the legalistic reading of a sweepstakes entry form proved. The sweepstakes in question was held by McDonald's. It ran from March 3rd to March 23rd, 1975, at 187 participating McDonald's restaurants in Southern California. The prizes included a year of groceries, a Datsun Z, McDonald's gift certificates, and cash. But one part of the contest rules caught the attention of three Caltech students... More…
Nobody For President, 1976
Who should you vote for in the next election? What about Nobody? After all, Nobody is clearly the best candidate. Nobody cares. Nobody keeps his election promises. Nobody listens to your concerns. Nobody tells the truth. Nobody will lower your taxes. Nobody will defend your rights. Nobody has all the answers. Nobody should have that much power. Nobody makes apple pie better than Mom. And Nobody will love you when you're down and out. More…
San Serriffe, 1977
On April 1, 1977, the British newspaper The Guardian published a special seven-page supplement devoted to San Serriffe, a small republic said to consist of several semi-colon-shaped islands located in the Indian Ocean. A series of articles affectionately described the geography and culture of this obscure nation. Its two main islands were named Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse. Its capital was Bodoni, and its leader was General Pica. The Guardian's phones rang all day as readers sought more information about the idyllic holiday spot. Only a few noticed that everything about the island was named after printer's terminology. The success of this... More…
The Loch Ness Muppet, 1977
May 21, 1977: Anthony 'Doc' Shiels claimed that he took this picture while camping beside Urquhart Castle. Its startling clarity (it's probably the clearest picture of Nessie ever taken) has made it popular with the public. But it's hard to find any expert willing to take it seriously, simply because the creature depicted in it looks so obviously fake. (And it's odd that there are no ripples in the water around the neck.) Skeptics refer to Shiels's monster as "The Loch Ness Muppet." The fact that Shiels was a showman, "wizard," and psychic entertainer who was developing a side business as a professional monster hunter didn't help his... More…
Alternative 3, 1977
On June 20, 1977, a documentary titled Alternative 3 aired in England, on ITV. It revealed to viewers the existence of a secret plan by the governments of the world to create a Noah's Ark colony of humans on Mars in anticipation of a looming environmental catastrophe that would soon make the Earth uninhabitable. The earnestness of the show's delivery convinced many that it was real. However, it was intended as a mock documentary, originally intended to be aired on April Fool's Day. More…
Vilcabamba: the town of very old people, 1978
In 1970, scientists researching the link between diet and heart disease visited the small town of Vilcabamba, located high in the Ecuadorian Andes. The scientists included Dr. Alexander Leaf of Harvard Medical School, Dr. Harold Elrick of the University of California at San Diego, and a group from the University of Quito. The scientists found that the residents of Vilcabamba, who were principally of European descent, had very low cholesterol levels and very few of them ever suffered from heart disease. But more remarkable was the longevity of the Vilcabambans. Many of the town residents claimed to be over 100 years old. A few of them stated... More…
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Eras: 0-1699 1700s 1800-1849 1850-1899 1900-1949 1950-1979 1980s 1990s 2000s
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  • All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.