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
Hoaxes of the 1990s
The Cross-Dressing Ken Doll, 1990
Carina Guillot and her daughter made national headlines when they found a Ken doll for sale at a Florida Toys 'R' Us that was dressed in a purple tank top, lace apron, and polka-dotted skirt. The doll was still inside its factory packaging, so it appeared to be a valid, untampered product. Mattel was at a loss to explain how Ken had come to be wearing a dress. The Guillots turned down thousand-dollar offers for the doll. The mystery was solved when a Toys 'R' Us night clerk admitted he had dressed up Ken as a prank and carefully resealed the package with glue. More…
Operation Blackbird, 1990
A group of researchers camped out on a hillside in Wiltshire with an array of high-tech equipment, hoping to record the formation of a crop circle (presumably by a UFO). On the second night, their equipment recorded flashing orange lights in an adjacent field. The next morning, the researchers were excited to see that two large circles had formed. But their hopes were dashed when they found a horoscope chart and wooden crucifix in the middle of one 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…
The Buckwheat Imposter, 1990
Buckwheat was the wide-eyed, African-American character played by William Thomas in the 'Our Gang' comedies of the 1930s and '40s. After leaving the show, Thomas dropped from the public eye. But in 1990, the news show 20/20 claimed it had found him working as a grocery bagger. Unfortunately for 20/20, the man they interviewed was not William Thomas. He was an imposter named Bill English who had been claiming to be Buckwheat for 30 years. The real William Thomas had worked as a film lab technician before dying in 1980 at the age of 49. The week after it aired the segment, 20/20 admitted its mistake. More…
Milli Vanilli, 1990
Rob and Fab of the pop duo Milli Vanilli rocketed to stardom on the strength of catchy singles and their sex appeal. But their act was a carefully orchestrated sham. In reality, the two possessed no musical ability. They couldn't play instruments, write music, or sing. All of their songs had been recorded by professional musicians. On stage, the duo lip-synched the words. Embarrassed by the situation, Rob and Fab confronted their producer, insisting he allow them to sing on their next album. The producer wanted none of this, so instead he blew the whistle on them. The humiliation of this public revelation effectively ended their careers. More…
Russia Sells Lenin’s Body, 1991
Following the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia's financial situation was dire. So when the American magazine Forbes FYI reported that the Russian government had decided to sell the embalmed body of Vladimir Lenin in an effort to raise foreign currency, the news seemed believable. Bidding for Lenin, it was said, would start at $15 million. Both ABC News and USA Today repeated the story without questioning it, and so were embarrassed when the editor of Forbes FYI revealed that it had been intended as a joke. Russian Interior Minister Viktor Barrannikov denounced the story as "an impudent lie." More…
Ghostwatch, 1992
On Halloween night, BBC TV aired a program called Ghostwatch, advertised as a live investigation into supernatural activity at a house in London. After a calm start, events quickly spun out of control when a malevolent spirit attacked the investigators, and then manifested back in the BBC studio. A terrified reporter warned that by airing the investigation on live TV they must have created a "massive seance," unleashing the spirit onto the whole of the UK. The program elicited a huge reaction. Many viewers phoned the police in panic. But there was no ghost on the loose. The program wasn't even live. It had been taped months before for Halloween. More…

Grunge Speak, 1992
On November 15, 1992 the New York Times published an article analyzing the roots and evolution of the "grunge" movement. It reported that Grungers had developed their own lexicon of "grunge speak" which included phrases such as Cob Nobbler (a loser), Lamestain (an uncool person), and Wack Slacks (old, ripped jeans). Three months later, The Baffler magazine revealed that the Times had been the victim of a hoax. The grunge terms didn't exist. Megan Jasper of Seattle-based Sub Pop Records, whom the Times had used as its source for the glossary, had simply invented the terms as a joke. More…
The BMW Crop Circle, 1993
A crop circle appeared in a field of rye located outside of Johannesburg, South Africa during the first week of February 1993. The media speculated excitedly about whether it was the work of a UFO. Popular curiosity grew until February 14, when a small detail was pointed out that had previously escaped almost everyone's notice: the circle formed a BMW logo. The circle turned out to be the work of the Hunt Lascaris ad agency, working on behalf of BMW. TV commercials soon followed, showing aerial views of the circle accompanied by the tag-line, "Perhaps there is intelligent life out there after all." More…
Arm the Homeless, 1993
A press release distributed to the media in Columbus, Ohio announced the formation of a new charity for the homeless. But instead of giving food or shelter, this charity planned to provide guns and ammunition. It called itself the "Arm the Homeless Coalition." News of this charity soon spread nationwide and generated enormous controversy. But when an Ohio reporter tried to track down the director of the Coalition, his investigation led him instead to a group of university students who admitted the entire thing was a hoax, designed, they said, "to draw attention to the issues of guns and violence, homelessness and media manipulation in our society." More…
The Sibuxiang Beast, 1994
On the evening of September 19, 1994, a stark warning repeated for TV viewers in Taiyuan, in northern China. The Sibuxiang beast, the message said, was on the loose and heading towards the city. "Everyone close your windows and doors and be on alert," people were warned. Many residents panicked, barricading themselves inside their homes. Others called the local authorities to find out what was happening. As it turned out, the Sibuxiang Beast was not an animal, but a new brand of liquor. The message had been an advertisement. TV commercials were still something of a novelty in China, and thus the confusion. More…
Microsoft Buys the Catholic Church, 1994
In late 1994, a news story purportedly issued by the Associated Press began circulating via email claiming that Microsoft had bought the Catholic church. The announcement, which bore a Vatican City dateline, noted that this was "the first time a computer software company has acquired a major world religion." Although most of the article was clearly parody, many people believed it to be a real AP story and telephoned Microsoft to inquire about details. So many people called that Microsoft eventually felt compelled to issue an official statement denying it had bought the Catholic church. More…
Alien Autopsy, 1995
British film producer Ray Santilli came forward with several canisters of film that he said showed military surgeons performing an autopsy on an extraterrestrial creature in 1947. He said he had acquired the film from a former military cameraman. Skeptics mocked Santilli's claims. Nevertheless, when the FOX network aired his film in August 1995, it received extremely high nielsen ratings, and subsequent video rentals of the film were consistently popular. But eventually (in 2006) Santilli confessed the film was fake. He had filmed the footage inside a London apartment., and the body of the alien had been created by sculptor John Humphreys. More…
The Taco Liberty Bell, 1996
When the Taco Bell Corporation announced it had bought the Liberty Bell and was renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell, it explained it was doing so as part of its effort to "help the national debt." Nevertheless, hundreds of people called the National Historic Park in Philadelphia where the bell was housed to express their anger. Their nerves were only calmed when Taco Bell revealed, a few hours later, that it was all a practical joke, and reminded them that it was April Fool's Day. Later that day, White House press secretary Mike McCurry joked that the Lincoln Memorial had also been sold and would be renamed the Ford Lincoln Mercury Memorial. More…
The Sokal Hoax, 1996
An article titled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity" appeared in the Spring 1996 issue of the cultural studies journal Social Text. Written in a typical academic style (slightly overbearing, verbose, and armored with a bristling flank of footnotes), it appeared to be an unlikely candidate for controversy. But on the day of its publication, Sokal revealed that it was actually intended as a parody, a fact which the editorial board of Social Text had failed to recognize. Sokal argued that the publication of his parody demonstrated "an apparent decline in the standards of rigor in certain precincts of the academic humanities." More…
Allegra Coleman, 1996
Esquire magazine's November 1996 cover featured Allegra Coleman, said to be a hot new star taking Hollywood by storm. The feature article inside described the buzz building around her. Hollywood was intrigued. After Esquire ran the article, the magazine received calls from talent scouts, eager to get in touch with the new star. But as it turned out, Allegra didn't exist. Esquire had invented her as a spoof of the fawning puffery that many magazines shower on movie stars. The woman shown on the cover and in the photos inside was a (then) little-known actress called Ali Larter, who subsequently starred in the NBC series Heroes. More…
Stephen Glass, 1998
Stephen Glass was a young writer at the New Republic who had a reputation for always getting the best scoops. In his most celebrated article, "Hack Heaven," he told the story of a fifteen-year-old hacker who broke into the computer system of a software corporation, Jukt Micronics, and then succeeded in extorting money, a job, a Miata, a trip to Disney World, and a lifetime subscription to Playboy from the company. But Jukt Micronics, as well as many of the other topics Glass wrote about, existed only in his own imagination. The New Republic fired him in May 1998 when it found out. More…
Our First Time, 1998 promised it would provide an internet first. Web surfers would be able to watch as two 18-year-olds, Mike and Diane, lost their virginity together on August 4, 1998. The two, who claimed to have been inspired by seeing the birth of a baby boy streamed live on the web, said they wanted to show that making love is "nothing to be ashamed about." But the "internet deflowering" never happened because the company that was providing the hosting for the site pulled out of the deal when it learned of a secret plan both to impose a $5 viewing fee at the last minute, and also to have Mike and Diane (who were really paid models) choose to abstain. More…
The Blair Witch Project, 1999
The Blair Witch Project was a multimillion-dollar box-office sensation. Much of this success owed to a clever marketing scheme centering around the 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. She wasn't. The entire tale was fictitious. Nevertheless, the hoax site revolutionized internet marketing and spawned many imitators. More…
Final Curtain, 1999
The Final Curtain Cemetery promoted itself as a different kind of cemetery. Artists would design their own tombstones before they died. The result would be a cemetery that would be part memorial, part art gallery, and part theme park. Visitors to the cemetery could dine at restaurants such as Heaven's Gate Cafe, or shop at the museum gift shop. The cemetery received widespread media coverage before being revealed to be a hoax designed by veteran prankster Joey Skaggs who explained that he wanted to draw attention to the death-care industry which he described as "a giant corporate scam, exquisitely successful at commercializing death." More…
The Piltdown Chicken, 1999
In October 1999, the National Geographic Society held a press conference to announce it had found a 125-million-year-old fossil in China that appeared to be the long-sought missing link between dinosaurs and birds. The fossil bird, when living, would have been about the size of a large chicken, but had the long tail of a dinosaur. This mixture of dinosaur and bird is what made them believe they had found the dinosaur-bird missing link. But it was not to be. A few months later, Nat Geo admitted it had fallen for a fake. A forger had taken a stone slab containing a tail fossil and affixed it to a fossil of a bird, thereby producing the hybrid dinosaur-bird creature. More…
Ron’s Angels, 1999
It's legal to sell donor eggs to infertile couples. But Ron Harris, an erotic photographer, proposed taking this process one step further. He established a website at which nubile supermodels auctioned off their eggs to the highest bidders. The concept outraged the infertility industry. News of the website was broken by the New York Times, but suspicions were raised when people noticed that no bids were being logged on the site. It turned out that the supermodel egg auction was a publicity stunt designed to attract visitors to Harris's real business, a pornography site. 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.