The Museum of Hoaxes
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Hoaxes Throughout History
Middle AgesEarly Modern1700s1800-1840s1850-1890s
1900s1910s1920s1930s1940s1950s1960s1970s1980s1990s21st Century2014
Hoaxes of the 1920s

Stotham: The Town That Didn’t Exist, 1920
The quaint Massachusetts town of Stotham, described in an advertising monograph as an example of an unspoiled New England village, didn't actually exist. read more…
Charles Ponzi and the Ponzi Scheme, 1920
Charles Ponzi (1883-1949) Charles Ponzi, an Italian immigrant living in Boston in the early twentieth century, was said by his worshipful followers to have "discovered money." In fact, what he really discovered was a way to bilk the public out of millions of dollars by means of a financial pyramid scheme. There were pyramid schemes before Ponzi came along, but his was so outrageous that this type of scam has ever since borne his name. read more…
The Cottingley Fairies, 1920
In 1920 a series of photos of fairies captured the attention of the world. The photos had been taken by two young girls, the cousins Frances Griffith and Elsie Wright, while playing in the garden of Elsie's Cottingley village home. Photographic experts examined the pictures and declared them genuine. Spiritualists promoted them as proof of the existence of supernatural creatures, and despite criticism by skeptics, the pictures became among the most widely recognized photos in the world. It was only decades later, in the late 1970s, that the photos were definitively debunked. read more…
King Tut’s Curse, 1923
In November 1922 Howard Carter located the entrance to the tomb of Tutankhamun. By February he and his team had unsealed the door of the Burial Chamber. But a mere two months later, on April 5, 1923, the sponsor of his expedition, Lord Carnarvon, died in his Cairo hotel room, having succumbed to a bacterial infection caused by a mosquito bite. The media immediately speculated that Carnarvon had fallen victim to King Tut's Curse. This curse supposedly promised death to all who violated his tomb. read more…
The Disumbrationist School of Art, 1924
Paul Jordan Smith, a Los Angeles-based novelist, was upset that his wife's art was panned by critics as being too "old school". So he devised an elaborate spoof of modern art. He submitted crude works of his own creation to exhibitions, claiming they were the work of a Russian artist Pavel Jerdanowitch (a name he had invented), the founder of the Disumbrationist School of Art (another invention of his). As anticipated, the works were praised by critics. When Smith revealed the hoax to the LA Times in 1927, he argued that it showed that the art currently in fashion was "poppycock" promoted by critics who knew very little about art. read more…
The Mysterious Glozel Finds, 1924
In 1924, a seventeen-year-old farmer, Emile Fradin, discovered an underground chamber that contained many mysterious artifacts. He did so while plowing a field on his grandfather's property in Glozel (near Vichy, in central France). read more…

Lafayette Mulligan, 1924
In 1924 a man calling himself Lafayette Mulligan, claiming to be the social secretary of the Mayor of Boston, presented the Prince of Wales with the key to the City of Boston and invited him to visit the city, while the Prince was vacationing in Massachusetts. However, the Boston Mayor had no idea who Lafayette Mulligan was. In fact, Lafayette Mulligan was the invention of pranksters trying to embarrass the Irish Mayor, whose anti-British sentiment was well known. 'Lafayette Mulligan' subsequently became a running gag, and for some years lent its name to the prank of sending spurious invitations to non-existent events. read more…
Margaret Mead and the Samoans, 1925
In 1925, 24-year-old Margaret Mead traveled to Samoa where she stayed for nine months. On her return she wrote Coming of Age in Samoa, which was published in 1928. It portrayed Samoa as a gentle, easy-going society where teenagers grew up free of sexual hang-ups. Premarital sex was common. Rape was unheard of. Young people grew to adulthood without enduring the adolescent trauma typical in western countries. She used these findings to support her thesis that culture, not biology, determines human behavior and personality. The book became an anthropological classic, read by generations of college students. But In 1983 New Zealand... read more…
The Cornell Rhinoceros, circa 1925
After a heavy snowfall, the footprints of a large animal were found on the campus of Cornell University, leading up to the shore of the frozen Beebe Lake. A hole in the ice indicated that the animal must have fallen in and drowned. A zoologist examined the tracks and identified them as those of a rhinoceros. Word of the rogue rhinoceros spread around town, and since the University got its water supply from the lake, many students declared they were no longer going to drink the water. Many of those who did drink it swore they could taste rhinoceros. The tracks turned out to be the work of Cornell student Hugh Troy. He and a friend had... read more…
The Case of the Midwife Toad, 1926
During the 1920s, Austrian scientist Paul Kammerer designed an experiment involving a species called the Midwife Toad. He wanted to prove that Lamarckian inheritance was possible. When his experiment produced positive results, the scientitic community was stunned. That is, until researchers had a chance to examine his toads more closely. read more…
The BBC Radio Panic, 1926
On 16 January 1926, BBC Radio interrupted a broadcast of a speech from Edinburgh to give a special announcement: an angry mob of unemployed workers were running amok in London, looting and destroying everything in sight. Listeners were stunned. Anxiously they gathered around their radios to hear the frightening news. They heard that the National Gallery had been sacked and the Savoy Hotel blown up. The alarming reports continued with news that the Houses of Parliament were being attacked with trench mortars. read more…
The Killer Hawk of Chicago, 1927
The story of the Killer Hawk of Chicago is a classic tale of early 20th century American journalism. It involves a hawk that may or may not have terrorized the pigeon population of downtown Chicago. read more…
The Channel Swim Hoax, 1927
On October 10, 1927, Dorothy Cochrane Logan entered the water at Cape Gris Nez, France. Her goal was to swim across the English Channel. Thirteen hours later she reappeared at Folkestone, England. Her time had set a new world record, for which a newspaper awarded her a prize of 1000 pounds. But a few days later Logan confessed her crossing had been a hoax. She had only spent four hours in the water. The rest of the time she had traveled on board a boat. She said that she perpetrated the hoax in order to demonstrate how simply the world could be fooled, and thus to underscore the necessity of supervising such swims. However, a member of her... read more…
The Cradle of the Deep, 1929
Joan Lowell claimed she grew up on her father's schooner, traveling the South Seas. She described her maritime adventures in The Cradle of the Deep, published in 1929. But in reality she grew up in Berkeley, California and had spent only a few months at sea. read more…
Hoax Archive Categories
Hoaxes Throughout History
Middle AgesEarly Modern1700s1800-1840s1850-1890s
1900s1910s1920s1930s1940s1950s1960s1970s1980s1990s21st Century2014

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