Hoaxes Throughout History
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Hoaxes of the 1940s

On June 21, 1940, Hitler accepted the surrender of the French government at a ceremony in Compiegne, France. He melodramatically insisted on receiving France's surrender in the same railroad car in which Germany had signed the 1918 armistice that had ended World War One. After Hitler accepted France's surrender, he stepped backwards slightly, as if in shock. But this isn't what audiences in the Allied countries saw who watched the movie-reel of the ceremony. Instead they saw Hitler dance a bizarre little jig after signing the documents, as if he were childishly celebrating his victory by jumping up and down. The scene was played over and... More…
On a Saturday in October 1941, Morris Newburger, a Wall Street stockbroker, phoned the sports desks of major New York City papers and reported a football score for a fictional New Jersey college team, the Plainfield Teachers. To his great amusement, the score was faithfully recorded the next day in the papers. He decided that Plainfield needed to complete its football season. So for the next few weeks, he kept calling the papers, and scores for "Plainfield T." kept appearing. Plainfield was always victorious, crushing its opponents in lopsided wins. Newburger's deception was exposed within a month, but because of its gentle humor it's remembered as a classic sports hoax. More…
On August 10, 1942 the U.S. Army's public-relations office issued a press release warning the public of "secret markers" that had been found on farm fields throughout the eastern United States. These markers were patterns formed by the arrangement of fertilizer sacks or the way a field had been tilled. From the ground they looked like nothing, but from the air they formed the shape of arrows, apparently created by Nazi sympathizers in order to guide enemy bombers toward military factories and airfields. The Army simultaneously released three pictures showing these markers. But a few days later it was discovered that the "secret markers" were... More…
In 1943 the body of a British officer, Major William Martin, was discovered off the coast of Spain, near Huelva. British diplomats strongly requested that all documents found with the body be returned to them, and the Spanish government eventually complied. But upon examination, it was obvious the documents had been opened and read before their return. This was exactly what the British had hoped would happen, because Major Martin did not exist. He was part of a military hoax, codenamed Operation Mincemeat, designed to fool the Germans. The British military had obtained a cadaver, chained a briefcase containing supposedly top-secret papers... More…
The Australian poets Harold Stewart and James McAuley disliked modernist poetry and hatched a plot to see if they could get its supporters to embrace "deliberately concocted nonsense." They sent some strange, surreal poems of their own creation to Max Harris, editor of the cutting-edge Angry Penguins literary magazine, claiming they were the work of Ern Malley, an unknown poet who had recently died. Harris liked the poems so much that he devoted a special issue to them. At which point, Stewart and McAuley revealed that Malley didn't exist. Ern Malley is considered to be Australia's most famous literary hoax. More…
(left) Robert Archer in The Desert Song(right) Tanis ChandlerTanis Chandler was a 20-year-old woman working as a teletypist in a Hollywood brokerage office, but dreaming of becoming a movie star. However, she was having trouble getting any roles, so she decided to try another strategy. There was a shortage of male actors in 1943 because of the war, so Tanis figured she might have better luck if she were a man. She put on a pair of pants and presented herself at a casting office as "Robert Archer." The casting office, believing she was a man, gave her a part as a sheik in a Warner Brothers movie, The Desert Song. Luckily for her, the part... More…
In April 1944, the University of Southern California held its annual Campus Queens beauty contest. 20 contestants vied for the title. Six winners were to be selected. The prize was that their full-length portrait would appear in the yearbook. But that year an imposter appeared among the candidates. The odd-woman-out (or rather, odd-man-out) was Sylvia Jones. She was actually a he — a male USC student who had dressed up as a woman in order to enter the contest. More…

Naromji (1946)

In November 1946, the Los Angeles Art Association included a painting titled "Three Out of Five", by a previously unknown artist, Naromji, in an exhibition of abstract art. The work hung beside works by well-known modern artists and was given a price tag of $1000. But the Art Association was embarrassed when, at the end of the month, the publicist/prankster Jim Moran revealed that he was the true author of the painting. Naromji was Moran spelled backwards, with a ji "added for confusion." The title, "Three Out of Five," referred to a brand of hair restorer since, Moran said, abstract painting made him want to "tear his hair." More…
In 1947 Han van Meegeren (1889-1947), a Dutch artist and art dealer, was arrested for collaborating with the Nazis. He was charged with selling a painting by Johannes Vermeer (1632-75) titled 'Christ and the Adulteress' to Reich Marshal Hermann Goering. This painting was considered a national treasure, making it a crime to sell it to the enemy. Van Meegeren admitted selling the painting to Goering, but he defended himself by revealing that the painting was a forgery which he had painted himself. Surely it wasn't a crime to cheat the Nazis, he argued. More…
On May 29, 1947, the armed forces radio station in Tokyo, WVTR, interrupted its evening broadcast of dance music with a series of disturbing news bulletin describing a 20-foot sea monster that had emerged from the waters of Tokyo Bay and was making its way inland. The broadcast was intended as a joke, but this was lost on many of the listeners who took it seriously. In fact, the broadcast caused widespread panic. More…
July 11, 1947: Ten days after residents of Twin Falls, Idaho reported seeing flying saucers in the sky, a woman reported finding a flying saucer embedded in the lawn of her neighbor's home. Police came out to investigate, followed by the FBI and three army officers who flew out from Fort Douglas, Utah. What they found was a small, gold-and-silver-colored saucer about the size of a bicycle wheel. It had gouged long strips in the lawn as it landed. The army officers removed the saucer and took it to Salt Lake City for closer investigation. But the police, working on a tip, then identified the saucer as the creation of four teenage boys, who had... More…