The Museum of Hoaxes
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Hoaxes Throughout History
Middle AgesEarly Modern1700s1800-1840s1850-1890s
1900s1910s1920s1930s1940s1950s1960s1970s1980s1990s21st Century2014
Advertising Hoaxes
The Hoaxes of P.T. Barnum (1810-1891)
Barnum described himself as the "Prince of Humbug," an epithet he more than earned during his long career. He's best remembered today for the circus that still bears his name, but before the circus he ran a New York museum, and it was this museum that initially made him rich and famous. He attracted visitors to it by means of sensational publicity stunts, hoaxes, and plain-old false advertising. But he managed to convince audiences that he was selling them entertainment, not fraud. more details…
The September Morn Hoax (1913)
Paul Chabas's painting "September Morn" won a gold medal of honor in 1912 at the Paris Salon. But when copies of the painting made their way to America, it provoked a bitter controversy about nudity, art, and public morality. Thanks to this controversy, September Morn became one of the most famous paintings of the twentieth century, selling millions of copies. The painting is often cited as an example of "success by scandal." But publicist Harry Reichenbach later claimed to have started the controversy by complaining to moral censors about the indecency of the painting. He didn't actually feel the painting was indecent. He was cynically manipulating the self-righteous moralists in order to sell copies of the painting. more details…
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. more details…
The Brazilian Invisible Fish (circa 1928)
Harry Reichenbach (1882-1931) was a publicist whose career spanned the early twentieth century. In his autobiography, he described a publicity stunt he devised early in his career that has since become a classic example of inventive (though misleading) low-budget promotion. He placed a large, transparent bowl filled with water in the window of a store and beside it placed a sign reading, "The only living Brazilian invisible fish." Soon a large crowd had gathered to see the invisible fish. more details…
Hoaxes & Stunts of Jim Moran (1907-1999)
Jim Moran (1907-1999) was called, at various times, "super salesman number one," "America's No. 1 prankster," and "the last great bunco artist in the profession of publicity." He became famous during the 1930s and 40s for devising outrageous stunts on behalf of his clients. Typically his stunts were in the spirit of tongue-in-cheek performances, such as actually trying to find a needle in a haystack, but occasionally he perpetrated outright hoaxes, such as when he submitted one of his own works to the Los Angeles Art Association, telling them it was a painting by an obscure artist named Naromji. more details…
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 details…

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 details…
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 details…
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 details…
The BMW Crop Circle (Feb 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 details…
The Sibuxiang Beast (Sep 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 details…
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 details…
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 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. She wasn't. The entire tale was fictitious. Nevertheless, the hoax site revolutionized internet marketing and spawned many imitators. more details…
Ron’s Angels (Oct 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 details…
Dave Manning (June 2001)
No matter how bad the movies of Columbia Pictures were, there was always one reviewer sure to heap praise on them, Dave Manning of the Ridgefield Press. For instance, while other reviewers skewered the sophomoric comedy The Animal, it impressed Manning as "another winner." His rave reviews might have gone forever unnoticed, except that Newsweek reporter John Horn uncovered the curious truth about him, which was that Manning didn't exist at all. He was the fictional creation of a young marketing executive at Sony, the parent company of Columbia Pictures, used to generate fake praise for otherwise unpraiseworthy movies. more details…
The Microsoft iLoo (Apr 2003)
MSN UK, a division of Microsoft, announced the imminent introduction of the iLoo, the world's first internet-enabled port-a-potty. The iLoo would boast a wireless keyboard, height-adjustable flat plasma screen, broadband internet access, and toilet paper printed with URL suggestions. The press reacted with incredulity to the announcement, and as the press scrutiny intensified, a Microsoft representative eventually admitted that the iLoo was a hoax. But the next day, the company reversed itself, confessing that the iLoo actually wasn't a hoax but was instead a product that had temporarily been under serious consideration but was no longer going to be developed. more details…
The Cesky Sen Hypermarket (May 2003)
Lured by ads throughout Prague promoting a new hypermarket called Cesky Sen ("Czech Dream") that would sell products at unbelievably low prices, hundreds of people showed up at the Lethany Fairgrounds for the grand opening. But all they found was a giant Cesky Sen banner. There was no hypermarket, nor plans to build one. Several student filmmakers had set out to record what would happen when consumer's expectations collided with reality, and so had launched a marketing blitz to promote a non-existent, too-good-to-be-true store. more details…
Hunting for Bambi (July 2003)
A news report by Las Vegas station KLAS-TV about a company selling "Bambi Hunts" sparked nationwide outrage. Bambi Hunts were supposedly games in which men with paintball guns hunted naked women in the Nevada desert. Numerous critics denounced the hunts, demanding to know how such a thing could be legal. Only after a week did it become apparent that the company wasn't really conducting such hunts. It had only claimed to do so as a way to promote a soft-porn video about a fictional Bambi Hunt. Although their stunt almost got them run out of Las Vegas, the company did sell thousands of copies of the video. more details…
The Mini Cooper Autonomous Robot (2004)
The website of Colin Mayhew offered details on how this eccentric, but apparently brilliant, engineer had built an "autonomous crash-preventing robot" from the body of a BMW Mini Cooper r50. Video showed the humanoid robot in action, stopping a car from crashing into a wall. The Mini Cooper Autonomous Robot was eventually revealed to be an elaborate viral marketing campaign designed to promote the new Mini Cooper. more details…
Wine Spectator Hoaxed (Aug 2008)
Since 1981 the magazine Wine Spectator has given "Awards of Excellence" to restaurants that it deems to have exceptional wine lists. To win an award a restaurant must submit their wine list to the magazine and pay a $250 application fee. Over two-thirds of the restaurants who submit an application win an award, and the contest earns Wine Spectator over $1 million a year in fees. In 2008 the magazine gave an award to Osteria L’Intrepido, a restaurant in Milan, Italy. It was later embarrassed to discover that this restaurant did not exist. more details…
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.