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The Hoaxes of Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) was an American writer, celebrated for his dark, gothic tales of horror and suspense. He enjoyed playing games of rationality with his readers. Sometimes he cast himself as a master detective capable of discerning the truth behind any illusion or riddle, a role he expressed through the famous character of Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin. This is also seen in his effort to solve puzzles, such as the mystery of the operation of the Great Chess Automaton.

At other times, Poe liked to display his ability to hide the truth from his readers, to force them to play detective. He published six hoaxes during his brief life. Most modern anthologies of his works fail to note that these stories were first presented to readers in the guise of nonfiction. In fact, both detective and hoaxer were two sides of the same coin for Poe. Both roles manifested the power he believed a rational mind could wield over reality. Poe was also fascinated by other hoaxes besides his own. He once referred approvingly to the age in which he lived as the "epoch of the hoax."

Listed below are his six hoaxes.
Von Kempelen and His Discovery
The April 14, 1849 edition of The Flag of Our Union contained an article titled "Von Kempelen and his Discovery." It described the discovery by a German chemist, Baron Von Kempelen, of an alchemical process to transform lead into gold. The account concluded by noting that news of the discovery had already caused a two hundred per cent leap in the price of lead in Europe. The story was fictional, although this was not indicated anywhere. Its author was Edgar Allan Poe. He had evidently hoped that the tale might deter some of the "forty-niners" who were heading off to California in search of gold that had recently been discovered there. Poe... More…
The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar
The December 1845 edition of the American Whig Review contained an account of an unusual experiment designed to test whether hypnotism could delay the arrival of death. According to the article, a terminally ill patient, M. Ernest Valdemar, who only had hours left to live, was placed in a trance by a hypnotist. The effect was quite remarkable. Valdemar appeared to go into a state of suspended animation, moving only in response to the hypnotist's commands. He remained in this state for over a day, much to the surprise of his doctors who hadn't given him that long to live. Then Valdemar's pulse stopped and his breathing ceased. He was dead, but... More…
The Great Balloon Hoax, 1844
The New York Sun announced that the European balloonist Monck Mason had completed the first-ever successful trans-Atlantic balloon crossing. He had taken off from England on a trip to Paris, but had been blown off course due to a propeller accident and ended up floating to South Carolina. The story was quickly revealed to be a hoax, authored by Edgar Allan Poe. More…
The Journal of Julius Rodman
Extracts from the Journal of a "Julius Rodman" appeared in a series of six installments in Burton's Gentlemen's Magazine between January and June 1840. The journal purported to detail a 1792 expedition led by Julius Rodman up the Missouri River toward the Far North. This 1792 expedition, if true, would have made Rodman the first European to cross the Rocky Mountains. Julius Rodman's expedition was subsequently noted by a member of the U.S. Senate, Robert Greenhow, who wrote in a Senate document, "It is proper to notice here an account of an expedition across the American continent, made between 1791 and 1794, by a party of citizens of the... More…
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym
As the Wilkes Expedition, organized by the U.S. Navy, prepared to depart for South America and Antarctica during the late 1830s, polar travel received a great deal of attention in America. This was the context in which a serialized tale authored by Edgar Allan Poe appeared in the Southern Literary Messenger in January and February, 1837. Titled "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym," it presented the story of an explorer, Arthur Gordon Pym, who traveled to the polar latitudes where he suffered a mysterious demise. The tale first appeared "under the garb of fiction," but when Poe republished it a year later as a novel, he added a preface... More…
The Unparalled Adventures of One Hans Pfall
A June 1835 article in the Southern Literary Messenger recounted the experiences of a man, Hans Pfall, who claimed to have traveled to the moon in a balloon and spent five years there living among its inhabitants. He had supposedly returned briefly to Earth, just long enough to drop an account of his travels from his balloon, before deciding to go back to the moon. The article, though it purported to be factual, was actually a story written by Edgar Allan Poe. It was his first, and somewhat unsuccessful, attempt at a hoax. Few if any people were fooled, perhaps because, as Poe himself later acknowledged, it was written in a "tone of mere banter." More…
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