Hoaxes Throughout History
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A chart that circulated online during the first months of 2004 purported to show that American states whose populations possess higher average incomes and higher average IQs voted for Gore in the 2000 Presidential elections. Their poorer, lower-IQ counterparts voted for Bush. The implication was that smart people vote Democratic, and stupid people vote Republican. Major newspapers and magazines, including the St. Petersburg Times and the Economist, printed the chart before it was exposed as a hoax. More…
Carla Patterson and her son were eating at a Cracker Barrel restaurant in May 2004 when she claimed to find a dead mouse in her bowl of vegetable soup. She immediately began screaming, prompting many of the other restaurant patrons to leave. While it investigated the incident, Cracker Barrel stopped serving vegetable soup at all 497 of its restaurants nationwide. But police found that the mouse had died from a skull fracture, not from drowning in soup, and concluded that Patterson had placed the mouse in the soup herself in an attempt to extort money from the restaurant. She was sentenced to a year in jail. More…
Norma Khouri's bestseller Honor Lost (published in Australia, Khouri's home, as Forbidden Love) told the story of a Jordanian 'honor killing.' In the book, a young woman named Dalia living in Jordan falls in love with a Christian man and is murdered for this transgression by her father in order to defend the 'honor' of the family. Khouri claimed the story was nonfiction, based on the life (and death) of a woman she met while growing up in Jordan. But the Sydney Morning Herald discovered that Khouri didn't grow up in Jordan. She actually grew up in a suburb of Chicago. And no person matching the Dalia character appears to have existed. The clear implication was that her book was fiction. The Australian publisher withdrew it from sale.
In July 2004, a Durham, North Carolina family found what appeared to be a breaded, fried baby foot in a box of Banquet-brand chicken pieces bought at a local supermarket. But in this case, the family weren't pulling a scam. They legitimately found the object in the food. But thankfully, it wasn't a baby foot. The police identified the object as a piece of dough that a prankster at the Batesville chicken processing plant had carefully shaped to resemble a foot. Even toes and toenails had been sculpted. Then the faux foot had been breaded and fried. ConAgra, owner of the plant, said it had taken action to make sure nothing like that ever happened again.
On December 3, 2004 the BBC broadcast an interview with Jude Finisterra, who claimed to be a representative of Dow Chemical. The date was the 20th anniversary of the chemical disaster in Bhopal, and the BBC had sought out a representative from Dow to speak about the tragedy since Dow had inherited responsibility for the disaster via a corporate acquisition. During the interview, Mr. Finisterra shocked the BBC's audience when he said that not only had Dow decided to accept full responsibility for the incident, but that it was going to pay $12 billion in compensation to the victims. In response to the news, Dow's stock value promptly dropped. More…
Someone who falsely claims to have played an Oompa Loompa in the 1971 movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. There were ten actors who performed as Oompa Loompas, and pretending to have been one of them is a way for a person of short stature to gain instant celebrity status. It's an easy lie to get away with since very few people know who any of the original Oompa Loompas were. So over the years there have been a number of cases of this deception. For example, in 2005 a Nevada man, Ezzy Dame, was exposed after having passed himself off as an Oompa Loompa for over 20 years. More info: BBC News
Two American students visiting Scotland claimed to have found an enormous tooth (possibly belonging to Nessie) lodged in the carcass of a deer along the shore of the loch. However, (so they said) a game warden almost immediately confiscated the tooth from them, though not before they got a few pictures of it. The students subsequently created a website to publicize their find and lobby for the return of the tooth. Animal experts identified the "tooth" from its picture as the antler of a roe muntjac deer. The website and accompanying story turned out to be a publicity stunt for a horror novel by Steve Alten titled The Loch. More…
Graffiti-artist Banksy surreptitiously hung one of his own paintings, a Warhol-style picture of a Tesco soup can, in New York's Museum of Modern Art. It remained there undetected for three days before the museum took it down. On the same day, Banksy also hung his own work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Brooklyn Museum. Banksy later explained, "I thought some of [the paintings] were quite good. That's why I thought, you know, put them in a gallery." [Wooster Collective]
In March 2005, Anna Ayala claimed that she found a human finger in a bowl of chili ordered from a Wendy's restaurant in California. Her allegation received huge amounts of media attention and cost Wendy's over $1 million a day in lost sales. The company offered a $100,000 reward for any information about how the finger got into the chili. A police investigation eventually determined that the finger hadn't actually been cooked in the chili and had originally been attached to the hand of a man who worked with Ayala's husband at an asphalt company. Ayala and her husband subsequently pleaded guilty to conspiring to file a false claim. [wikipedia]
Four days before her wedding, Jennifer Wilbanks of Georgia disappeared, sparking a nationwide search for her. She reappeared three days later in Albuquerque, New Mexico claiming she had been kidnapped by a hispanic man and a "heavy set white female" who drove her to Albuquerque before releasing her. But during questioning by the police, Wilbanks eventually admitted that the abduction story was a lie. The truth was that she had fled Georgia, taking a greyhound bus to Albuquerque, "because of the pressures of the wedding" and because "the list of things she needed to get done and no time to do it made her feel overwhelmed." More…

JT LeRoy (Oct 2005)

In 1994 a teenage boy called JT (or Jeremy "Terminator") LeRoy began to attract attention in the literary community. He published a few short stories, but he also aggressively reached out to other, older writers, communicating with them by phone, email, and fax. He was a sympathetic character — a transgendered, homosexual, drug-addicted, pathologically shy teenager who had been living on the streets, forced into a life of truck-stop prostitution by his mother. Writing seemed to offer a means for him to escape that life, and other writers strongly supported his efforts. In 1999 he published his first novel, Sarah, which was a critical... More…

Space Cadets (Dec 2005)

In 2005, the British television show "Space Cadets" pulled off the most expensive and elaborate hoax in English television history. More…
In December 2005, the German magazine Bild reported that Dr. Kajta Schneider, director of the State Art Museum of Moritzburg, when asked to identify the artist responsible for a painting, responded that it looked like the work of Guggenheim-Prize winner Ernst Wilhelm Nay, who is famous for using blotches of color. In reality, the canvas was the work of Bangi, a 31-year-old female chimpanzee from the Halle zoo. When her error was revealed to her, Dr. Schneider said, "I did think it looked a bit rushed." Banghi reportedly enjoyed painting, although her mate Satscho had a habit of destroying most of her works.
In 2006, on a Belgian TV station news broadcast, it was announced that Flanders, the Dutch-speaking half of the country, had seceded from the country. Thirty minutes into the news bulletin,only after the station''s phonelines were swamped, it was revealed to be a "War of the Worlds"-style hoax. More…
Joyce Hatto was an English pianist who rose to prominence in the year preceding her death. Her talent had only been discovered very late in her life, when she was in her seventies. She was noted for being able to masterfully play a wide variety of works, including compositions by Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Liszt, and Rachmaninoff. However, she never played in public. Recordings of her performances were produced by her husband from a private studio. But in 2007, a few months after her death, a critic for Gramophone magazine discovered that none of the recordings attributed to Hatto were actually performed by her. Her husband had been taking recordings of other pianists and claiming they were recordings of his wife. [New Yorker, Wikipedia]
Several websites, disguised to look like credible news sources such as CNN, separately posted stories claiming that celebrity heiress Paris Hilton had died while in jail. One of these sites claimed that Hilton had been stabbed multiple times by another inmate who claimed that she was being "verbally assaulted" by the heiress. The assailant supposedly used "a shank made from grinded down metal ruler" to attack Hilton. These stories quickly went viral by email. Hilton was in jail, doing time in the Los Angeles Twin Towers Correctional Facility for violating her probation on an alcohol-related reckless driving charge. However, she was not dead, nor had she been attacked.
The artwork of Freddie WR Linsky attracted interest when it was posted on Charles Saatchi's online gallery. A Berlin gallery even invited Linsky to showcase his talents in an upcoming exhibition. What the critics didn't know was that Linsky was only 2 years old. Many of his pieces included ketchup, sprayed while sitting in his high chair. The works had been posted online by his mother, Estelle Lovatt, a lecturer at Hampstead School of Art, who explained that Freddie always got very excited by the messes he made, and she became curious whether critics "would be encouraging or dismissive if I showed his work online." [Daily Mail]
In January 2008 five Iranian speedboats approached three U.S. Warships in the Persian Gulf. When the U.S. ships attempted to contact the Iranians by radio, they heard a voice reply, "I am coming to you... You will explode in... minutes." At first the warships assumed this message came from the Iranian speedboats, but it's since been determined that it probably came from a "Filipino Monkey", which is the name given to rogue radio operators who interject lewd jokes, threats, and obscenities into ship-to-ship radio communications conducted on VHF marine channels. Filipino Monkey radio pranksters have been active in the Persian Gulf since at least 1984. More…
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…
Rick Dyer and Matthew Whitton claimed they had stumbled upon the dead body of a Bigfoot while hiking in the Georgia woods. The creature was large, measuring 7 feet 7 inches tall and weighing over 500 pounds. Nevertheless, they managed to haul it out of the woods and store it in a freezer. Their claim was met with widespread skepticism, even from Bigfoot believers, but during a press conference in Palo Alto they indignantly stood by their story. However, when the body in the freezer was finally examined, it turned out to be a halloween costume with roadkill remains dumped on top of it. [Bigfoot Encounters]
Bernard Madoff founded Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC in 1960. It became a prestigious firm on Wall Street, acting both as a market-maker (a middleman between buyers and sellers of shares) and as an investment fund that managed money for high-net-worth individuals and institutions. Year after year Madoff delivered reliable annual returns of around 10% for his investors. He managed to do this even in down markets when everyone else was losing money. These returns inevitably created suspicions, but billions of dollars continued to be entrusted to him, principally because he always paid out if anyone requested their money. More…
The story of how Herman Rosenblat first met his wife, Roma, was remarkable. Rosenblat was imprisoned as a child in the Buchenwald concentration camp. He claimed that Roma, a Jewish girl disguised as a Christian who lived in the nearby town, used to throw apples over the fence for him. Twelve years later, the two met in Coney Island and realized where they had previously seen each other. They fell in love and got married. Rosenblat first shared this story in the mid-1990s, when he submitted it as an entry for a newspaper contest about "best love stories". He said he had been told to share the story, which he had kept secret for so many years,... More…
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