Hoaxes Throughout History
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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…
The paintings of a new abstract artist, Aelita Andre, were featured at a Melbourne exhibition, alongside works by established photographers Nikka Kalashnikova and Julia Palenov. The art critic for The Age noted that Andre's works were "credible abstractions, maybe playing on Asian screens with their reds... heavily reliant on figure/ground relations." But Andre (who was Kalashnikova's daughter) was only 22-months old. The museum had not been aware of this when it agreed to exhibit her work. Nor had The Age's critic known this when he reviewed it. Aelita's mother said she simply wanted her daughter's work to be judged on its merits. [TheVine]

Balloon Boy (Oct 2009)

On October 15, 2009, millions of people sat glued to their TVs, watching a silver, saucer-shaped balloon float through the sky. The media was reporting that a six-year-old boy, Falcon Heene, was inside the balloon, in danger for his life as it drifted out of control. After several hours, the balloon landed a few miles from Denver International Airport, but the boy was nowhere to be found. There were fears he had fallen out. Thankfully he was alive. The entire time he had been safe at home, hiding in a room above his family's garage. The incident turned out to have been a bizarre hoax engineered by his parents, Richard and Mayumi Heene, in an... More…
The author of the "Gay Girl in Damascus" blog identified herself as a lesbian named Amina Abdallah Arraf living in Syria. Over the course of three months, her blog gained a sizable following by offering an insider's account of the Arab Spring. Then a post on her blog reported she had been arrested by government forces. But amidst the expressions of concern for her safety, doubts were raised about her identity. No one had actually met her, and the photos of her on the blog were discovered to be of someone else. A week later, a 40-year-old American man studying for a masters at Edinburgh University, Tom MacMaster, confessed that he was really Arraf.
AptiQuant Psychometric Consulting Co. released a study revealing that Internet Explorer users scored lower on IQ tests than users of other web browsers and were therefore "dumb". This result was duly reported as fact by numerous news outlets, including CNN, the BBC, NPR, CNET, and Forbes. However, not only was the study fake, but also AptiQuant wasn't a real company. The staff photos and information on its site had been copied from the site of a legitimate French firm. The hoax was the work of Tarandeep Gill, a Canadian web developer, who later said he had hoped to "create awareness about the incompatibilities of IE6." [wikipedia]
George Edwards, skipper of a Loch Ness tour boat, produced an image of a dark hump in the water. He claimed that the photo had been examined by a team of US military experts, who declared there was no doubt it showed an "animate object." But a little over a year later, Edwards confessed the photo was a fake. It actually showed a fiberglass hump created for a 2011 National Geographic documentary, "The Truth Behind the Loch Ness Monster." Edwards was unrepentant about the hoax, arguing that people come to Loch Ness for "a bit of fun" and not "for the science" — and that hoaxes such as his own helped to bring them there.
On the night of Sunday, August 26, 2012, 44-year-old Randy Lee Tenley stepped out onto U.S. Highway 93, just south of Kalispell, Montana, wearing a "Ghillie" suit (the kind used by snipers for camouflage). He was promptly hit by a car in the southbound lane, and then was hit again by a second car. Tenley died from his injuries. His friends told the Highway Patrol that he was wearing the suit in order to "incite a sighting of Bigfoot, to make people think they had seen a Sasquatch." It's not known if this was Tenley's first attempt at a Bigfoot hoax. However, dispatchers said they had received no recent reports of Bigfoot sightings. [nbcmontana.com]
Melba Ketchum, owner of a Texas veterinary laboratory, announced on Nov 24, 2012 that, after a 5-year study of purported Sasquatch tissue samples, she had determined that Sasquatch was a human hybrid species that arose approximately 15,000 years ago. But when the article with her data appeared 3 months later, it was underwhelming. Her article appeared in the Denovo Journal of Science which, it turned out, was owned by Ketchum. In fact, her article was the one and only paper ever published by the journal. Skeptics noted that it appeared Ketchum had simply analyzed contaminated samples of human DNA. [Skeptical Briefs]
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