The Museum of Hoaxes
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Hoaxes in Newspapers and Magazines
Wine Spectator Hoaxed, 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…
Jayson Blair
When Jayson Blair got a job writing for The New York Times, he was a young man, straight out of college. He advanced quickly, despite frequent complaints about the quality of his work, and became a full-time staff reporter in 2001. He was promoted to the national desk in 2002. But in April 2003, a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News notified the Times about suspicious similarities between a story Blair had just written and one she had written a week earlier. More…
Allegra Coleman, 1996
Esquire magazine's November 1996 cover featured Allegra Coleman, said to be a hot new star taking Hollywood by storm. The feature article inside described the buzz building around her. Hollywood was intrigued. After Esquire ran the article, the magazine received calls from talent scouts, eager to get in touch with the new star. But as it turned out, Allegra didn't exist. Esquire had invented her as a spoof of the fawning puffery that many magazines shower on movie stars. The woman shown on the cover and in the photos inside was a (then) little-known actress called Ali Larter, who subsequently starred in the NBC series Heroes. More…
Russia Sells Lenin’s Body, 1991
Following the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia's financial situation was dire. So when the American magazine Forbes FYI reported that the Russian government had decided to sell the embalmed body of Vladimir Lenin in an effort to raise foreign currency, the news seemed believable. Bidding for Lenin, it was said, would start at $15 million. Both ABC News and USA Today repeated the story without questioning it, and so were embarrassed when the editor of Forbes FYI revealed that it had been intended as a joke. Russian Interior Minister Viktor Barrannikov denounced the story as "an impudent lie." More…
Aliens Invade Rockford, 1989
The Sunday, Dec. 3 edition of the Rockford Register Star (Rockford, Illinois) contained a brief article on its front page under the headline, "Aliens Spotted Near Rockford." The article warned that "These aliens claim to be human children offering further proof that alien beings do indeed live in our planet and may be among local residents." The paper printed a retraction and apology the next day, explaining that the story had been written as a prank by a production worker and then mistakenly placed on a page cleared for printing. The worker was fired.
The Hitler Diaries, 1983
The announcement by the German news magazine Stern that it had discovered the personal diaries of Adolf Hitler generated a media frenzy. Magazines bid for the right to serialize them. Historians anticipated what revelations they would contain. Skeptics, however, insisted they had to be a fake, since Hitler had never been known to keep a diary. The skeptics turned out to be right. Less than two weeks after the initial announcement, forensics experts denounced the diaries as a "crude forgery." When all the dust settled, the diaries turned out to be one of the most expensive fakes in history. By some accounts, the debacle cost Stern as much as 19 million marks. More…

Janet Cooke and Jimmy’s World, 1980
Janet Cooke's article in the Washington Post about 'Jimmy,' an 8-year-old heroin addict, won her a Pulitzer Prize. But pressure mounted for Cooke to reveal where Jimmy lived so that authorities could help him. As Cooke steadfastly refused to do this, rumors began to swirl suggesting there was no Jimmy. Finally, the editors at the Post confronted Cooke and demanded she provide proof of the boy's existence. Cooke then admitted that she had never met Jimmy and that much of her story was fictitious. Cooke resigned, and the Post, humiliated by the incident, returned the Pulitzer Prize. More…
Dan Rattiner, the Hoaxer of the Hamptons
In 1960, twenty-year-old Dan Rattiner started a small paper during his summer vacation in the Hamptons. He gave copies of it away for free, making money from the advertisements. It was the first free paper in the United States. Gradually Dan started more papers, each of them serving a different community in the Hamptons. He called all of them collectively Dan's Papers, and they soon became the most widely read papers in the Hamptons. Dan wrote most of the content himself, but from the start he approached the task with a sense of humor. Many of the stories were humorous hoaxes, which earned him the nickname the "Hoaxer of the Hamptons." More…
Robert Patterson’s Tour of China, 1971
In June 1971 Robert Patterson, a 66-year-old newsman, filed a series of five reports for the San Francisco Examiner detailing his odyssey through mainland China. His journey was inspired by the popular interest in Chinese culture following President Nixon's official visit to that country. The series ran on the Examiner's front page. Patterson discussed details such as his difficulty obtaining an entry visa, witnessing Chinese citizens doing calisthenics in the street every morning, and receiving acupuncture at a Chinese hospital for chronic hip pain. However, his reports caused Paul Avery, a reporter at the rival San Francisco Chronicle, to... More…
The Virginia City Camel Race
In 1959 Bob Richards, editor of the Nevada-based Territorial Enterprise, announced that a camel race would be held that year down the main street of Virginia City. He challenged other local papers to race their camels in the event. More…
Hugh Stewart’s Sextuplet Hoax, 1951
In August 1951, 59-year-old science reporter Hugh Stewart approached his editors at the Chicago Herald-American with a hot tip. He had learned that a Chicago mother was about to give birth to sextuplets. It would be the first time a confirmed birth of sextuplets had occurred in America. Stewart offered no verifiable sources for the news. He insisted that "if I break my informants' confidence it will ruin me." Nor could he disclose the mother's name because "critical medical and psychological problems necessitate such protection." Nevertheless, the Herald-American decided to run his story on its front page. It appeared on August 21 under the... More…
The Killer Hawk of Chicago, 1927
The story of the Killer Hawk of Chicago is a classic tale of early 20th century American journalism. It involves a hawk that may or may not have terrorized the pigeon population of downtown Chicago. More…
Mencken’s History of the Bathtub, 1917
On December 28, 1917, H.L. Mencken published an article in the New York Evening Mail titled "A Neglected Anniversary." It described the history of the bathtub in America, noting that people were slow to accept tubs, believing they were dangerous to health. This attitude, Mencken said, changed when President Millard Fillmore became the first president to install a tub in the White House. Mencken's history of the bathtub was not true. He intended it as a joke, "some harmless fun in war days". However, few people recognized it as such. Details from Mencken's article began to appear in other papers. One scholar included the tale in a history of... More…
The Great Mammoth Hoax, 1899
Woolly mammoths became extinct thousands of years ago. But in October, 1899 a story appeared in McClure's Magazine titled "The Killing of the Mammoth" in which a narrator named H. Tukeman described how he had recently hunted down and killed a mammoth in the Alaskan wilderness. More…
The Great Wall of China Hoax, 1899
On June 25, 1899 four Denver newspapers reported that the Chinese government was going to tear down portions of the Great Wall of China, pulverize the rock, and use it to build roads. American companies were said to be bidding on the enormous demolition project. Newspapers throughout the country picked up the story, but it eventually became apparent the news was not true. The Chinese were not planning to tear down the Great Wall. Four Denver reporters — Al Stevens, Jack Tournay, John Lewis, and Hal Wilshire — had invented the tale while sharing a drink at the Oxford Hotel in order to spice up a slow news day. A rumor later suggested... More…
Hearst’s War, 1897
William Randolph Hearst, owner of the New York Journal, had a reputation for never letting truth get in the way of a good story. According to one famous tale, when hostilities broke out between the Spanish and the Cubans, Hearst sent the illustrator Frederic Remington to Cuba to draw pictures of the conflict. Finding that not much was happening, Remington cabled Hearst in January 1897: "Everything is quiet. There is no trouble here. There will be no war. I wish to return." Supposedly Hearst cabled back: "Please remain. You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war." It is doubtful Hearst ever sent such a telegram. The first report of... More…
Lou Stone, the Winsted Liar
Louis Timothy Stone (1875-1933), more popularly known as Lou Stone, or the Winsted Liar, was a journalist famous for the hundreds of fanciful articles he wrote about the strange flora and fauna surrounding his hometown of Winsted, Connecticut. It was said he had a "faculty for seeing the unusual in stories." More…
The Winsted Wild Man, 1895
In August 1895 New York City papers received a wire story about a naked, hairy man that was terrorizing townspeople in Winsted, Connecticut. Intrigued, the papers sent reporters up to Winsted to find out what was happening. At first the reporters did not find much happening up in Winsted. But as they began asking local residents if they had seen an unusual creature lurking around, memories and tongues began to loosen. Soon reports of a "wild man" began to trickle in, and the trickle quickly grew into a flood. With each new sighting the wild man grew progressively fiercer. He seemed to gain at least a foot or so in size every day, and in some... More…
Leonainie, 1877
Under the heading "Posthumous Poetry," Indiana's Kokomo Dispatch published a poem titled "Leonainie" on August 3, 1877. It was an unremarkable poem except in one way. The editor of the Dispatch, John Henderson, claimed it was a previously unpublished poem by Edgar Allan Poe. (Click here to read the poem.) The publication of this poem generated excitement among fans and scholars of Poe, and within a few weeks it had been reprinted in major papers throughout the United States. But in reality it was not a poem by Poe. Its true author was a struggling young Indiana poet, James Whitcomb Riley. More…
The Central Park Zoo Escape, 1874
On November 9, 1874 the New York Herald published a front-page article claiming that the animals had escaped from their cages in the Central Park Zoo and were rampaging through the city. A lion had been seen inside a church. A rhinoceros had fallen into a sewer. The police and national guard were heroically battling the beasts, but already forty-nine people were dead and two hundred injured. It was "a bloody and fearful carnival," the article despaired. And the animals were still on the loose! Many readers panicked when they read the article. However, those who did so hadn't read to the end of the article, where it stated (in rather small... More…
The Global Warming Hoax of 1874
in early February 1874, the Kansas City Times ran a story claiming that scientists had discovered that the transatlantic telegraph cables were acting like enormous electromagnets, pulling the earth into the sun. Calculations indicated that if the earth's current trajectory continued unchecked, Europe would become tropical in 12 years, and the entire earth would be uninhabitable soon after. Finally the planet would plunge into the sun. 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 Great Moon Hoax of 1835
The New York Sun announced that the British astronomer Sir John Herschel had discovered life on the moon by means of a new telescope "of vast dimensions and an entirely new principle." Creatures supposedly seen by Herschel included lunar bison, fire-wielding biped beavers, and winged "man-bats." The public was fascinated. It took several weeks before they realized it was all a hoax. 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…
The Dutch Mail, 1792
According to legend, the editor of the Leicester Herald was pressed for time one day and couldn't complete a column. So he threw together a scramble of meaningless letters and headlined it as the latest "Dutch Mail." The editor later reported meeting a man who had kept the "Dutch Mail" edition of the Herald for thirty-four years, hoping to one day get it translated. More…
The Supplement to the Boston Independent Chronicle
In 1782 a shocking letter was printed in the Supplement to the Boston Independent Chronicle. It alleged that Indian warriors were sending hundreds of American scalps as war trophies to British royalty and Members of Parliament. The scalps included those of women, as well as young girls and boys. Soon the letter had crossed the Atlantic and began to circulate throughout Europe, where it shocked European public opinion. But in fact, the British had not received scalps from any Indians. The Supplement to the Boston Independent Chronicle was a fake newspaper which Benjamin Franklin had printed and distributed to his friends. Franklin intended... More…
The Trial of Polly Baker, 1747
On April 15, 1747, the London General Advertiser printed the text of a speech said to have been given by a woman, Polly Baker, at her trial. She had just given birth to her fifth child, was unmarried, and had been charged with having sexual intercourse out of wedlock. Polly Baker readily admitted her guilt but argued that the law itself was unreasonable. Why was she being punished, she asked, while the men who committed the crime with her were let off scot free? According to the article, Polly's argument so moved the judges that one of them asked her hand in marriage the next day. Polly Baker's speech became a popular sensation, and it... More…
Enigmatical Prophecies
Poor Richard's Almanac was a yearly almanac that Benjamin Franklin began publishing in 1732. In 1737, five years into the life of the almanac, Franklin included three "enigmatical prophecies" in the almanac. He predicted that: A great storm would cause all the major cities of North America to be under water; A "great number of vessels fully laden will be taken out of the ports… by a Power with which we are not now at war;" and that an "army of 30,000 musketers will land… and sorely annoy the inhabitants." A year passed and none of the prophecies appeared to come true. But just when Franklin's readers were about to label him a... More…
The Death of Titan Leeds
Benjamin Franklin published a highly successful, yearly almanac from 1732 to 1758. He called it Poor Richard’s Almanac, adopting the literary persona of "Poor" Richard Saunders, who was supposedly a hen-pecked, poverty-stricken scholar. In the first year of its publication, Franklin included a prediction stating that rival almanac-writer Titan Leeds would die on "Oct. 17, 1733, 3:29 P.M., at the very instant of the conjunction of the Sun and Mercury." The prediction was intended as a joke. Nevertheless, Leeds took offense at it and chastised Saunders (Franklin) for it in his own almanac. Franklin responded by turning the death of... More…
Silence Dogood
Between April and October 1722 a series of letters appeared in the New England Courant written by a middle-aged widow who called herself Silence Dogood. In her correspondence she poked fun at various aspects of life in colonial America, such as the drunkenness of locals, religious hypocrisy, the persecution of women, the fashion for hoop petticoats, and particularly the pretensions of Harvard College. Silence Dogood's letters became quite popular. Some of the male readers of the Courant were so taken with her that they offered to marry her. But unfortunately for these would-be suitors, Silence Dogood did not exist. She was the invention of... More…
Hoax Archive Categories
Eras: 0-1699 1700s 1800-1849 1850-1899 1900-1949 1950-1979 1980s 1990s 2000s

All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.