The Museum of Hoaxes
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Hoaxes Throughout History
Middle AgesEarly Modern1700s1800-1840s1850-1890s
1900s1910s1920s1930s1940s1950s1960s1970s1980s1990s21st Century2014
Outrage Hoaxes
A Modest Proposal (1729)
In 1729 Jonathan Swift anonymously published a short work titled A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland From Being a Burden to their Parents or the Country, and For Making Them Beneficial to the Public. The essay proposed a radical solution to the problem of the numerous starving beggars and homeless children in Ireland — feed the unwanted babies of the poor to the rich. Swift didn't actually intend to promote class-based cannibalism. His point was to use satire in order to dramatize how the rich exploit and dehumanize the poor. But many readers failed to recognize this. more details…
The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk (1836)
In a tell-all book, Maria Monk described scandalous secrets of the Montreal convent where she claimed to have lived for 7 years. Nuns sleeping with priests. Babies killed and buried in the basement. Her revelations caused public outcry and stoked anti-Catholic sentiment. But investigations found no evidence to back up her claims. Nor evidence that she had even been at the convent. more details…
Empire City Massacre (1863)
A report in the Territorial Enterprise described a gruesome event. After losing his money by investing in San Francisco utilities, a man went insane and slaughtered his family, then rode into town carrying the "reeking scalp" of his wife and collapsed dead in front of a saloon. The story was widely reprinted. However, it wasn't true. It was the invention of Mark Twain whose goal was to trick San Francisco newspapers into printing a story critical of the utility companies. more details…
The Miscegenation Hoax (1863)
A pamphlet titled Miscegenation: The Theory of the Blending of the Races went on sale arguing for the benefits of white and black people having children with each other. By modern standards, the suggestion sounds enlightened, but the pamphlet was actually a hoax designed to insert the inflammatory issue of race into the 1864 presidential election. The hoax fizzled, but the pamphlet did introduce the word 'miscegenation' into the English language. more details…
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 details…
The Chicago Theater Fire (1875)
"Burned Alive!" a headline on the frontpage of the Chicago Times declared on February 13, 1875. The story that followed described a horrific scene of destruction and mass death in an unnamed Chicago theater that was engulfed in flames when a gas burner fell over. People were said to have been roasted alive as they rushed en masse towards the exit. Firemen had to carry out 157 charred bodies from the remains. The story was identified as fictitious both at its beginning and end, but you had to read closely to catch the disclaimers. 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…
Hitler’s Silly Dance (1940)
On June 21, 1940, Hitler accepted the surrender of the French government at a ceremony in Compiegne, France. He melodramatically insisted on receiving France's surrender in the same railroad car in which Germany had signed the 1918 armistice that had ended World War One. After Hitler accepted France's surrender, he stepped backwards slightly, as if in shock. But this isn't what audiences in the Allied countries saw who watched the movie-reel of the ceremony. Instead they saw Hitler dance a bizarre little jig after signing the documents, as if he were childishly celebrating his victory by jumping up and down. The scene was played over and... more details…
Arm the Homeless (Dec 1993)
A press release distributed to the media in Columbus, Ohio announced the formation of a new charity for the homeless. But instead of giving food or shelter, this charity planned to provide guns and ammunition. It called itself the "Arm the Homeless Coalition." News of this charity soon spread nationwide and generated enormous controversy. But when an Ohio reporter tried to track down the director of the Coalition, his investigation led him instead to a group of university students who admitted the entire thing was a hoax, designed, they said, "to draw attention to the issues of guns and violence, homelessness and media manipulation in our society." 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…
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.