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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 Leeds into a running joke. When the date and time of the prediction arrived, and Leeds did not die, Franklin declared that Leeds actually had died, but that someone had usurped his name and was now using it to falsely publish his almanac.

In the following years Franklin continued to insist Leeds was dead until finally, in 1738, Leeds actually did die. This prompted Franklin to congratulate the men who had usurped Leeds’s name for finally deciding to end their pretense.

Franklin adapted the Titan Leeds hoax from Jonathan Swift’s similar Bickerstaff hoax of 1708.
Related Hoaxipedia article: Benjamin Franklin Hoaxes
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All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.