Hello, I’m new here, and have found an old hoax that may not be on file yet.
I teach biology, and was recently asked to check some old books at my college’s library to see which were too out-of-date to keep on the shelves. One of these, “Willy Ley’s Exotic Zoology” (1961), describes the author’s search for historical cryptid reports and the real-world organisms that might have inspired them. One such report that Mr. Ley investigated was from a 1924 book: “Madagascar, Land of the Man-Eating Tree”, by Chase Salmon Osborn.
Osborn’s book, obscure and long OOP even in 1961, apparently contains a letter about a primitive Madagascar tribe that sacrifices its own members by feeding them to a carnivorous tree, in exchange for the tree’s narcotic nectar. Mr. Ley tried to track down the letter’s alleged source, the 1880 “Carlsruhe Scientific Journal”, only to find that this publication never existed. Nor did the letter’s alleged author, Dr. Omelius Fredlowski, or intended recipient, Carl Liche. None of the works on Madagascar that Ley could find, that dated between 1880 and 1924, made any mention of the carnivorous tree, the tribe, or any indigenous legend about either. Eventually, he did track down the story’s likely source: a short article in a missionary magazine, ‘‘Antanarivo Annual and Madagascar Magazine for the year 1881”, that was published locally in Madagascar and virtually unknown elsewhere ... except, apparently, to C.S. Osborn, who copied the “letter” verbatim in his book.
So, it appears that Chase Salmon Osborn, and a few later authors who unwittingly copied the story from him, was taken in by a fake letter dreamed up by a minor magazine, probably as a joke that its intended audience would’ve immediately recognized as such. Anyone ever heard of this one before? If not, I can type in a transcript of the “letter” if it’s something the Museum can use.