Famous Hoaxes Throughout History

Before 1700 | 1700-1799 | 1800-1868| 1869-1913| 1914-1949| 1950-1976| 1977-1989| 1990-1999| After 2000


Social change occurred at an ever increasing pace during the late nineteenth century. Railroads connected far-flung regions. Skyscrapers rose in city centers. Women entered the workforce in large numbers, and typewriters, telephones, and telegraphy revolutionized communications. But beneath these changes a more subtle cultural shift was occurring. It was the rise of the humble tall tale. The telling of tall tales (or fantastic stories) had its roots in the folklores of Europe and Africa. It was an oral, lower-class tradition. But as American society became more broad-based and egalitarian, the culture of the 'common man' rose in stature, and writers like Mark Twain helped to legitimate and popularize this folk culture. Soon tall-tale telling had become an identifying mark of being an American, shared by rich and poor alike. And as American culture spread to the rest of the world during the twentieth century, the practice of tall-tale telling spread with it.

Index Hoaxorum: 1869-1913
A list of additional hoaxes from this period, with brief descriptions.
Spirit Photography
Can images of the dead be captured on film?
The Cardiff Giant
The stone giant that emerged from the ground and became an instant celebrity
The Case of the Miraculous Bullet
How a bullet passed through a soldier and struck and impregnated a virgin
The Central Park Zoo Escape
Zoo animals run amuck in New York City
The Materialization of John Newbegin
An alcoholic fisherman returns from the grave
Was this a newly discovered poem by Edgar Allan Poe?
Dr. Egerton Yorrick Davis
The alter-ego of a famous doctor performs pioneering sexual research
Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography
A biographical encyclopedia that freely mixed fact and fantasy
The Winsted Wild Man
A naked, hairy man hiding out in the woods of Connecticut causes mass panic
The Great Duck Egg Fake
Duck depopulation worries early environmentalists
New photographic process captures mental images
The Great Wall of China Hoax
Report that the Great Wall of China was to be demolished
The Great Mammoth Hoax
The last woolly mammoth is killed in Alaska
First to the Pole
Who was the first man to reach the North Pole?
The Ghosts of Versailles
Does the ghost of Marie Antoinette haunt the gardens of Versailles?
The Piltdown Man
The famous hoax that kept paleontologists debating for decades