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April 1, 1933
Wisconsin’s Capitol Collapses
An April Fool's Day image of the Wisconsin state capitol collapsing due to an excess of gas generated by verbose debate.
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Published in 1933; debunked in 1984.
Death in the Air
Spectacular images of World War I dog fights were eventually exposed as photos of model airplanes.
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July 29, 1925
Mother Cat Stops Traffic
The news photographer arrived too late to capture the original scene, so he convinced the policeman to recreate it.
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1925
Bloody Sunday, 1905
Soviet textbooks claimed this was a photo of 1905's Bloody Sunday massacre in St. Petersburg. It was actually a reenactment of that event.
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November 1924
Ada Emma Deane’s Armistice Day Series
Spiritualists claimed this image showed the spirits of dead war heroes. A newspaper identified the faces as living football players.
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Undated. Possibly from the 1920s.
Raised Runway
An April Fool's day image shows a raised runway in a German city.
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ca. 1923
High-Pressure Hijinks
A soldier appears to be lifted in the air by the pressure from a water hose. The source of this photo is uncertain.
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1921
The Nest of a Fatu-Liva
An image of square eggs satirically proves that the camera never lies.
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April 1920
Stotham, Massachusetts: The Town That Didn’t Exist
Weyerhauser Mills issued a series of architectural brochures, which included an issue about the classic, early-American architecture of Stotham, Massachusetts. The church shown above was said to be the meeting house of the Stotham Congregational Society. However, Stotham didn't exist. It was a fictional town created as a way to provide a coherent theme to some photos the editor had felt were "too good to be wasted."
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Taken in 1919; altered ca. 1967
Trotsky Vanishes
Leon Trotsky is not in this picture, but he was in the original version of it — standing beside Lenin. The photo was taken on Nov. 7, 1919. It showed Soviet party leaders celebrating the second anniversary of the October Revolution in Red Square. But after Trotsky fell out of political favor, Soviet censors attempted to purge all evidence of his existence, which included removing him from photos such as this one.
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1917-1920
The Cottingley Fairies
Two young girls used paper cutouts to create a series of images of "fairies" while playing in the garden of a Cottingley village home. Photographic experts examined the pictures and declared them genuine. Spiritualists promoted them as proof of the existence of supernatural creatures, and despite criticism by skeptics, the pictures became among the most widely recognized photos in the world. It was only decades later, in the late 1970s, that the photos were definitively debunked.
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December 1913
Ocean Execution
The New York American ran this photo, claiming that the parents of the children had been killed by Mexican soldiers. It said, "The children were driven into the water, forced to hold their hands above their heads, and shot in the back." This was a case of false captioning. The picture was actually an innocent snapshot taken by a holidaygoer in British Honduras. The children had been playing in the waves and raised their arms in order to make a better picture.
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1912
Roosevelt Rides A Moose
Roosevelt ran for President in 1912 as the candidate of the Progressive Party, popularly known as the "Bull Moose Party." This image of Roosevelt appearing to ride a moose ran in the New York Tribune several months before the election. It was intended as a humorous photo fake depicting the "Race for the White House." In the 21st Century this image has circulated widely online, where many people have mistaken it for a photo of a real-life scene, which it is not.
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1911
Cat Drinks From a Bottle
Unfortunately there's not a lot of information on where this photo comes from. It's listed on the website of the French National Library as having been created in 1911 by the "Agence Rol." photo agency. It's an amusing example of early twentieth-century photo fakery. Included in the same series are photos titled "cat peers through binoculars" and "cat looks through a telescope."
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1911
The Melon Party
A postcard created by Alfred Stanley Johnson of Waupun, Wisconsin. In order to create the illusion of a children's party featuring a giant watermelon, Johnson made the children pose while holding a wooden prop. He then cut and pasted a picture of a watermelon slice into the picture to create the finished postcard. In order to create this postcard of children eating a giant watermelon, photographer Alfred Stanley Johnson used wooden props.
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1909-1910
William ‘Dad’ Martin’s Freak Postcards
Martin made a fortune selling "freak" postcards that featured midwesterners interacting with oversized animals and vegetables.
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1906
Pacific Sea Monster
A group of men show off a sea serpent that washed up on the beach at Ballard, Washington. However, the "sea serpent" looks suspiciously like the trunk of a tree.
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ca. 1900
A Bear and its Hunters
A humorous example of a staged scene — a bear joins its hunters for a friendly group photo, somewhere in the Utah wilderness.
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