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The Hoax Museum Blog
Category: History
Electric Sugar Hoax on Travel Channel — I learned from this article on heritage.com that the "Electric Sugar" hoax of 1889 was featured on Friday night on the Travel Channel's Monumental Mysteries show. (To be honest, I've never watched that show.) The sugar hoax is pretty obscure, but interesting. Nice to see it get some attention. I posted an article about it here on the site back in 2011.
Posted: Sat Aug 30, 2014.   Comments (0)

The Shadwell Shams — The Spitalfields Life blog has a brief account (with lots of pictures) of the so-called Shadwell Shams. These were supposedly medieval trinkets, specifically pilgrim's badges (tens of thousands of them), that a pair of forgers, William Smith & Charles Eaton (aka Billy & Charley), claimed to have found in the mud along the Thames. The pair did a good business for over 10 years, from 1856 to 1867, managing to completely fool most archaeologists. The article notes that, "today their Shadwell Shams are commonly worth more than the genuine antiquities they forged."
Posted: Thu Aug 28, 2014.   Comments (0)

Futility Closet on the Dreadnought Hoax — The Futility Closet blog recently posted a podcast about the 1910 Dreadnought hoax, in which upper-class British pranksters, disguised as Abyssinian princes, managed to fool the British navy into giving them a tour of the HMS Dreadnought. Even if you're familiar with the story, it's worth a listen, because it's a good account of it.
Posted: Wed May 28, 2014.   Comments (0)

The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife — There's been a lot of news coverage recently about a fragment of ancient papyrus that contains language suggesting Jesus was married. Specifically, it contains the phrase, "Jesus said to them, 'My wife...'" So it's been called the "Gospel of Jesus's Wife." A study published in the April issue of the Harvard Theological Review concluded that the papyrus fragment was an authentic ancient artifact. But now the tide is turning, and evidence is mounting that it's actually a fake. From the Washington Post: Last week, an American researcher named Christian Askeland published findings that… Continue…
Posted: Wed May 07, 2014.   Comments (0)


Is the Voynich manuscript a modern forgery? — Simon Worrall, author of "The Poet and the Murderer" (about the Mark Hoffman forgeries) recently wrote an article for BBC News Magazine about the Voynich manuscript. Worrall notes that new theories about the manuscript "breed like mayflies." However, he confesses to believing that it's a modern forgery created by its discoverer, Wilfrid Voynich. He writes: "One of the most common tropes in the history of forgery is that of a rare book dealer 'discovering' previously unknown manuscripts." But even if you don't accept his theory, the article is worth a look because it has some nice photos of the manuscript itself. [BBC News]
Posted: Thu Apr 10, 2014.   Comments (2)

History of Formosa on display — St. John's College in Cambridge is inviting the public to view a famous artifact from the history of hoaxes — a first-edition of The History of Formosa written by George Psalmanazar. [link: Belfast Telegraph] Back in the early 18th century, Psalmanazar posed as a native of Taiwan and had many of Britain's educated elites believing the ruse, even as he invented bizarre stories about the customs of Taiwan. If there was a real Museum of Hoaxes, this would be a great artifact to have on display. But it also shows the difficulty of ever having such a museum, because it turns out these… Continue…
Posted: Sat Mar 15, 2014.   Comments (2)

Tunnel beneath the Strait of Messina (an Italian hoax) — Italian social media was buzzing recently with word of the discovery of a narrow tunnel, over 2000 years old, running beneath the Strait of Messina (the body of water between the mainland of Italy and Sicily). The tunnel was believed to have been built by the Romans during the Punic wars (264-241 BC) as a passageway for troops. It was discovered by workers doing construction on a highway. But the story turns out to have come from an Italian fake news site called Dangerous News. One…
Posted: Fri Feb 21, 2014.   Comments (0)

100-year-old Time Capsule Letter Hoax — Matt Novak, writing for Gizmodo Australia, notes that 100 years ago a news story circulated reporting that Frank Rockwell, the mayor of Akron, Ohio, had written a letter to Akron's future mayor in 2014: Fort Wayne Sentinel - Jan 24, 1914 Mayor Rockwell wrote a letter yesterday to the person who will be mayor of Akron 100 years hence. The epistle tells the future mayor of the present debt, the names of all the city officials, the problems confronting the municipality and the political…
Posted: Mon Jan 27, 2014.   Comments (1)

The Diepholz Mummy — Last month a 10-year-old German boy found what appeared to be an ancient Egyptian mummy in the attic of his grandmother, who lives in Diepholz. His parents excitedly speculated that it must have belonged to his grandfather, who had traveled throughout North Africa during the 1950s. There were some artifacts along with the mummy that were quickly dismissed as fakes, and the mummy cloth appeared to be 20th-century fabric. But when the mummy was x-rayed, the head was found to be an actual…
Posted: Thu Sep 26, 2013.   Comments (0)

Kimmel’s ‘Girl on Fire’ Hoax and the Two Traditions Within the History of Hoaxing — Daniel Engber doesn't think Jimmy Kimmel's "Twerking Girl on Fire" hoax was very funny. He wrote in Slate: I think it illustrates everything that's wrong with viral marketing. Kimmel's prank is not a biting satire, nor is it a mirror to our stupid culture. It's a hostile, self-promoting act—a covert ad for Jimmy Kimmel Live—rendered as ironic acid that corrodes our sense of wonder. At times Engber's critique became so over-the-top that I wasn't sure if he was being entirely serious, or…
Posted: Wed Sep 11, 2013.   Comments (1)

Fake Crystal Skulls — The latest issue of Chemical & Engineering News has an article that reviews the history of how the crystal "Aztec" skulls that began showing up in the mid-19th century were eventually found to be fake. The take home is that the following pieces of evidence led researchers to conclude the skulls were modern forgeries: The skulls didn't come from documented archaeological sites. The skulls' teeth were suspiciously linear and perfect, whereas the teeth in other Aztec art reflected the…
Posted: Fri Mar 08, 2013.   Comments (1)

Town waits 100 years to open package — For 100 years, a package marked "May Be Opened in 2012" has been sitting in a museum in Otta, Norway. It was given to the town of Otta by a local resident, Johan Nygaard, back in 1912. There's been enormous speculation about what the package might contain. Money? A diary? Stock certificates? Finally, last Friday, the 100-year-mark arrived, and the town gathered to open the package. There was a live video feed, so the entire world could share in the excitement. The mayor carefully…
Posted: Mon Aug 27, 2012.   Comments (8)

The Mystery of the Burnley River Skull — Back in May, a Lancashire couple, Mick and Elaine Bell, found a human skull in a shallow section of the Burnley River while out walking their dogs. They gave the skull to the police, who initially suspected that rain had washed it down from a nearby cemetery. But as forensic experts examined it, they grew puzzled. The features of the skull indicated the person had been a man who was either an Australian aboriginal or from a South Pacific Island. How had he ended up buried in…
Posted: Wed Jul 11, 2012.   Comments (5)

Hoaxes as a class project—and learning lessons from failed hoaxes — Prof. T. Mills Kelly teaches a class on hoaxes at George Mason University titled, "Lying About the Past." It's a study of hoaxes throughout history (the Museum of Hoaxes is on his syllabus!), but also uses hoaxes to teach critical thinking and historical analysis. As part of the class, the students have to create a historical hoax of their own and launch it on the web. I could have sworn that I'd posted previously about Kelly's class, but couldn't find where I did so. Back in 2008, his…
Posted: Thu May 17, 2012.   Comments (0)

Notice to Thieves, Thugs, Fakirs and Bunko-Steerers — Warning notice posted in Las Vegas, New Mexico, March 24, 1882. Had to post it because I love the term "Bunko-Steerers". From New Mexico's Digital Collections (via Kate Nelson).
Posted: Thu May 10, 2012.   Comments (0)

How Abraham Lincoln Invented Facebook (a hoax) — On Wednesday, Nate St. Pierre posted an interesting story on his blog. He detailed his discovery of an attempt by Abraham Lincoln in 1845 to create and patent a social-networking system that very much resembled Facebook. Only it was an all-paper version of Facebook, and Lincoln didn't call it Facebook. In his patent application he supposedly called it "The Gazette," and he described it as a system to "keep People aware of Others in the Town." He laid out a plan where every town would…
Posted: Thu May 10, 2012.   Comments (1)

Recreating the Cardiff Giant — Syracuse-based artist Ty Marshal has created a replica of the Cardiff Giant, according to its original size specifications (ten-feet tall). His replica is going to be buried in Syracuse's Lipe Art Park and then unearthed on October 16, the anniversary of the date on which the Giant was first "found" on William Newell's farm back in 1869. After being unearthed, Marshal's giant will remain on display in the park, under a tent, for one week. Visitors will be allowed to view it for 25…
Posted: Thu Sep 29, 2011.   Comments (2)

Ancient shroud casts doubt on Shroud of Turin — Archaeologists have found a burial shroud sealed within a 2000-year-old tomb in Jerusalem. Comparing the newly found shroud to the Shroud of Turin adds to the evidence that the Shroud of Turin is a fake. From nationalgeographic.com: The newfound shroud was something of a patchwork of simply woven linen and wool textiles, the study found. The Shroud of Turin, by contrast, is made of a single textile woven in a complex twill pattern, a type of cloth not known to have been available in…
Posted: Mon Dec 21, 2009.   Comments (44)

Fake Gospel of St. Mark — A version of the Gospel of St. Mark, once thought to date from the Byzantine era, has now been determined to be a late-19th-century fake. From the Chicago Sun Times: The manuscript, written in Greek, originally was believed to have been written as early as the 14th century. But strong suspicions that it might not be nearly so old surfaced in 1989, after it was discovered that a blue pigment on one of the pages wasn't available until 1704, Mitchell said. It took carbon dating, advanced…
Posted: Wed Dec 16, 2009.   Comments (2)

The Vinland Map, the controversy continues — Every few years I post an update about the Vinland Map (a map, supposedly from the early 15th century, showing part of North America). In 2002 I posted that an analysis of the map's ink proved it was a fake, but in 2003 I wrote that a new study indicated it might be genuine. And in 2004 I linked to a Scientific American article that described historian Kirsten Seaver's theory that the map was created in the 1930s by a German Jesuit priest, Father Josef Fischer, in order to tease the…
Posted: Mon Jul 20, 2009.   Comments (5)

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