Hoax Museum Blog: Places

Agloe, New York — A case of a fake that became real. In this case, a fictitious town that, for a while, achieved actual existence.

The town of Agloe, New York was a "copyright trap" placed on Esso Maps during the 1930s. (That is, it was a nonexistent town whose purpose was to reveal if rival mapmakers were blindly copying the information on Esso maps.) The name was a scramble of the initials of Otto G. Lindberg (the company founder) and his assistant Ernest Alpers. They located the town at a dirt-road intersection north of Roscoe, NY.

So when the town of Agloe later appeared on a Rand McNally map, Esso accused Rand McNally of copying their map. But it turned out that Rand McNally was innocent. The town of Agloe actually had been registered with the county administration, because someone had built a general store at that dirt intersection and had named it the Agloe General Store (because that's the name they saw on the Esso map), thus bringing the town into existence.

Eventually the store went out of business, and the town of Agloe is no longer on maps. Here's the Google Map location for Roscoe, New York.

Other cases of fakes that became real:

Kremvax was a 1984 Usenet April Fool's Day hoax, alleging that the Soviet Union was joining Usenet. The announcement purported to come from Konstantin Chernenko, who used the email address chernenko@kremvax.UUCP. Six years later, when the Soviet Union really did link up to the internet, it adopted the domain name Kremvax in honor of the hoax.

The Annual Virginia City Camel Race. Began as a hoax in 1959, perpetrated by the Nevada Territorial Enterprise, but other newspapers decided to take it seriously and actually began racing camels every year in the city.

I'm sure there are other examples, but I can't think of them right now. (I'm not counting instances of names inspired by fiction, such as the space shuttle Enterprise being named after the USS Enterprise in Star Trek.)
Posted: Thu Mar 26, 2009.   Comments (20)

Can you see Half Dome from the Central Valley? — This may be of interest only to Californians, but so be it...

On February 18 the Patterson Irrigator posted a picture that appeared to show the Half Dome in Yosemite, visible from Patterson. (It's a little hard to see, but if you look closely it's there.)



The thing is, Patterson is in the Central Valley, about 100 miles from Yosemite. So the photo met with a very skeptical reaction. A lot of people simply refused to believe that Half Dome could be seen from that far away.

There was discussion of it on the yosemite blog, and on fredmiranda.com. People contacted the photographer, who insisted the photo was real. And finally, photographer Tony Immoos decided to see for himself if Half Dome could be viewed from the Central Valley. He discovered that it could, and he posted the pictures on Flickr.

So that settles that question. On a clear day, you can see Half Dome from the Central Valley. (Thanks to Jack for the link)
Posted: Mon Mar 23, 2009.   Comments (19)

Dildo Boulevard — First there was Shoe Corner (the place in New Jersey where shoes kept mysteriously getting dumped); next there was Pantyhose Corner in Massachusetts. Now we have Dildo Boulevard. That's the name that's been given to the street in Darwin, Australia where 30 sex toys were inexplicably found lying in the road. Where did they come from? Nobody knows:

One theory is that it is an elaborate - and expensive - practical joke. Another school of thought is that they fell off the back of a delivery truck. Some said the sex toys could have been inside somebody's rubbish bin, and fell onto the street on Thursday night when the garbage was collected.

Posted: Mon Feb 09, 2009.   Comments (4)

Scottish Urban Legends — Dani Garavelli, writing for Scotsman.com, examines the psychology of urban legends. The article doesn't offer any new insights into urban legends. There's the standard observation: urban legends "hold a mirror up to our culture, giving us an often unflattering reflection of our preoccupations and prejudices." But what I found interesting is that the article listed some urban legends specific to Scotland:
  • For several days, [north-east Scotland] was gripped by a rumour that pop star and convicted paedophile Gary Glitter – who was recently deported from Vietnam – was staying at the Findhorn Foundation, a new age spiritual community. Suddenly, Glitter was being spotted across the North-east, from the Asda cafe in Elgin, where he was said to be tucking into egg and chips, to the streets of Forres. Sightings of the sex offender began to outnumber sightings of Elvis, until the authorities were forced to reassure the local community, he was not, in fact, in the area.
  • Red Road flats are the highest in Europe.
  • Deep-fried Mars Bar originated in Glasgow.
  • The tale about the maths Higher which was so hard pupils all over Scotland staged a walk-out played on another major childhood fear: that of failure. Pupils and even teachers were said to have been reduced to tears by the very sight of the examination in 2000, although the SQA strenuously denied there had been any protest and the pass rate was said to be slightly up on the year before.
  • The rumour that Jimmy Chung's restaurant in Dundee was serving seagull affected trade so adversely the restaurant was forced to issue a formal denial.
  • One of the most common post-9/11 stories involved the shopper who, noticing a Muslim man dropping his wallet, picks it up and hands it back to him. "Thank you," the Muslim says. "And now I am going to return the favour. Do not go to Braehead/Silverburn/Princes Street in the week before Christmas." This anecdote gained such currency in Inverness in 2006, that Northern Constabulary Police had to reassure the public shopping arcades such as the Eastgate Centre were safe. [Same legend as we had here in America, but with different place names.]
  • There are those... who are convinced traffic police play "speed snooker", targeting particular colours of car in a particular order, but interspersing each with a red one. This, they insist, explains why drivers of red cars are more likely to receive a fine or prosecution than others. [I doubt this is specific to Scotland.]

Posted: Mon Dec 15, 2008.   Comments (9)


Fake Taj Mahal — A film director in Bangladesh has announced plans to build an exact replica of the Taj Mahal. He's going to use the same marble and stone as the original, but to save time he's using machinery (rather than thousands of peasant workers) to construct it. His reason for building it: "Everyone dreams about seeing the Taj Mahal but very few Bangladeshis can make the trip because it's too expensive for them."

All of this has upset officials in India who have threatened to sue for copyright infringement because "You can't just go and copy historical monuments."

Personally, I think I'd find the fake Taj Mahal more interesting than the real thing. Link: Times Online
Posted: Sun Dec 14, 2008.   Comments (6)

World’s Largest Lamb Sculpture — Some guy named Bill Veall claims to have discovered the world's largest rock sculpture. It's somewhere in the Peruvian Andean mountains, and it's in the shape of a "sacred lamb". He says he found it by using satellite imaging techniques to search for ancient shapes and formations. I guess that rules out any possibility he's just seeing what he wants to see. (sarcasm)



From Sky News: "Mr Veall, who studies the relationships between astronomy and archaeological monuments, has faced a series of doubters who claim he doctored the images to create an elaborate hoax."

Big red flag indicating the skeptics may be right: Veall won't release the coordinates of the site. He says, "If I gave you the co-ordinates of the site, a million people would find it immediately... But we want to secure and preserve the site until we can get a scientific team to have a look at it."
Posted: Mon Dec 08, 2008.   Comments (25)

Waterboard Thrill Ride — Visitors to New York's Coney Island amusement park now have the opportunity to try the "Waterboard Thrill Ride." As the sign outside proclaims, "It don't Gitmo better!" According to Reuters:

A man with a black hood pours water on the face of a prisoner in an orange jumpsuit strapped to a table... The scene using robotic dolls is an installation built by artist Steve Powers to criticize waterboarding, a simulated drowning technique the United States has admitted using on terrorism suspects, but that rights group say is torture...
The public can peek through window bars and feed a dollar into the slot to bring the robotic dolls into action.

It reminds me of the Abu Ghraib Prison Fantasy Camp, which was the creation of our very own Cranky Media Guy.

More broadly, it fits into the theme of Reality Tourism, other examples of which that I've posted about in the past include the "Khmer Rouge Experience Cafe" in Cambodia that served customers the watery gruel that people ate in the Killing Fields.

There's also "Communism: The Theme Park": An amusement park planned for outside Berlin where people could experience life under communism. As well as a nazi command post in Poland that was turned into a theme resort.

And last but not least: Croatian Club Med, where tourists who wanted to experience life in a hard-labor camp were issued convict uniforms and given the opportunity to pound large stones with a sledgehammer and haul the pieces on their back to quarries around the prison.
Posted: Fri Aug 08, 2008.   Comments (4)

The Smell of Fake Cigarettes — Now that the Dutch have banned smoking in bars, bar patrons have realized they can smell each other, and they don't like it. So a Dutch company, Rain Showtechniek, has created a machine that will create a fake tobacco smell. From The Telegraph:

"There is a need for a scent to mask the sweat and other unpleasant smells like stale beer," said Erwin van den Bergh, a spokesman for the company...
Unlike the real thing, the artificial tobacco smells do not have any health risks and does not linger in the hair or clothing of bar customers.

This might really be necessary, since I've noticed that deodorant seems to be less popular in Europe than it is in America.
Posted: Tue Jul 15, 2008.   Comments (10)

Uncontacted Brazilian Tribe — The Brazilian government released some dramatic pictures of one of South America's last remaining uncontacted indigenous tribes. It says it took the pictures to prove that the tribe existed, because there apparently were some people who doubted this.

When I saw the pictures, I couldn't help but be reminded of the Stone Age Tasaday from the Philippines. The Tasaday were a tribe that was discovered in 1971. Unlike the Brazilian tribe (who are seen shooting arrows at the helicopter taking their picture), the Tasaday were entirely non-violent. They were often called the "Gentle Tasaday." In fact, it was said that they didn't even have a word in their language for "enemy" or "conflict".

But the Tasaday were outed as a hoax in 1986. It was alleged they were actually local farmers who had been paid by the Marcos government to dress up as a Stone Age tribe. Recently, however, the tribe's reputation has been rehabilitated. The consensus among academics now seems to be that the Tasaday were, in most respects, a "real" tribe living in Stone-Age-like conditions.

The problem with calling any tribe "uncontacted" is how you define contact. I doubt there's any tribe in the world that is truly isolated. There's usually some kind of contact (trade, intermarriage, etc.) with neighboring tribes, and so bits and pieces of the modern world find their way to the tribe.
Posted: Fri May 30, 2008.   Comments (14)

Grand Teton and Wildflowers — The image to the right is available for purchase on webshots.com. The photographer is listed as Adam Jones. It's titled "Grand Teton and Wildflowers, Wyoming."

The image has become quite popular and has slowly been circulating around the internet. One person on the webshots message board writes:

What a wonderful blend of colours and God’s creation. At the present time I live in Beijing and in the smog I often look at this picture and remember how beautiful the world can be.

But the image has met with skepticism from professional photographers. Ralph Nordstrom of ralphnordstromphotography.com writes in his blog:

This photograph is not possible. First of all, I have photographed at this same location in the Tetons. It’s the famous Ox Bow bend in the river and I can vouch for the fact that there are no wildflowers growing anywhere around there, especially in such profusion. Second, the ‘wildflowers’ presented here are anything but wildflowers. Rather, they are a photograph from a lush domestic garden superimposed on the otherwise beautiful photograph of Mt. Moran and the river.

It's a bit sad to think of that guy in smoggy Beijing staring longingly every day at a fake photo. (via How could I be so dumb)
Posted: Thu May 22, 2008.   Comments (14)

SpongeBob Vandalism — A chimney is all that remains of the cabin that used to be the home of the manager of the Forest Service tree nursery in Pike Forest. It's considered a historically significant remain. That didn't stop pranksters from refashioning it, with the help of some paint, into a monument to SpongeBob Squarepants. From gazette.com:

Some people might find humor in a 10-foot tall likeness of the cartoon character SpongeBob Square-Pants painted onto a crumbling chimney in the middle of the woods. U.S. Forest Service officials certainly don't.
"I didn't chuckle," said Al Kane, a Forest Service archaeologist. "I kind of started crying." ...
As for solving the SpongeBob mystery, officials have no leads. Someone took a long time doing it and had the foresight to bring four colors of paint, officials said. It's a short walk from the nearest road. Asked if he had any suspicions about the kind of person who would paint a giant SpongeBob here, Healy said, "I don't know enough about them to know.
"Apparently they are SpongeBob fanatics."

Posted: Wed May 21, 2008.   Comments (11)

Colorful Coastal Village — This looks like it would be a great place to visit.



It's Cinque Terre in Italy. Unfortunately, it's not quite so colorful in real life. (via City Comforts)


Posted: Tue May 06, 2008.   Comments (6)

Eiffel Tower Observation Deck — Pictures have been circulating showing an expanded observation deck that is supposedly going to be added to the Eiffel Tower, transforming it into something resembling a giant mushroom. An article in the Guardian stated:

Serero Architects of Paris has won the competition to redesign the structure's public viewing platform and reception areas. The winning design (above), which will be 276 metres (905ft) above the ground, will not require any permanent modification of the existing structure. It will double the capacity of the public viewing area on the tower's top floor...
The design is already causing controversy, with critics questioning the wisdom of tinkering with the famous silhouette and spending money on upgrading a tourist attraction which attracts 6.9 million visitors a year.

But it turns out that the Eiffel Tower is not going to have an expanded observation deck, nor did Serero Archictects win a competition to redesign it. The Eiffel Tower management company has completely disavowed such a project, saying, "This is a hoax. We have no idea where this came from. The whole thing is preposterous." Meanwhile, Serero has posted an explanatory note on its website:

Our project for a the temporary extension of the Eiffel tower is an unsolicited proposal to the Eiffel Tower management company. We are confirming that the SETE did not organized a competition on this topic, in contrary with what was announced in the press. This project has been a victim of disinformation ( notably by the article published in The Guardian) which contributed to discredit our proposal. Many blogs and daily newspapers did present wrongly the project as the winner of a competition organized and approved by the Société d’exploitation de la Tour Eiffel.

Posted: Thu Apr 03, 2008.   Comments (4)

Padded Lampposts Protext Text-Messagers — A few weeks ago a story was going around about a street in London where the lampposts had been padded in order to protect text-messaging pedestrians. Neo posted about it in the forum. The story sounded pretty ridiculous, and sure enough it turns out to have been a publicity-stunt hoax. The padding was placed on the lampposts by a pr firm, and it was only there for a day and a half. The Press Gazette reports:

Journalists across the world reported that Britain’s first “safe text” street had been created via the creation of a pilot scheme which could be extended across the country. But locals in Tower Hamlets have said that the padding – put in place by a PR firm working for directory company 118188 – were only on a few lampposts and only there for a day and a half.
Data from a study of more than 1,000 people for 118118 and charity Living Streets was used to claim that 6.5 million people in Britain were injured while sending messages in the last year. And in separate research – based on the amount of complaints the charity had received in the past year – Brick Lane was labelled as the most dangerous street in the country for texting.
The phone directory company said in a press release, written by PR firm Resonate, that “safe text” rubber pads, similar to ones used on rugby posts, were being put on lampposts in the street to minimise harm. It claimed the “trailblazing” scheme would be monitored before it was decided whether to expand it to other parts of the country.

I have to admit, I accepted it as real news when I first saw the story. I should have known better.
Posted: Mon Mar 17, 2008.   Comments (4)

Automotive Bermuda Triangle — In 2006 I posted about the road of non-starting cars in the town of Gosport, England. An unknown force on this road was preventing cars from starting. I don't know if Gosport ever solved its problem, but it seems that the neighborhood around the Empire State Building in New York City is experiencing the same issue.

The New York Daily News reports:

In the shadow of the Empire State Building lies an “automotive Bermuda Triangle” - a five-block radius where vehicles mysteriously die. No one is sure what’s causing it, but all roads appear to lead to the looming giant in our midst - specifically, its Art Deco mast and 203-foot-long, antenna-laden spire...

The Empire State Building Co., which refused to provide the Daily News a list of its antennas, denied it has created any “adverse impact” on automobiles.
“If the claim were indeed true, the streets in the vicinity of the building would be constantly littered with disabled vehicles,” the building’s owner said.
According to many doormen in the area, they often are.

I said it back in 2006, and I'll say it again. Problems like these are obviously the result of inner-earth dwellers and their infernal electromagnetic pulse machines. When will people wise up?
Posted: Mon Jan 28, 2008.   Comments (11)

The Unrecognised States Numismatic Society — The Unrecognised States Numismatic Society (USNS) describes itself as a "group catering to numismatists whose collecting interests largely focus on coins minted by groups purporting, pretending or appearing to be sovereign states, but which are not recognised as such by established governments."

They've got examples of coins from a bunch of unrecognized nations, including the Principality of Sealand, Atlantis, the Confederation of Antarctica, and the Dominion of West Florida, which apparently is "an internet-based micronation created on 29 November, 2005... founded on an eccentric interpretation of actual historic events." The Dominion has a website!

My favorite coin is that of the Ultimate State of Tædivm (the thumbnail image).

Posted: Thu Jan 24, 2008.   Comments (3)

Fictitious Countries — Elliot has posted five new articles in the hoaxipedia. His theme was fictitious countries. Or rather, countries of an ambiguous legal status.

The Principality of New Utopia
An island "country" in the Caribbean established in 1999 by Oklahoma businessman Howard Turney, who prefers to be known as HSH Prince Lazarus.

The Dominion of Melchizedek
A South Pacific island country, that happens to be entirely underwater. It was founded in 1987 by California father and son Evan and Mark Pedley.

The Kingdom of Redonda
A tiny uninhabited island near the Caribbean island of Montserrat that the British science-fiction author M.P. Shiel claimed as his kingdom.

Principality of Outer Baldonia
A tiny island off the coast of Nova Scotia that Washington lawyer Russell Arundel claimed, in 1950, to be his principality.

Principality of Sealand
Billed as the world's smallest country, it's actually an anti-aircraft installation in the North Sea that was abandoned by the British in 1956 and subsequently occupied by pirate radio stations.
Posted: Thu Jan 10, 2008.   Comments (14)

Phantom Tent City on Roof — According to a rumor that circulates among the population of South Carolina's Hilton Head Island, there's a group of Mexican immigrants living on top of one of the local supermarkets. It may be the Bi-Lo Supermarket, or the Port Royal Plaza, or the Harris Teeter. Supposedly this tent city of roof-living immigrants tapped into the store's electricity and even diverted the air conditioning system to cool their tents.

The Island Packet News is pretty sure that the story of the rooftop tent city is just an urban legend:
by all official accounts -- and satellite imagery available through Google Maps -- there's never been a sign of anyone squatting on a grocery store roof on Hilton Head. The Sheriff's Office says it has never had any evidence of people living on the roof of the store, and Bi-Lo officials say the story is just an urban legend, though a particularly potent one. Company officials would not agree to let a photographer on the roof of the store, but a Packet reporter who was able to get near the roof also saw no signs of habitation.

This urban legend is new to me, though I'd be surprised if other towns don't have similar rumors. I'll have to do some research into this.

My wife and I often think we hear things moving about on our roof. We assume it's possums, rats, or crows. They can make a lot of noise. I assume a belief that an entire tent city of immigrants is living on a roof must stem from similar causes.

(Thanks, Joe)
Posted: Thu Jan 03, 2008.   Comments (6)

Phallus in Football Field — In the summer of 2004 pranksters used herbicide to trace the outline of a giant phallus in the football field located inside Harman-Geist Stadium in Northeastern Pennsylvania. When the grass died, the phallus became visible.

Maintenance crews did their best to hide the phallus by painting it green, but eventually the paint wore away. And now the prank has succeeded in reaching an even wider audience, thanks to satellite technology.

Overhead satellite imagery of the stadium -- and giant phallus -- has shown up on google maps. You can see it for yourself by searching for the address "300 N. Cedar St., Hazleton, Pa." and then zooming in to see the stadium.

An interesting thing I noticed. One of the streets leading to the stadium is called Shaft Rd., which seems very appropriate.

The organization that does the satellite imagery says that it plans to resurvey that region in early 2009. Until then, the football-field phallus will remain on google maps.


Posted: Thu Dec 06, 2007.   Comments (2)

Porthemmet Beach — The website for Porthemmet Beach advertises that it is the best beach in Cornwall. It also claims that it's the only beach in the UK to allow topless sunbathing. So how does one find this beach? These are the directions on the website:
Porthemmet is very easy to get to from anywhere in Cornwall. Head north up the A30 until you see the signs. They are very clear, you can't miss it! It should be noted that there is a private joke in Cornwall whereby locals will pretend to not know where Porthemmet Beach is. Don't be fooled, every Cornish person knows about this beach, they are just having some fun. Tell them that you are an "emmet" (someone that loves Cornwall, see below) and that "there'll be ell-up" (nothing to do) if they don't tell you.
Apparently in recent months tourists have been trying to find this idyllic beach. But with no luck, because the beach doesn't exist. It's the tongue-in-cheek creation of Jonty Haywood, a teacher from Truro. According to the BBC, if people were actually to follow the directions to Porthemmet, they'd find themselves leaving the county. In an interview with The Independent, Haywood explained why he created the hoax website:

"Although I would like to claim there is an important underlying point being made here, there isn't. Sending tourists off to find an imaginary beach is funny."

(Thanks to Sarah Hartwell, messybeast.com)
Posted: Thu Sep 27, 2007.   Comments (17)

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