Hoax Museum Blog: Folklore/Tall Tales

Dinosaur Hunting License

The area around Vernal, Utah is the only place in the world where it's legal to hunt dinosaurs. Because Vernal is the only town that issues official Dinosaur Hunting Licenses. more…

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Blood Love Spell — In Japan, it's a Valentine's Day tradition for women to give handmade chocolates (Honmei choco) to men they have romantic feelings for.

This year there's a rumor circulating on Twitter, claiming that many young women are mixing their own blood into the chocolates, in the belief that this acts as a kind of love spell that will ensure their feelings are reciprocated.


The rumor gets even more stomach-turning, because there are also claims of mixing menstrual blood, saliva, fingernail clippings, and pubic hair into the chocolates. Japancrush.com has posted many examples of these Tweets.

Is there any truth to these rumors? That's hard to know. It's certainly possible people would do something like this. But one hopes that all the Tweeters claiming to have done this are just bluffing.

However, it's worth noting that the central premise of the rumor is correct. Blood has been used for centuries as an ingredient in love spells. It's part of Blood Magic. In addition, blood (as well as every body part imaginable) was used extensively as an ingredient in western medicine up until the Victorian period. The historian Richard Sugg recently published an interesting book about this widespread practice of medicinal cannibalism.

So it's plausible that some young women would act upon these ancient folk beliefs and add a little something extra to the chocolate.
Posted: Fri Feb 07, 2014.   Comments (1)

Monster Map — Tah gave me a heads up about this 'Here There Be Monsters' shirt that was the deal-of-the-day at Shirt Woot!


It reminded me that I recently came across a foldout Storyteller's Map of American Myths in the Aug 22, 1960 issue of Life magazine. It's full of strange creatures such as the Arizona Ghost Camel ("once imported by the army, wandered the desert with dead riders), Michigan Tigerfish ("lurking around Saginaw Bay ate cabin boys"), and the New Jersey Mosquito ("as large as a swallow and fierce as an eagle, was trained by the Indians to hunt. One sting could stop a deer in its tracks.")


And the same issue also had a foldout guide to "Yarns and Whoppers and Practical Jokes" that depicts creatures such as the Goofus Bird, Upland Trout, and Shoo Fly.


Posted: Fri Jan 31, 2014.   Comments ()

Posted: Tue Jan 21, 2014.   Comments (2)

Have you lost a jackalope? — Police in Edmonton recently launched a pinterest page on which they display "unique" lost and stolen items they've acquired. If anyone recognizes an item as their former possession, and can provide "specific details" that identify it, they'll be reunited with it.

One of the items is the mounted head of a jackalope.


I wonder what kind of specific details they need to identify this? I could say that it enjoys whiskey and is sometimes called the "warrior rabbit." But I don't think that's what they're looking for.
Posted: Tue Dec 17, 2013.   Comments (2)

Sam Harris Takes a Stance Against the Santa Lie — Sam Harris argues that parents should never lie to their own children, even about something as seemingly innocuous as the existence of Santa, because all lies can sow the seeds of distrust between parent and child. I see his point. But if any kid asks me if Jackalopes are real, I'm going to continue to tell them they are, because that's the truth.

The High Cost of Tiny Lies
Sam Harris

I don’t remember whether I ever believed in Santa, but I was never tempted to tell my daughter that he was real. Christmas must be marginally more exciting for children who are duped about Santa—but something similar could be said of many phenomena about which no one is tempted to lie. Why not insist that dragons, mermaids, fairies, and Superman actually exist? Why not present the work of Tolkien and Rowling as history?
The real truth—which everyone knows 364 days of the year—is that fiction can be both meaningful and fun. Children have fantasy lives so rich and combustible that rigging them with lies is like putting a propeller on a rocket. And is the last child in class who still believes in Santa really grateful to have his first lesson in epistemology meted out by his fellow six-year-olds? If you deceive your children about Santa, you may give them a more thrilling experience of Christmas. What you probably won’t give them, however, is the sense that you would not and could not lie to them about anything else.

Posted: Wed Nov 20, 2013.   Comments (2)

Vinegaria — Back in 1939, Lee M. Roberts won the University of California lying contest with the following discussion of the nation of Vinegaria:

The Vinegarians are a peculiar people whose government has existed largely on the income from a national pickle monopoly. Vinegaria is ideally situated for the support of this industry as it is entirely underlain with large subterranean caves. Pickle farmers plant cucumber seeds on roofs of caves and they grow through the surface, avoiding the necessity for plowing the ground for planting. Through a peculiar chemical disturbance in the ocean bed the sea has an unusual briny quality — exactly right for making pickles.

Until last year only sour pickles were produced. At that time, however, a dangerous group of radicals, claiming dill pickles were better than sour ones, gained control of the government, with the sour pickles in revolt against the new regime. Sour-picklers have nearly conquered all of the country, and except for a few government supporters or 'dillies,' as they are called in the capital, Gherkin-on-the-Brine, most of the radicals are dead.

All Vinegarians are characterized by a slight green complexion and are covered by small bumps. Supporters of old-style pickles are noted for a generally sour outlook on life. Radicals, in favor of dills, are considered dull, but this was due to a typographical error in the party platform. A near-sighted typesetter used a 'u' for an 'i.'

The national flag of Vinegaria is two crossed pickles on a field of hors d'oeuvres, symbolizing the hoped-for anschluss with that industry some day.

The country's motto is 'Preserve our national product,' and the usual answer to 'How are you?' is 'Oh, I'm feeling brine, thank you.'

I've always wondered how pickles are grown. Now I know!

There's a Lee M. Roberts, UC Berkeley grad, who currently teaches at Indiana-Purdue University in Fort Worth, but it can't be the same guy because he would have to be over 90 now. His son, perhaps?
Posted: Fri Aug 09, 2013.   Comments (1)

The Science of Jackalopes — As part of its coverage of the debate in Wyoming over whether to make the jackalope the state's official mythological critter, the Casper Star-Tribune profiles Prof. James Holliday, emeritus professor of biology at Lafayette College, who's perhaps the foremost expert on the biology of jackalopes.

Scientific basis for the myth of the jackalope
trib.com

"There is a virus that causes growths on the jack rabbit," Holliday said. The virus is called Shope papillomavirus. Growths can come out of rabbits' bottoms and heads. When they grow from the head, they can look like horns. Holliday described a rabbit that had a growth on its mouth. "The poor thing starved to death," he said. Holliday's jackalope website, which he runs with colleague Dan Japuntich, features photos of rabbits with Shope papillomavirus and even people with growths that look like horns. Scientists believe the virus was in North America for centuries, but showed up in Europe shortly after Christopher Columbus returned from his voyage to the New World.

Posted: Sat Feb 16, 2013.   Comments (1)

Ithamar Sprague, a 19th Century Mormon Bigfoot Hoaxer — I've previously noted a connection between Mormon folklore and Bigfoot — namely that some Mormons believe Bigfoot to be the Biblical figure Cain, condemned to walk the earth forever (and apparently grown big and hairy).

But I recently came across another Mormon/Bigfoot connection. Back around 1870, there was a Mormon settler named Ithamar Sprague who lived in the town of Washington, Utah. He terrified his fellow town's folk by creating giant wooden feet, three-feet long, that he used to place monster footprints all over town during the night. Rumors began to spread about a terrifying creature loose in the region. A posse was organized to hunt the beast down, but Sprague confessed before the situation got completely out-of-hand.

So Sprague anticipated Jerry Crew (the guy whose 1958 prank led to the popularization of the name 'Bigfoot') by almost 90 years.

The legend of Sprague and his "big shoes" has been kept alive over the years by Mormon storytellers. The most complete examination of the legend can be found in Andrew Karl Larson's essay, "Ithamar Sprague and His Big Shoes," in Lore of Faith and Folly (edited by Thomas Cheney).

You can also find Sprague's prank summarized on the Utah State History blog:

[Sprague] built a pair of huge "clodhoppers" and one night he put them on and left gigantic human footprints on the dusty village streets.
News of the mysterious prints spread quickly through town. Some residents laughed and dismissed them as the work of a prankster. Others believed a huge creature was actually stalking the village.
Sprague left tracks again on following nights. More and more townsfolk became convinced that a mysterious, ferocious being had begun to plague the town. Local Paiutes only added to the unrest when they told stories of a legendary giant who had once prowled that region, killing and plundering the countryside.
Sprague laughingly continued his prank. Residents began blaming mishaps on the mysterious beast: the hens were too frightened to lay, the milk soured too soon, and one lady had a miscarriage due to her fright. Search parties tried to capture the monster, but the tracks always either disappeared abruptly or led to rocks where they were no longer traceable.
One night, Ithamar snuck out of a dance, put on his huge shoes, stalked through the village, then returned to the dance. At intermission, Ithamar and friends went outside for a drink, and Ithamar spotted the fresh tracks.
A crowd gathered. People grabbed their weapons and set out to capture the giant--which they were sure was close by. But again the shoe prints disappeared in some rocks.
Several versions of how the town learned of Sprague's hoax evolved over the years. According to one version, the town met together and discussed deserting the village or sending a messenger to Brigham Young to ask for advice.
During the meeting a girl whom Sprague had been courting noticed his smug attitude and told him to confess. He asked her what she would do if he did admit to being the prankster. She replied that she would finally consent to marrying him. According to this story, Sprague excitedly jumped to his feet and confessed, and the couple got married shortly thereafter.
In another version, Sprague and another man were going to cut wood in the mountains. But the man’s wife refused to let him go, fearing the giant. In order not to have to cut the wood alone, Sprague confessed his prank.
However the truth came out, the townsfolk told the story so often that Ithamar Sprague became something of a legend—and the area’s most beloved prankster.

Posted: Wed Jun 06, 2012.   Comments (1)

The Annual Overland Whale Migration — I received an email from Peter Barss recounting a 1985 April Fool's Day hoax he was involved in. It's a great story, so I'll let him tell it in his own words:

In 1985 the Bridgewater Bulletin had an April Fool's front page. Turn over the bogus page and there was the true front page with the day's news. One reporter created an image of a twelve foot starfish climbing out of the sea and up the side of a fisherman's building. Another wrote a story about an international airport that would be constructed just outside Bridgewater (Nova Scotia). That story made it to the provincial legislature where the Minister of Transportation stood and demanded why he hadn't been told about the airport.

My story, a feature on the upcoming Annual Whale Migration, was the longest article and caused the most consternation in our readership. The Lahave River is a wide slow-moving tidal river that runs inland from the sea about twelve miles from LaHave to Bridgewater and then turns into a smaller, faster moving river whose source is about fifteen miles further inland from Bridgewater. The distance from LaHave on the Atlantic side of Nova Scotia to the Bay of Fundy on the other side of the province is about 75 miles.

The central idea of my story was that whales, driven by instinct, migrate up the LaHave River and then overland to the Bay of Fundy every spring. The Department of Natural Resources was kept busy for weeks before the migration cutting a pathway through trees and brush to assist the whales in their overland journey. The department also applied grease on slopes facing the Bay of Fundy so that the whales could slide downhill.

As the day of the migration neared, plans were in the works for pancake festivals and other festivities along the banks of the LaHave River. Free balloons for the kids. The elderly Miss Whale Migration 1928 would be on the lead float in the grand parade that celebrated the whale migration.

Every article on the bogus front page and every cutline under every picture ended with "Happy April Fool's Day."

Nevertheless, the joke was taken very seriously by some people--more than one person bought a pair of binoculars to watch the whales. And when those who had been tricked figured out that they had been tricked there were many angry calls to the paper and not a few subscription cancellations.

Each year two young boys were chosen from the village of LaHave to watch for the whales and fire the cannon at the mouth the LaHave River when they sighted the first whales (see arrow). The attached picture (with arrow pointing to whales) was on the front page of the April Fool's Bulletin. The boys are my sons who agreed to pose for this picture before school.



Posted: Tue Apr 03, 2012.   Comments (3)

The Nullarbor Nymph Comes To The Big Screen — I posted a brief description of the Australian legend of the Nullarbor Nymph back in 2004. This is what I wrote:

Thirty-two years ago the tiny town of Eucla, Australia, on the edge of the Nullarbor plain, became famous when a few of its residents first sighted the Nullarbor Nymph. The Nymph was a blonde, feral, half-naked woman who lived in the bush and ran wild with kangaroos. News of this wild woman quickly spread around the world.

Now filmmaker Matthew Wilkinson has brought the legend to the screen. ABC News quotes him as saying:

It was sort of a male fantasy sort of story that there was this blonde, beautiful woman out there. I guess I saw the Nullarbor Nymph as our version of Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. I was always sort of surprised that no-one my age knew about it and so I really wanted to tell that story for a younger generation.

The film just premiered. Based on the trailer, it looks like an instant classic.


Posted: Tue Mar 06, 2012.   Comments (1)

Give Grand Marais the Bird — A fake seagull perched on a billboard outside the town of Grand Marais, Minnesota recently went missing. Residents suspect it was stolen, and they want it back. So the town has organized a "give us the bird" campaign, in which they're offering a free vacation in Grand Marais in return for information leading to the safe return of the seagull. The best story wins. A strict adherence to the truth, in this case, would seem to be irrelevant. [upi.com]
Posted: Thu Sep 10, 2009.   Comments (2)

Jackalope Sausage — From Cabela's you can buy actual Jackalope Sausage:

The jackalope is nearly impossible to find, yet, we've successfully located the elusive animal and captured its wonderful flavoring. Jackalope (i.e. antelope, rabbit and beef) are mixed together and smoked slowly for mouth-watering results. An amusing gift for the skeptic and believer alike. Contains three 6-oz. "jackalope" summer sausages.

Eating this would be kind of contrary to the idea of trying to Save the Jackalope. Nevertheless, I've ordered some to find out what it's like.
Posted: Mon Dec 22, 2008.   Comments (2)

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